Sustainability in theory and in practice 

By Karen Herland

Sustainability has become a buzzword used to sell everything from cars to tax hikes.

David Selby Magnifying glass

David Selby

Faculty, staff and administrators were invited to reflect more deeply on the role sustainability might play at Concordia in a series of workshops with David Selby, Professor of Education in Sustainability associated with the University of Plymouth’s Centre for Sustainable Futures in the U.K.

Selby presented ideas on integrating sustainability into “the weft and warp of education.” The proposals he presented over his three days here were framed around what he called the four “Cs: implications for curriculum, for the campus, and for community links and partnerships, which may require adjustments to the culture of the institution.

The University of Plymouth has made sustainability a priority and an essential component of how they present themselves in relation to other universities.

Their policy “takes a broad view of sustainability that encompasses the interconnected cultural, economic, environmental, health and social spheres.” This perspective addresses equity on numerous levels, environmental impact being only one.

Selby also argued that this perspective demands an inter- and cross-disciplinary approach. As Danielle Morin, Vice-Provost Academic, pointed out when introducing him to faculty members for a workshop, “We often teach our own areas without thinking about the impact to other areas.” Almost 30 professors representing all four faculties attended the workshop.

Selby was mindful of the potential for resistance that this kind of project can incur. That resistance may come both from those who are unwilling to adopt changes that they dismiss as trendy as well as those who do not think the issues relate to their field or practice.

For this reason, he reminded the few dozen participants in his faculty workshop to develop an institutional definition of sustainability that is “not set in amber. Don’t expect people to swallow the concept whole. Instead, enable people to take it in their own directions.” He added that this flexibility is well suited to an academic environment. It also allows people “to take it in their own directions.”

Selby’s Centre for Sustainable Futures is a showpiece that benefits from a five-year, multi-million-dollar grant. The funding allows the Centre to be a think tank, developing policies on university practice, resource allocation and planning. Selby said that this is easier to accomplish if sustainability is integrated as policies come up for renewal.

Curriculum is a central concern, and the Centre invites professors from different disciplines to work with them one day a week devising ways their department’s curriculum could integrate sustainability, testing the methods and revising as appropriate.

Selby was invited by Sustainable Concordia to present workshops to senior administrators and faculty. The Centre for Teaching and Learning Services supported the initiative and received a training workshop from Selby so that the staff can continue to help departments and individuals interested in adopting some of these programs. For more information, contact them at ext. 2495.


Concordia University