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Sustainability Teaching Resources

What is Sustainability?

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs


Key Terms in Sustainability

Campus facilities and communities can be used as a learning environment and test area for implementing sustainable innovations.

Living Labs for Sustainable campuses have create these values:

  • Engage with campus leaders at the planning stage of new projects to ensure sustainability is incorporated and learning opportunities are maximized throughout the process
  • Campus projects can have long term learning outcomes if monitoring equipment or processes are included

  • Reflect on opportunities for improvement, engaging with internal stakeholders to develop future impacts 

  • A useful tool for increasing engagement and communication between stakeholders

    More information can be found here.  

Circular Economy

A circular economy is an economic system that is intended to eliminate waste, and work towards the continual use of resources.  This is in contrast the traditional linear economy, which features a “take, make, waste”  process. See this video for additional explanation of circular economy, or visit the Ellen MacArthur foundation page for more info.  

temperature Change Data
Graph data sourced from NASA.

Climate change is the long-term change in the average weather patterns, on a local, regional and global level. The human-produced temperature increases that have been mapped since the early 20th century are commonly referred to as global warming. 

Natural processes can also contribute to climate change, including internal variability from patterns like El Niño, La Niña and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and external forcings like volcanic activity, changes in the Sun’s energy output, and variations in Earth’s orbit. Visit NASA's page on Weather and Climate change for more information.

Communities of color experience the impacts of fossil fuel pollution and climate change more than others (race is a greater predictor of proximity to pollution than community wealth). 

Key Terms: 

Environmental justice (EJ) is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. -US EPA 

Fair treatment means no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies. -US EPA 

Intersectional Environmentalism: “Intersectional Environmentalism is an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimize or silence social inequality.” 

Helpful resources: American University: Social Sustainability, Environmental Justice / Environmental Racism

Sustainability Donut

The Sustainability Donut is a visual framework for sustainable development, which demonstrates a “safe operating space” for humanity. In other words, it shows the boundaries that ensure we meet the needs of society without overshooting the limitations of our planet. For more information on this framework, check out the site, or this page on donut economics

Systems Thinking is an approach that is predicated on the idea that parts of a system will act differently as isolated from their environment than they will in context. It requires examining the linkages and interactions between the elements of the system.

“Systems thinking in practice encourages us to explore inter-relationships (context and connections), perspectives (each actor has their own unique perception of the situation) and boundaries(agreeing on scope, scale and what might constitute an improvement).”--Learning for Sustainability. For more information visit the Learning for Sustainability Webpage, or check out this video for an example of systems thinking.


The Tragedy of the Commons is an economic problem, in which individuals overconsume a shared resource for their own economic gain, neglecting the overall wellbeing of the resource. It ultimately results in the depletion of the resource. See this video for additional explanation, or read the original paper: the Tragedy of the Commons. 

Triple Bottom Line

The Triple Bottom Line is a framework that encourages companies to consider the social and economic costs, along with profit margins when making decisions. This is often explained as the “three p’s”: profit, people, and the planet. More information on the triple bottom line can be found here, or check out this brief video.




The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030”. 



There are 17 Goals that range in focus from global access to clean water and healthy food, to clean energy and sustainable infrastructure. This short video illustrates the 17 Goals. The UN SDGs can be found here, or track their progress on the SDG Tracker


It is important to differentiate between weather and climate.

Weather refers to atmospheric conditions that occur locally over short (on the order of minutes to several days) time frames. 

Climate refers to the long-term regional average of temperature, humidity, and rainfall patterns over a longer time frame (on the order of seasons, years or decades) 

This National Geographic video offers further information on this topic. 


Integrating Sustainability Into the Curriculum


Sustainability can be integrated into a vast array of subjects, and the content that is included can change based on the context. However, how sustainability is taught is just as important as what is taught. Here are some general tips for incorporating discussions of sustainability into any classroom. 


