The Language of Sustainability

There has been several conversations about language and the words chosen to convey information this week. The terms sustainability and sustainable development (Bolis et al. 2014) have created a discussion about right and wrong, weak and strong, growth and degrowth, sustainability and unsustainability (Wals, 2012) and many other binary oppositions. What is the opposite of climate anxiety, climate serenity? We can’t have one without having the other, but what about the in between. Is recycling truly being green?Outside that box of alternative options, there lies the real sustainability. Is there such a thing?

This week, I came across a post by Arjen Wals who reflected on the title of a book to which he had contributed a chapter. He pointed out that he prefers to say evidence informed not evidence based assessment. This stood out for me since the formative assessment designed for our project is used to inform teachers based on current assessment evidence. We are now working on the best way to inform others about their student group, the feedback from the assessment, and also update everyone about how the project is developing.

Creating support for our teachers is a major driver of this project. This week, an interesting post by Ray Martin summed up higher education in a nutshell:

according to trades union Unison (2013:8), ‘Alarming levels of bullying and harassment … exist in the higher education (HE) sector’. Exact figures are difficult to establish, partly because there is no general agreement on what ‘bullying’ and ‘harassment’ might mean and partly because of the variety of methodologies and sampling that have been employed in research projects. (highlight added)

Ray Martin, JUICE, May 12th, 2022

The plight of the academic to define, explain and give evidence creates discussion and ideas, but can slow down the process of action. Disagreement on the meaning and process of ideas can make our efforts to transform our communities towards a sustainable experience become all the more complex. What can we do to help each other, might be a good place to start.

There is some wonderful inspiration in literature and the world of fiction writing, which has helped me to develop ideas for teaching activities for the business students that I teach now. The ethics and morals of human behaviour, human judgement and human decision making play a big role in many engaging narratives. Using interdisciplinary sources of evidence that informs the students about and for sustainability can capture the students’ reflective capacity.

The language used on news channels and many other media sources is also a good source for critical and values thinking development. The environment and all life forms are still considered an after-thought when we are informed about evidence from a journalistic point of view. I started to wonder about how teachers of journalism feel about education for sustainability and what progress has been made in the discipline of media communication in higher education.

There is quite a lot of information and discussion (Lozano, 2017) about teachers of natural science, teachers of business, and teachers of teachers. If media studies takes from the humanities and sociology, how does literature and language help develop students of journalism? What role do future journalists feel they play in the work to transform societies towards a sustainable future? How can interdisciplinary language help to engage students with education for sustainability?

The practical language of sustainability in action can be a helpful tool for students to be able to frame what they learn and apply in the real world (Backman et al. 2019). Narratives in organisations is another project we are working on, and find that education for sustainability in local organisations are discussed in terms of family values. The narrative of sustainability as common sense life-styles are increasing, as local producers begin to gain more and more space in the local economy. It is our belief that the local language and the global language of education for sustainability can help improve our collaborations and transform the way we learn and work for sustainability.


Backman, M., Pitt, H., Marsden, T., Mehmood, A., & Mathijs, E. (2019). Experiential approaches to sustainability education: Towards learning landscapes. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 20(1), 139–156.

Bolis, I., Morioka, S. N., & Sznelwar, L. I. (2014). When sustainable development risks losing its meaning. Delimiting the concept with a comprehensive literature review and a conceptual model. Journal of Cleaner Production, 83, 7–20.

Lozano, R., Merrill, M., Sammalisto, K., Ceulemans, K., & Lozano, F. (2017). Connecting Competences and Pedagogical Approaches for Sustainable Development in Higher Education: A Literature Review and Framework Proposal. Sustainability, 9(10), 1889.

Wals, A. E. J. (2012). Learning Our Way Out of Unsustainability: The Role of Environmental Education. Oxford University Press.

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