What is Sustainability?

At its core, sustainability is a process towards 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 which 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, and to develop the tools needed to make positive contributions towards sustainability while at UM and after graduation. 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 to learn first-hand 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, and, in turn, be able to broaden and deepen their social and natural science expertise to promote sustainability. Towards these objectives, the Franke Sustainability Fellowship program has been designed to support students who wish to broaden their experiences by studying or doing research internationally.