Avoid overload and excess negativity. The rhetoric surrounding sustainability issues often focus on the urgency and immensity of issues facing the planet. Such overload of negativity can leave students feeling powerless to make change, which can lead to disengagement. For this reason, be sure to include examples of success stories, and consider breaking issues down into more manageable pieces to be examined. 

  • A great tool to help with this is Solutions U, which pulls positive sustainability related new stories from across the globe and news outlets. Educators can create an account to access pre-made story collections with new stories, overview descriptions and discussion questions around a given topic. Users can also design their own story collections, pulling news stories from Solutions U or any other online source, draft your own overview and discussion questions.


Embrace the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability. A thorough understanding of the connectivity of issues across aspects of natural sciences, social sciences and humanities helps to contextualize the issues. This can be a challenge, as it can lead to discussions that fall outside of an instructor’s area of expertise. Consider the resources available as part of the campus community through efforts like team teaching with colleagues from another discipline or organizing guest lecturers from the campus or local community.


Be careful with eco-rhetoric. Eco-rhetoric can be ambiguous and confusing for people who are new to the terminology. Establishing a definition in the context of any given subject can help to remove any ambiguity from in-class discussion. Consider the conflicting ways in which terms like “sustainability” and “environmentalism” have been used historically, and promote critical examination of such terms.


Incorporate primary data into lesson plans. Allowing students to struggle with empirical data, rather than providing them with an analysis, empowers students to understand the strengths and limitations of current data. It may also help them gain greater insight into how relevant scientific conclusions have been drawn. 

  • Climate Data- The World Bank has graphed trends for a variety of data sets, including emissions data and population density.
  • Sustainable Development Goals- SDG Report is an interactive map of progress for each SDG
  • Population Data- This UN site graphs population pyramids for global populations, with over a century's worth of data. 
  • Opinion Data- These Yale Opinion maps show American’s perceptions on climate change risks, broken down at the state, congressional district, metro area, and county level.
  • Water Data- This Our World in Data page contains maps that demonstrate areas of water stress as well as freshwater resources over time, etc. 
  • Food Systems Data- Check out the Our World in Data page for a visual representation of the land use, carbon emissions, and more associated with global food production. 
  • Energy Data-The US Energy Information Administration provides energy data from the US broken down by end use and energy source type. For more global data, see this page from Our World in Data.
  • Economic Data-This map-based data from Stanford University shows the projected impact of climate change on economies by country. 


Pedagogy Styles that Aid Sustainability Teaching

In small-group learning, students work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning The hallmarks of “collaborative” learning  are:

  • Mutual trust amongst members

  • Vulnerability

  • Shared vision and values

  • Constant state of interdependence

  • A tight culture 

  • Empowerment

  • Creating new ideas as a group

By turning the subject matter into a problem that needs to be solved, learners become more actively involved with the material, resulting in greater engagement. 

The most common models for this are problem, project, or design based learning 

This came about as a result of concern that traditional learning was too focused on the delivery of information, and not concerned enough with the experience of the learners. 

Experiential learning combines a carefully selected experience with consideration, analysis and reflection 

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle: “Effective learning is seen when a person progresses through a cycle of four stages: of (1) having a concrete experience followed by (2) observation of and reflection on that experience which leads to (3) the formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions) which are then (4) used to test a hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences.


The key to successful Service learning is that intentionality must be combined with academic learning, to benefit BOTH the learners, and the community partner

People tend to care more about what they are learning when they can connect to it. Using the local community as context for learning can engage learners.


Villanova University, as a community of learned and learning scholars, respecting the sacredness of all creation, accepts its responsibility to the integrity of Earth and its biodiversity, to the heritage of future generations, and to the security of nations. By utilizing the Augustinian values of Unitas, Veritas, and Caritas, meaning love thy neighbor, promote community unity, and live life in moderation through our curriculum, work environment, and operations, Villanova’s approach to sustainability exemplifies an emphasis on social justice and community service.

For questions regarding campus sustainability email