What is “The Sustainable Core,” Anyway?

Pratt Institute undergraduates have a new opportunity this autumn to increase their understanding of the environment. For the first time, a Sustainability course (prefix SUST-) is open for enrollment. This is SUST 201P The Sustainable Core, a 3-credit course meeting Mondays from 9:30am-12:20pm beginning next week. I am the lead instructor, and we have several expert scholars and practitioners participating this semester to give students an understanding of how sustainability is practiced.

What is this course, exactly? The Sustainable Core is an introduction to the broad and ever-evolving discipline of sustainability. Sustainability, as the US Environmental Protection Agency defines it, “is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”

Sustainability is practiced and encouraged by a wide variety of professionals. Architects such as MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang apply sustainable principles to how they envision the built environment. Urban planners such as the members of the Congress for the New Urbanism incorporate sustainability into their designs for communities that will foster healthier and more equitable living conditions. Fashion designers such as Stella McCarthy attempt to produce clothes that reduce damage to the land, air, water, and wildlife. Industrial designers working for companies as varied as Toyota (for automobiles), Urban Woods (for furniture), and Interface (for carpets) look for ways to reduce the toxins they put into their products and reduce the waste generated by the use and eventual disposal of their products. Policy makers ranging from New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon incorporate sustainable principles into their plans, budgets, and policies. Sustainability affects the visions of filmmakers like James Cameron and writers like Alice Walker. Sustainability touches upon a wide set of practices in the professional worlds, in the natural sciences, in the social sciences, and in the humanities.

Where, then, to begin? The Sustainable Core offers an interdisciplinary (yet accessible) introduction to both the rationale for sustainability and some of the best practices in contemporary sustainability. As lead instructor, I have experience designing and teaching interdisciplinary sustainability courses, having co-developed the Sustainability Studies major at Roosevelt University. My interests in the historical dimensions of waste and how we might minimize the consequences of waste (as I discuss in many of my publications) certainly shape my approach to the discipline, but the course is also shaped by several guest lecturers from a wide variety of backgrounds. Students taking the course will finish the semester with both a solid understanding of how sustainability is being applied today and, no doubt, a set of questions on how to better achieve sustainability in the future.

In due time, Pratt will help address those questions with additional SUST- courses and a minor. The first step, though, is the introduction. Regardless of major, any Pratt undergraduate who is interested in the environment, sustainability, and/or the future is welcome to enroll. If you are a Pratt student and have any questions for me about the course, please feel free to contact me at czimring@pratt.edu.

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