What is

Sustainability basics

Just a quick reminder – this kit this isn’t an introduction to sustainability in all its forms, but to get to grips with quality sustainability learning, we need to master some basics.

Watch our quick film for the 101:

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Fellow students loved how short and snappy our little films like the one above are, but they also told us they wanted a bit more info on what ‘people, profit and planet’ really refer to so we’ve added some detail below.

True sustainability

THE PLANET, or the ‘environmental’ bit, is maybe what many people think of straight away when they are considering ideas of sustainability and includes issues like pollution, emissions, land use, product waste, and ecological balance etc.

Watch out for terms like ‘financial sustainability’ or ‘social sustainability’ – sometimes this is a clue that they’re talking sustainability on the surface but leaving the planet out of the equation.

THE PEOPLE – the social side – brings in ideas of community, education, equity, equality, health, and well-being etc. People are also key in creating change for sustainability – technical solutions alone aren’t enough, you need to involve the right people in the right ways to find truly equitable solutions. Poorer or more marginalised groups can often suffer most from the impacts of environmental degradation for example, so need to be involved in the solution building. Remedying the imbalances of colonialism is a really important part of this, which is why decolonisation and sustainability are so intertwined.

THE PROFIT – the economic aspect, can seem a little jarring at first, because it’s not about ‘making lots of profit’ or having an excess of wealth or greed. It’s about how the economy factors into making the best decisions for the planet, and for people. So this might be aspects like creating greener jobs, or about divesting (taking your money out) of companies that support the fossil fuel industry. It’s about having a bigger lens on what value really means, and the value we want to create for societies i.e. it’s not about making money for shareholders!





True sustainability

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At our university we view ‘culture’ as a 4th element – distinct from the ‘people’ part. We find this helps people understand culture and diversity and colonial legacies better. Other universities look at culture as a lens through which to view the triple bottom line, but whichever way you look at it make sure you join it up!

Connections are key

It is the intersection of the ‘people, profit and planet’ strands that is called the Triple Bottom Line – true sustainability. This is because sustainability is a ‘systems thinking’ issue.

So for example, let’s say you work in health care and you’re looking at the rise in use of inhalers. Environmentally this rise is leading to a lot of waste, economically it’s putting extra pressure on the health service, and socially you you might see different communities disproportionately suffering with asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Taking a ‘whole system’ look at solutions, you might look at e.g. if local pollution levels could be a factor, if poorer communities are more affected by this and if local partners might be able to help change this. You might also look at if there are more efficient processes e.g. if local pharmacists could assist in both prescribing inhalers, but also in schemes to take back old ones and recycle them – saving money, reducing waste and relieving pressure on GPs.

Connected sustainability, or ‘the triple bottom line’ is the bare minimum we expect when approaching sustainability in education. Without including every aspect of sustainability, we can’t consider a course to represent true sustainability as all three strands are equally as important.

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