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Second Nature
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Second Nature

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The concept of sustainability has emerged as an aspiration for the direction of society that evolved from the conclusions of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in its 1987 landmark report entitled "Our Common Future" (commonly referred to as the Brundtland Report). Achieving sustainability is about finding a better way for humans to live within our support system - the biosphere. Natural systems provide the essentials for our survival - clear air and water, healthy soil, a stable climate - through a massively complex and interconnected web that has evolved over billions of years, making a habitable environment for humans. In order for the human species to survive and maintain a healthy and just society, we must live in ways that do not erode the ecological and social systems upon which we depend.

Sustainability can be scientifically defined as a dynamic state in which global ecological and social systems are not systematically undermined. The Brundtland Report defined sustainable development as that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Ensuring that activities do not systematically undermine ecological and social systems is to ensure that the capacity of future generations to meet their needs is not compromised.

Second Nature works to overcome the inherent limits of compartmentalized knowledge without connection to larger system interactions, by demonstrating the interdependencies and interconnections among seemingly separate and competing social challenges -- such as population, consumption, economic, health, social justice, personal and national security, and the environment. Without such interdisciplinary systemic thinking, the net results to solve these problems are often narrow, ineffective solutions, or worse, actually increase the harm to people and the environment in another place or another time. Systems thinking is essential to developing a shared framework for understanding and dealing with complex, nonlinear systems that are characteristic of both society and the natural world.

Through the past fifteen years of pioneering work, SN has been a primary force behind this holistic and transformative way of approaching education. SN has provided some of the first methods for thinking of the university as a fully integrated community. 

SN believes that the entire education experience must change behavior. Simply "solving" the problems we currently face is not the answer: we must redirect our work and ourselves to eliminate the problems in the first place as we make progress in meeting the health, social and economic needs of current and future generations. In other words, sustainability is not simply how we "fix" things, it is how we design and make those things in the first place so that they exist harmoniously in an ecological, cultural and moral context. Pollution is a classic example: our challenge is not to figure out how to clean up pollution but to learn how to design our products, services, and activities that improve and sustain the environment and enhance health and well-being. Through this approach, we can achieve a healthy, just and environmentally sustainable world.











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