The Evolution of Concern:  From Environmental to Sustainable

Twenty million people celebrate the first Earth Day.

President Nixon creates the EPA with a mission to protect the environment and public health.

Congress amends the Clean Air Act to set national air quality, auto emission, and anti-pollution standards.

Congress passes the Clean Water Act, limiting raw sewage and other pollutants flowing into rivers, lakes, and streams.
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment focuses on global environmental concerns and determines more exploration is needed of the inter-relationships between the environment and socio-economic issues.

First documented use of word sustainable in article published in The Ecologist titled "A Blueprint for Survival" by Edward Goldsmith and Robert Allen (numerous other scientists signed on).  The opening line states, “The principal defect of the industrial way of life with its ethos of expansion is that it is not sustainable.”

The OPEC oil embargo triggers an energy crisis, temporary conservation measures and research on alternative energy sources.

The EPA issues its first permit limiting polluted discharges into waterways.

Congress passes the Endangered Species Act for the conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats in which they are found.

Congress passes the Safe Drinking Water Act, allowing the EPA to regulate the quality of public drinking water.

Congress passes the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, regulating hazardous waste from its production to its disposal.
President Ford signs the Toxic Substances Control Act to reduce environmental and human health risks.

President Carter signs Clean Air Act Amendments to strengthen air quality standards and protect human health.

Residents discover that Love Canal, New York, is contaminated by buried leaking chemical containers.

The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident occurs near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Congress creates Superfund to clean up hazardous waste sites. Polluters are made responsible for cleaning up the most hazardous sites.

The National Research Council report finds acid rain intensifying in the northeastern United States and Canada.

Congress enacts laws for safe disposal of nuclear waste.

A PCB landfill protest in North Carolina launches the environmental justice movement.

President Bush signs the Pollution Prevention Act, emphasizing the importance of preventing—not just correcting—environmental damage.

The Secretary-General of the UN establishes a commission called the World Commission on the Environment and Development - the Brundtland Commission – to study  the world's environmental problems and propose a global agenda for addressing them. Results:  not one specific environmental issue named.  Citizens worldwide cite living conditions, dwindling resources, population pressures, international trade, education, and health as concerns.  The Commission finds links among environment, economy and society that caused problems in one of these areas to affect the others.

The Brundtland Commission publishes Our Common Future and this report offers what is now cited as the definition of sustainable development: "intergenerational fairness - a form of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  It calls for a response to the following reality: "Over the course of this century, the relationship between the human world and the planet that sustains it has undergone a profound change. When the century began, neither human numbers or technology had the power to radically alter planetary systems. As the century closes, not only do vastly increased human numbers and their activities have that power, but major, unintended changes are occurring in the atmosphere, in soils, in water, among plants and animals, and in the relationships among all of these. The rate of change is outstripping the ability of scientific disciplines and our current capabilities to advise.”



President Bush signs the National Environmental Education Act to acknowledge the importance of educating the public to ensure scientifically sound and responsible decisions about the environment.

The Talloires Declaration, drafted at an international conference in Talloires, France, represents the first official commitment by university administrators to sustainability in higher education:
“We believe that urgent actions are needed to address fundamental problems and reverse the trends. Stabilization of human population, adoption of environmentally sound industrial and agricultural technologies, reforestation, and ecological restoration are crucial elements in creating an equitable and sustainable future for all humankind in harmony with nature. Universities have a major role in the education, research, policy formation, and information exchange necessary to make these goals possible. Thus, university leaders must initiate and support mobilization of internal and external resources so that their institutions respond to this urgent challenge.”

Federal agencies begin to use recycled content products.

The UN Conference on Environment and Development - the Earth Summit - focuses its Agenda 21 report upon the importance of re-orienting education in order to foster respect for the environment. Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 emphasizes that education is critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of the people to address complex issues.

President Clinton establishes the President’s Council on Sustainable Development to advise the White House on how to integrate economic goals with environmental and social goals.

First climate change warning by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns of severe long term impacts from greenhouse gas buildup.


EPA issues new air quality standards for smog and soot.

Kyoto Protocol adopted by US and 121 other nations, but not ratified by U.S. Congress.

The UNESCO World Conference develops the DECLARATION ON HIGHER EDUCATION FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: “..(b) Higher education should reinforce its role of service to society, especially its activities aimed at eliminating poverty, intolerance, violence, illiteracy, hunger, environmental degradation and disease, mainly through an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach in the analysis of problems and issues. (b) Higher education institutions should educate students to become well informed and deeply motivated citizens, who can think critically, analyze problems of society, look for solutions to the problems of society, apply them and accept social responsibilities. (c) To achieve these goals, it may be necessary to recast curricula, using new and appropriate methods, so as to go beyond cognitive mastery of disciplines. New pedagogical and didactical approaches should be accessible and promoted in order to facilitate the acquisition of skills, competences and abilities for communication, creative and critical analysis, independent thinking and team work in multicultural contexts, where creativity also involves combining traditional or local knowledge and know-how with advanced science and technology. ‘

The American Association of University Professors resolves, “Liberal learning provides an education in the humanities, the fine and performing arts, the social sciences, and the sciences. It serves to educate the whole person, fostering personal fulfillment and providing the broad base of knowledge, understanding, and skills fundamental to exercising leadership roles and permitting the professional flexibility required by modern life. A liberal education prepares responsible citizens who inform themselves about local, national, and global issues and participate actively in civic life.”





The United Nations General Assembly proclaims the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development for the period 2005 – 2014:” Improving the quality of education and reorienting its goals to recognize the importance of sustainable development must be one of UNESCO’s and the world’s highest priorities.”





September 2007

Time and Newsweek run articles naming sustainability as THE cache in higher ed.

September 27, 2007

Bill 4357 is introduced in House of Representatives to direct the Secretary of Education to “provide grants to establish and evaluate sustainability programs, charged with developing and implementing integrated environmental, economic and social sustainability initiatives, and to direct the Secretary of Education to convene a summit of higher education experts in the area of sustainability. The Congress finds the following:
(1) The environmental life-support systems vital to the Nation's economic and social prosperity are increasingly at risk.
(2) The Nation's institutions of higher education have a unique role to play in fostering new knowledge, evaluating policies, and discovering new technologies to address the persistent and often linked environmental, social, and economic problems that exist.
(3) Achieving more sustainable environmental, economic and social systems will require new research, education and technology development, and innovative policy approaches that are flexible and use market mechanisms while engaging relevant stakeholders from the private and public sectors.
(4) For the Nation to remain competitive in this global world of increasingly limited natural resources, higher education institutions need to take immediate steps to create new research, education and technology development that reflect the framework of sustainability.

September 28, 2007

WWC receives $193,265 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to Advance Environmental Literacy through innovative sustainability curriculum.