What is sustainability? What does it mean for a University?

September 24, 2008 • Categories: Journal Series

By James M. Mazurek


Sustainability is commonly defined as the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. It relates to the continuity of economic, social, institutional, and environmental aspects of human society, as well as the non-human environment.

Beyond some sufficient level of continuous functioning, however, sustainability at a university represents more than just the mere ability to survive and get by. It also represents the shaping of new generations of leaders, as well as the institutional trade-offs that are made daily between equity, economics, aesthetics, and the environment.

What does sustainability mean to a university? Quite simply, a lot. The core mission of a university is the education of its students. In order to meet the educational needs of generation after generation, the university needs to weave sustainability into its everyday undertakings—teaching and research—as well as core support needs such as energy, transportation, and food service.

At Notre Dame, we view this as protecting what is special about our university and ensuring that future generations of students have the same richness of experiences as past and current students.

Finally, there is the underlying notion that universities are a permanent long-term institution within society—and there is no greater place to catalyze change. Universities shape future business, civic, social, and educational leaders, and rooting sustainability into today’s students as a way of life will not only create future citizens who embrace sustainability into their everyday lives, but also develop teachers of sustainability to future generations.

James M. Mazurek ’91 is director of the Office of Sustainability. Along with representatives from all segments of the campus community, the new office will lead sustainability efforts in such areas as energy, waste reduction, design & construction, procurement, transportation, food services, and water.

This entry is the final article in a 10-day series titled Perspectives on Sustainable Energy.

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