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Educating Leaders for the Transition to Sustainability

Corporations brand themselves as sustainable and attempt to build sustainability measures and metrics into their business plans and supply chains. Governments set targets for efficiency standards, public transit use, recycling and reuse. Universities engage in curricular developments and research efforts focused on sustainability challenges as well as operations to improve energy, water and materials use and efficiency. Sustainable development goals emerging from international discussions in the United Nations motivate work at the World Bank and other NGOs.

What all these efforts have in common is the understanding that the prosperity of people around the world today should not be achieved by degrading the well-being of their neighbors or of future generations, and that requires careful attention to all the assets that determine well-being, including Earth’s natural capital -- our ecosystems, environmental processes and natural resources

‘A primer for students and practitioners who are seeking a more systematic and comprehensive platform on which to base their pursuits of sustainability’

But how do we achieve sustainability? The book Pursuing Sustainability suggests that the ultimate determinants of intergenerational well-being should be thought of as the stocks of assets on which people now draw and will draw in the future to subsist and improve their lives – stocks that include natural, social, manufactured, human and knowledge capital.

Managing these assets requires understanding how they interact in highly complex social-environmental systems. It also requires understanding how people, as committed agents of change, can intervene in those systems to move them toward sustainability goals, working collaboratively in governance processes to influence how society takes actions to promote sustainability. While actors from every realm of society can and need to engage in this, innovations from the research and development communities are particularly needed; creating useful knowledge and linking it effectively with decision making is a critical need. In our work, we explore frameworks and approaches for understanding, analyzing, and effectively engaging in sustainability challenges. 

Book Resources

This page makes accessible the illustrations from the book Pursuing Sustainability, and also provides course descriptions, illustrations, syllabi, and teaching tools from a range of freshman, upper level, graduate and executive courses now being taught on the subject by the book’s authors. We are pleased to share them, and hope to learn from others who put these ideas to work.

Pusuing Sustainability book cover


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Pam Matson

Pamela Matson

  • Professor, Earth System Science, Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability
  • Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor in Environmental Studies
  • Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute
William Clark

William C Clark

  • Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development, Harvard Kennedy School of Government 
Krister Andersson

Krister Andersson

  • Professor of political science and Director of the Center for the Governance of Natural Resources at the University of Colorado at Boulder 

Thinking Matters: Meeting the Global Sustainability Challenge

Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability

This course engages students in the critical thinking characteristic of sustainability science, which focuses its attention on solving sustainability problems in the context of coupled social-environmental systems.

Introduction to Environmental Policy and Policy Analysis

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Teaches a systematic general framework for the analysis of environmental policy issues. Analyzes the interaction of environmental sciences, ethics, and policy across a range of environmental policy problems. Stresses critical thinking and practical applications.

Sustainable Development

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Explores sustainable development: its historical context, contemporary understandings, and practical implications. Topics include the pursuit of sustainability in complex social-environmental systems; metrics of progress; governance arrangements; and linking knowledge with action.