Teaching Sustainability

24 06 2014

Last Wednesday, I joined Joe Zietsman (Texas A&M), Damon Fordham (Cadmus), and Ann Xu (Georgia Tech) in New York for a discussion of Education and Practitioner Training to Promote Sustainability. We were invited to speak at the TRB ADC60 summer conference on Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure.

To prepare for my presentation on “Teaching Sustainable Development/Transportation in Institutions of Higher Education,” I reviewed the past decade of research captured in the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education. I also read papers from journals such as Sustainability Science and the Journal of Cleaner Production. For those new to this subject area, I recommend the following articles that provide useful frameworks or discuss important pedagogical approaches:

BrainstormingAfter absorbing this material, I tried to visually capture the various approaches, theories, competence areas, etc. that emerged (see photo). This visual patchwork of ideas laid the foundation for my presentation that focused on the following four questions:

  • —What knowledge and skills do students need to learn?
  • —How should we promote ‘Sustainability in Higher Education’ (SHE) – e.g., top down vs. bottom up?
  • —How do we change the hearts and minds of faculty?
  • —What should be the role of non-academic entities – e.g., government agencies, private businesses, and NGOs?

While I was only able to briefly respond to these questions in my presentation (below), the literature I cite on my slides (and listed above) should provide a useful starting point for anyone interested in learning more about theories on how to teach sustainability.



Analysis of TRB RNS Database for Sustainability Research

7 01 2013

As part of my role as the research chair for the TRB Transportation and Sustainability Committee (ADD40), I undertook with the support of my graduate research assistant Erin Puckett, an analysis of the TRB Research Needs Statements (RNS) database (http://rns.trb.org/) to determine the extent to which the topic of sustainable transportation is addressed in the proposed research projects listed in the database.

Figure for blogThe intention of this exploratory analysis was to identify the type and scope of projects being proposed and which TRB committees are supporting sustainability-related research proposals in one or more areas. The results from this analysis should help the Transportation and Sustainability Committee (ADD40) determine which proposed research needs to support, which committees to initially engage with, and where opportunities exist to propose new research projects.

Overall, it was found that many RNS records address some area of sustainability, whether openly acknowledged or not. It was much less common to find records proposing research that truly addresses sustainability in a comprehensive way, with emphasis on environmental, social, and economic impacts.

Over the last six years there does not appear to have been a steady increase in the number of records that are related to sustainability (see Figure 4 above). Further, while there seems to be an overarching idea that transportation research should have some sustainability-related focus, individual records do not always address this explicitly in their goals or objectives. Perhaps this is partially due to the lack of an overall guiding definition of sustainability/sustainable transportation that all TRB committees can adopt.

This analysis has led to several recommendations for advancing the research portfolio of the Transportation and Sustainability Committee that are included in the full report. The raw data that was used to support the analysis is also provided below.

Full Report (PDF)

Raw Data (Excel file)

Presentation (PDF)

Book Review: Cents and Sustainability

25 05 2012

I recently published a review of Cents and Sustainability: Securing Our Common Future by Decoupling Economic Growth from Environmental Pressures, in the Journal of Planning Education and Research (JPER), June 2012, Vol. 32, pp. 240-242.