Jennifer Hirsch, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain
Georgia Institute of Technology
Louis Ann Gemini, student
Blogger of World Of Mysterious
- What is sustainability to you?
J: It’s hard to define. How do you define it?
L: I think sustainability is to save resources by recycling and other methods so that our progeny can live on and on.
J: Hmm…I think this graph may help you to understand.
As you can see, sustainability is not just about environment or economy, it also involves social equity. What you said is basically focusing on environment aspect, thinking about natural and energy and relationships between those things. In SLS, we also focus a lot on social equity aspect of that.
Social equity is about social justice: distribute things fairly, everyone has a basic income regardless of race, age or gender, people can breathe fresh air, big companies take social responsibility, and so on.
My favorite diagram is this one:
This “doughnut” diagram shows that strong social systems that take care of people should ensure that they have an essential quality of life, but also live within the limits of the natural environment on the planet. So people need to live in the “doughnut” area here, not turn over the environmental ceiling, nor penetrate the social foundation. People have basic needs like jobs and education. But they also cannot use more resource than the Earth provides.
Similarly, back to the first diagram, those intersecting areas shows that sustainability is not just about grow the economy, but also about how to treat people fairly without decreasing the quality of life or destroying the environment.
Sustainability is not to think something over another thing. It consists of multiple aspects, and the intersection of those is sustainability.
2. What activities are there in GT?
L: April 21st, it’s Earth Day. I see a picture there, what are these?
J: Oh, these are Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). You can find it on the website:
And click on different goals, you can see detailed explanations and more readings in the sidebar.
And here is a TED talk about SDGs:
And we have a lot of activities on the SLS website:
Or you can visit the Campus Sustainability website:
3. How did you get started in sustainability?
J: I actually did work in Applied Anthropologist. We studied people and cultures. And I did a lot in Japan for many years and traveled in China.
I really focused a lot on social justice issues, and I did a lot of work around environmental issues these years. About 12 years ago, I started work in a natural history museum in Chicago, and I began doing more work with the communities about the environmental issues. This experience led me to pay attention to this intersection (Environmental-Equitable) of sustainability, and I believe very much that we need to think about these things together to create a better world. We can’t just think about people or nature. We need to think about people and nature together. And this led me to do this work.
L: Wow! You’re really great! I want to be a professor someday and teach my students these things!
J: You’re interested in these?
L: Yes, and I think this knowledge is essential to human beings.
J: There are certainly a lot of work in China to go.
L: Unluckily, yes. We are improving economy rapidly, but this is at the cost of environment. And when we promote economy and social equity at the same time, the environmental issues get worse. There are thick hazes, and it makes people feel uncomfortable. So I think, if I can learn more about sustainability, I can tell more people about it, and make China better.
4. How can students all around the world involvein sustainability?
L: As a student, how can we do something for sustainability?
J: Well, I think starting with the SDGs is a good idea. Find something that interests you and keep on digging. These goals are big and global. And we have a program here:
Here we have original networks and different organizations in universities that work together to promote education for sustain development.