What is Sustainability?

At its core, sustainability is a process toward meeting human needs while not degrading ecological systems. Sustainable practices maintain productive ecosystems and the services they provide for future generations. The concept of sustainability also includes the capacity of ecosystems, including humans, to adapt to ongoing and future environmental change. Sustainability is, of course, easier to define than achieve. Sustainability requires redefining development to pursue human well-being while better accounting for socio-ecological impacts that affect people and places around the world differently. Indigenous peoples and those in low-income countries and regions are especially vulnerable and disproportionately experience negative impacts of unsustainable practices on their cultures, health, water, and food production systems. Sustainability necessitates action to maintain cultural and biological diversity, and doing so requires knowledge of complex, interacting social and ecological processes which operate across multiple spatial and temporal scales — that is, across space and over time. Importantly, sustainability requires a sophisticated understanding of ecosystem sciences including climate change, while acknowledging that effective management requires both the willingness and ability to make difficult decisions, trade-offs, and choices amidst dynamic change and uncertain knowledge, and to do so in the context of politics.

At the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana, we are dedicated to creating opportunities for our students that foster their ability to learn about sustainability in impactful and rigorous ways. We are also dedicated to helping our students develop the tools needed to make positive contributions toward sustainability while at UM and after they graduate. We strongly believe that learning experiences outside of the classroom are enriching, formative, and critical, especially opportunities that include hands-on experiences in field settings around the globe. We are committed to supporting our undergraduate students as they learn firsthand how different people and places around the world are experiencing and responding to the suite of environmental and societal challenges that undermine progress towards sustainability. These experiences will help students broaden and deepen their social and natural science expertise to promote sustainability. Toward these objectives, the Franke Sustainability Fellowship program has been designed to support students in suitable field-learning experiences internationally and in the United States.