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Making Choices: Sustainability in a World of Conflicting Values

Forty years after the first Earth Day, environmental concerns are greater than ever. For humankind to realize a sustainable future, we must take dramatic action and change individual and collective behavior. But are we capable of such change? What values will motivate individuals and groups to initiate and sustain earth-friendly behavior? What would sustainable human life look like?

Sustainability involves issues and concerns related to the environment, economic and political structures, religious worldviews, and individual and collective moral behavior. It can be studied from a variety of disciplinary perspectives—from the natural sciences to the social sciences to the humanities.


For 2010, the Society for Values in Higher Education (an interdisciplinary organization committed to the role of higher education in promoting citizenship and socially responsible values) is organizing afternoon working groups for scientists, scholars, and educators to present work that addresses sustainability from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Working groups will meet for 1.5 hours each afternoon for three days and will deal with one of two sets of questions.


  • Human Capabilities and Moral Motivation:
  • Are human beings capable of making the choices and acting in such a way that we can have a sustainable future? Or are we doomed? Will there be a Darwinian solution? What lessons from our past might provide insight about our capacity to make the kind of sacrifices necessary? Are we capable of practicing the kind of distributive justice necessary for human sustainability? What are the limits of human action? What are the limits of deliberative democracy? What is the common ground on which different approaches to “nature” (scientific, religious, humanist, etc.) can meet to create a more sustainable future? What does it mean to lead a good life in a world of limited resources?
  • Strategies and Negotiations:
  • What strategies are effective in leading institutions of higher education to implement sustainability programs? How are the multiple values of institutions negotiated in order to promote sustainability? What institutional values have led to sustainable practices? What are some effective models? How do we educate students to value sustainability and the common good? What curricular or co-curricular strategies promote these values?


Presented Papers



David Burrell—Uganda Martyrs University
Diverse Approaches to Nature and a Sustainable Future
Greg Capillo—Western Kentucky University
Learning to Talk to an Other: Stories and Thoughts About Community Organizing in a Divided Nation 
Jo Margaret Mano—SUNY New Platz
Assessing Sustainability Claims: Key Factors in Case Studies
Brian Strow and Claudia Strow—Western Kentucky University
Sustainability and Government Budgeting; or, I’ll gladly have my kids pay you tomorrow for the social services I receive today 
Carlos Antonio Torre—Southern Connecticut State University and Yale University
Janice Ann Smith—Educational Consultant, Three Canoes
The Ecology of Education: Reflections on a Sustainable Future



J. Anthony Abbott—Stetson University
Notes from the Field on Challenges and Opportunities to Signatories of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment
Susan G. Montgomery—Environmental Health Researcher (Atlanta, Georgia)
“Measure It and It Will Come…”:  New Measurements Promote Energy and Healthcare Markets
Daniel J. Sherman—University of Puget Sound
Sustainability as a Way of Thinking: Tools for Understanding Sustainability as Critical Inquiry and Achieving Integration Across the Higher Education Curriculum
Paul A. Swift—Bryant University
Field Strategies for Sustainability: What Does Art Have To Do With Waste? 
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