Sustainability - The Geography Perspective

As taught in 2012/13

Author: Simon Gosling

“Sustainability” is a word that is being used more and more in the news, by politicians, scientists, and businesses, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Yet, surprisingly, few people have a basic understanding of what it means “to be sustainable”. In some ways, the word has been adopted by some groups to be indicative of being “environmentally friendly” or “socially responsible”. With the word being used ever more, there is a risk that its true meaning becomes lost, to the point where it becomes simply a “buzz word” with little context or meaning. To this end, this module examines the core pillars of sustainability, with aid of everyday examples, in order to develop a holistic understanding of what sustainability means. The module has been written by a Geographer but it is aimed at all people interested in learning about sustainability from the local to the global scale.

An important aspect of Geography is that the discipline aims to understand how physical processes and social patterns operate at a multitude of spatial scales. Geographers often achieve this by exploring specific case studies, which help to place theory into practice. To this end, this module aims to provide a holistic picture of sustainability within the broad context of the geography discipline. This will be achieved by examining numerous case studies and examples of projects and initiatives that aim to encourage sustainability at a variety of spatial scales. For example, the module discusses the Fairtrade movement, the Marks and Spencer (M&S) sustainability plan, and the concept of the Water Footprint, to name a few.

To maintain focus, this module considers sustainability with respect to water, food, agriculture, forestry and energy. For each of these elements of sustainability, the module illustrates why their sustainable management is important, given that we are living within finite environmental limits. A novel aspect of the module is that in most sessions you update your own personal blog (or offline document), which can be used to provide a record of your opinions on sustainability, details on your awareness of sustainability, and specific examples of sustainability. The module is assessed by means of producing and presenting a poster at an internal “Sustainability Conference”.

The above collage was compiled at the University of Nottingham using a selection of images from various resources including Open Source resources. Please see below for image attributions.

  • Hoover Dam: Image developed at The University of Nottingham
  • Plant For The Planet: Image appears here with permission from Plant For The Planet. No reproduction of this image is allowed without obtaining prior permission from Plant For The Planet
  • FSC: Image appears here with permission from the FSC. No reproduction of this image is allowed without obtaining prior permission from the FSC
  • Fairtrade: Image developed at The University Of Nottingham. No reproduction of this image is allowed without obtaining prior permission from Fairtrade Foundation
  • Wind farm: Image developed at The University of Nottingham
  • Bicycle station: sourced from Wikipedia (Author: Colin) under a Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Barclays_Cycle_Hire,_St._Mary_Axe,_Aldgate.jpg
  • Female: Image developed at The University of Nottingham
  • Building: developed at the University of Nottingham
  • Energy chart: sourced from Wikipedia (Author Chris826) under a Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Energy_label_en.svg
  • Tree: Image developed at The University of Nottingham