Learning sustainability

Learning sustainability Image source: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

As I am a novice here, please forgive my greater than usual clumsiness. I saw an announcement asking people to post in the blog, and so I am dutifully making a effort to contribute.

How many pillars are there in sustainable development - or sustainability? If you answer three, you would be right, at least in the traditional view of the term. This view holds that sustainability has three dimensions or pillars: society, the environment and the economy. What if we have been 'wrong' all this while? What if there had been a fourth dimension or pillar? Of course, you are now expecting me to say what it is.

One fundamental dimension is missing in many conceptualizations of sustainability. This is learning. Sustainability is impossible without learning, just as the existence and richness of culture need learning. Both sustainability and culture depend crucially on learning. This fact is often ignored or forgotten in much work in both areas.

People who are focused on the 'hard' and visible aspects of sustainability tend not to see the invisible dimensions, just as we fail to do in culture, until, that is, we move to a new culture, when suddenly we detect them because we transgress an unwritten (invisible) rule for behaviour. A similar situation holds for sustainability; few people realise that humanity has transgressed its planetary boundaries, that is, that passengers weigh heavier than the carrying capacity of its Earth vessel.

Thus we need to highlight the 'invisible', but crucial, element of learning, and add it to the traditional conceptualization of sustainable development. Indeed, once it has been made visible, it is fairly obvious that the very basis of sustainability is learning. Although the learning element may appear obvious, it seems to have remained invisible. We often do not see what is obvious. It cannot be characterized as being willfully blind, at least not consciously, even if we are blind to our blindness. However, we can ignore the obvious at our peril, especially in the learning of sustainability.

It is with this idea in mind, that a special issue, entitled Learning Sustainability, of the SpringerNature journal Sustainable Earth is currently being prepared. For more information and to contribute an article, please look at:

Articles appear on that page

and the pages behind the pull-down menus.

and then send me email = e4l.jrnl at gmail

You do not have to be an academic to submit a proposal. We welcome authors from all walks of life, especially those who have a good story to tell about their or others' experience of working for sustainability. Even hard-nosed research is fundamentally a story of experiential learning, except that reviewers, editors and others have managed to wash away the pith and human dimensions of the research journey. A good approach is to build a co-authoring team with people from a variety of complementary backgrounds and skills, such as a citizen, an NGO worker and a scientist.

Recent article include:

  • A child activist on her evolution and involvement on climate change protests.
  • A student club forces a legislature to pass a law against single-use plastic.
  • A retired professor helps farmers in Northern Thailand to develop sustainable farming.

We hope that you will share your experience and expertise.


David Crookall's background is varied, but much of it has been in various areas related to sustainability, especially education and learning. He is involved in several sustainability actions actions, such as:

(a) editing a special issue of a special issue of a SpringerNature journal on the theme of learning sustainability - the very foundation of sustainability, 

(b) designing and conducting an International School on Oceans and Climate, both key forces in sustainability (the School is official event of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, as part of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development), 

(c) convening a scientific session at the next General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).


Any opinions or views expressed in this blog post are those of the individual author, unless explicitly stated to be those of GreenExecutive.

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  • Hi David,
    I agree learning has to be on the focus, and because of the way our society is driven, I would add it has to be appealing too.
    I would loveHi David,
    I agree learning has to be on the focus, and because of the way our society is driven, I would add it has to be appealing too.
    I would love to make a submission but I'm in the middle of a conference. Is there a deadline?
      More ...
  • Hello Neus -- very sorry, i have just seen your msg -- i am afraid that the deadline is past -- but i am starting some new things soon -- pls drop meHello Neus -- very sorry, i have just seen your msg -- i am afraid that the deadline is past -- but i am starting some new things soon -- pls drop me a line to crookall.consulting@gmail.com -- am away till early sept -- stay safe, david  More ...

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