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InFocus: Sustainability

InFocus: Sustainability


2020-2021 Challenge Area: Sustainability

Co-Directors: Theresa Dougal and Alison Holliday

The InFocus theme of 2020-21 is sustainability, the goals of which encompass and seek to integrate a range of environmental, social, and economic factors. In 2015, the United Nations reconfirmed that sustainability goes beyond the crises of climate change and environmental degradation to include the “end of poverty in all its forms everywhere.”[1] In other words, sustainable development must be less resource-intensive and less polluting but must also result in a more equitable distribution of wealth and opportunities, within and across individual countries and the globe.

If sustainable development is to be equitable and, as the U.N. Brundtland Commission enjoins us, to meet “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,”[2] we must ask and answer some important and difficult questions: What are our needs? How do they differ from desires or wants? How might they differ from those of previous or future generations? How do we balance our own needs and desires with those of others in our own society and across the world, given that we live within a complex web of interconnected systems and that sustainability requires us to recognize and address our impact on the finite resources of our planet?

The role of communication is central to this process of examining and understanding, so this year’s InFocus will address the challenges of “Communicating Sustainability,” including with regard to the connections between sustainability and environmental justice. Through a variety of readings, research, presentations, and classroom and extracurricular activities, we will consider the challenges we face in meeting sustainable development and justice goals. We will explore how to choose written, oral, and visual narratives that will resonate and motivate and how to explain scientific, economic. and sociological concepts in accessible ways. We will consider the imperative to transition from just knowing about sustainability problems to actually believing them – and then turning this belief into individual and collective action that works toward resolving these crucial issues.

[1] United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, (accessed June 11, 2020).

[2] Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland, 1987,