Sustainability Education Is Not Just STEM: It’s Important in All Majors |

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“Sustainability” has been more than just a buzzword – many countries, including Singapore, have declared climate change as a global emergency. These days, sustainability is an important aspect not just in practice, but also in every university regardless of the courses. Combining environmental protection, social development and economic development, sustainability is a global issue that pertains to every human being.

Everyone has the shared responsibility in creating a more sustainable world. “If all of the world’s people lived like people in the developed countries do, then we would need three or four different globes to support the demand in terms of natural resources,” declared UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo. With our current level of consumption habits, the planet’s resources will not sustain us unless something is done.

Sustainability is not just for STEM

For many, the vision of “sustainability” is often related to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) majors. For example, engineers have the potential to develop sustainable societies by creating and maintaining physical infrastructures that help eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, reduce child mortality and improve maternal health.

However, despite popular belief that sustainability is only relevant to STEM students, sustainability is relevant to anyone who consider themselves decent human beings. This means that no matter what major you’re in, sustainability can (and should) be a part of your overall education.

There are plenty of degrees these days that have “sustainability” in their titles, and these often combine aspects of STEM and economics. However, a course title doesn’t have to major in sustainability to tackle the issue, because essentially every major can relate to it.

A green business

Everybody – not just Business majors – knows that sustainability is important when it comes to businesses. In addition to caring for the earth, companies that implement sustainable practices “gain a competitive edge, increase their market share, and boost shareholder value,” according to the International Institute of Sustainable Development (ISSD). Every major company also has Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) that focuses on “environmental protection and the wellbeing of employees, the community, and civil society in general.” You don’t have to be a business major to understand that a green business is more attractive to customers. 

Net Impact’s research also found that sustainability in business has gone from “nice to have” to “must have” for prospective graduate business students. A full 91% of 3,300 graduate students reported that social and environmental issues are very important or essential to business’s long-term success, and 85% said they wanted to tackle these issues while in graduate school.

Designed for sustainability

Another major that easily relates to sustainability is Architecture, and in Singapore, there’s a need for more sustainable design due to our small land size. Sustainable urban planning and buildings go hand in hand with building progressively green cities, protecting what nature we have left and ensuring the population live comfortably.

Even art and design students have a role to play. Fashion designers may come up with the next recyclable fabric, or more sustainable method of production. Product designers may focus on recycling waste into usable products. Artists can make social commentaries about the current state of the environment, for example, to spur civic action.

For human health

Any major related to our wellbeing, like Public Health, Agriculture, and Nutrition, depend on sustainable practices that focus on the world’s food supply. According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, “It is essential that food sustainability be an international priority to ensure that the rapidly expanding population will have both enough food to eat, and access to high quality, nutritious foods.”

Even medical students have a lot to learn about sustainability – the focus should be more on disease prevention, empowering patients, creating a leaner service, and then considering the carbon impact. This shifts the emphasis from treating individuals to treating whole communities.

Hospitality and beyond

While tourism is a huge income generator for those involved, sustainable tourism contributes to a balanced and healthy economy. In addition to minimising waste, the aim is to generate tourism-related jobs and revenues while protecting and enhancing the destination’s social, cultural, historical, natural, and built resources for the well-being of both residents and visitors.

Perhaps one of the best positioned majors to spread the message of sustainability are those in Education majors – they have the responsibility to prepare the next generation with the knowledge to enact change.

Take a step…

On campus, you can always opt to take on a sustainability-related class or course, as more and more institutions across the world are offering them. In addition, campuses are increasingly encouraging sustainable lifestyles so you can make an effort to find out what you can do (reduce getting takeaway food in single-use plastic containers, for one?).

Education is the first step to truly understanding the importance of sustainability, whether it’s about sustaining resources, sustaining the economic viability of businesses, or sustaining our current relationship with our environment.