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Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation

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Arizona State University goes solar! (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/3272423901) by Kevin Dooley (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/) used under a CC-BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en_CA)

Description: With “Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation”, first and second-year college students are introduced to this expanding new field, comprehensively exploring the essential concepts from every branch of knowledge – including engineering and the applied arts, natural and social sciences, and the humanities. As sustainability is a multi-disciplinary area of study, the text is the product of multiple authors drawn from the diverse faculty of the University of Illinois: each chapter is written by a recognized expert in the field.

Author: Tom Theis, University of Illinois, Jonathan Tomkin, University of Illinois

Original source: cnx.org

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Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation by Tom Theis, University of Illinois, Jonathan Tomkin, University of Illinois is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


Review this book

Reviews for 'Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation'

Number of reviews: 3
Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5

1. Reviewed by: Joshua Labove
  • Institution: Simon Fraser University
  • Title/Position: Lecturer & Teaching Assistant
  • Overall Rating: 4.7 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

This text is exhaustive. Sustainability is not a simple subject to try to define—it is open to great debate as well as changes in the perception of the term and the practices that it speaks to. This text does an exceptional job of covering every facet of sustainability carefully and with clarity. I only worry that for a BC university course, this text might be too exhaustive. The subject and material are geared, I would suspect, toward early undergraduates considering Environment or Geography programs or older non-majors, so the text might be covering too much ground for some audiences, who find themselves getting bogged down with all the material the author has offered up here. On the plus side, the index and glossary should make navigating the text easy and teachers and students alike will appreciate being able to locate material easily in a text this encyclopedic.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

Although politics and controversy tend to accompany sustainability and sustainable development conversations, particularly in British Columbia, the author has stayed above the political fray. The result is a solid, core, foundational text that will prepare students to render their own arguments rather than espousing one for them.

Content Accuracy Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

This text will be relevant for quite a while and major updates should not be needed, which is surprising, given the dynamic nature of the topic. This should give you a tenor of the text—the author has stayed far away—too far perhaps—from current events and politics to present a foundational case to understanding the many components of sustainable development. His case studies are fine and will not be succeptible to change, but writing as much in vacuum as he has, the author runs the risk of suggesting sustainable development practices are easier to implement than may actually be so. Removing some of the current issues may make the book easier to update, but it puts the onus on the teacher to demonstrate the ongoing and very current struggles that are shaping this discipline.

Relevance Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

Exceptionally clear. While this subject can lend itself to jargon, the author writes often in a conversational tone that is easy to read and follow.

Clarity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

Yes, the text reads consistently throughout.

Consistency Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

This is the biggest strength of the text. It is easily divisible into small assignment chunks and discussion points. The questions at the end of the sections are helpful, but not entirely necessary. The case studies in particular would make for good discussion readings for a tutorial or upper level seminar, while the bigger, overarching narratives serve as a good foundation for a lecture.

Modularity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

Yes, though I would suggest more time/space could be given to forecast future challenges in sustainable development, as a potential last section. In the absence of that in the text, instructors would be wise to supplement the text with current news or media articles.

Organization Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

Yes, easy to navigate and use the interface.

Interface Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

No grammatical errors were found in my reading.

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

No culturally insensitive remarks or examples were used in the text.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

Canadian undergraduate students really respond to Canadian examples. I have often ‘translated’ case studies featuring a US company to a similar Canadian firm and find students appreciate the connection to things and places they are familiar with. This book has a decidedly Midwestern US orientation, so I would encourage instructors to potentially supplement this text with lecture cases from closer to home.

2. Reviewed by: Nancy Elliot
  • Institution: Thompson Rivers University - Open Learning
  • Title/Position: Open Learning Faculty Member
  • Overall Rating: 4.4 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

Yes this text covers the concepts of the subject in a clear and well-written manner.
The text opens with an overview of the main concepts and each subsequent chapter discusses key points about sustainability with excellent examples.
In the ePub version, the glossary appears at the end of each chapter. Glossary is clear, well-written and covers many terms.
There is also an excellent index at the back, with hyperlinks to content within the text itself.
It is an excellent presentation!

Comprehensiveness Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

the content appears accurate and free of errors. For the most part it is unbiased, although I feel the idea about intra-generational sustainability is a key part of the discussion. This concept is barely included in the text.

Content Accuracy Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

(see also discussion on lack of Canadian content)

The text makes excellent use of contemporary examples to reinforce ideas discussed.

Content is already appearing dated. Many examples are used to illustrate the concepts discussed and although this is an excellent approach the content is already appearing dated even though the book has a copyright date of 2013. Many of the data sources come from 2009-2010. Any census sources can be replaced with the most recent census data.

It will be time-consuming to update the examples as there are many examples and many sources to review. Many examples are beautifully illustrated and the illustrations based on facts and figures (tables in particular) will have to be redone. It would, however, be fairly straightforward to update these facts and figures, as the information is all available to a researcher.

The history, concept and ideas around sustainability itself are not changing very quickly, and so the 'meat' of the text has a long shelf life.

Relevance Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

Yes! to all of the above. This text is written very clearly and provides and excellent glossary. It is written at a level that a student will be engaged but not so advanced that it will making reading a chore.

Clarity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

Yes absolutely

Consistency Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

This text supports the reader as the topics are clear and the sub-headings support the main flow of the text.

The table of contents provides links to a digestible number of sub-headings. The sub-headings are clear and it is easy to follow the logic.

Modularity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

Yes I believe this to be true. The text begins with an overview, moves to a discussion of history, and then provides modules on each of the key elements of the concept of sustainability.

Organization Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

I reviewed this book in ePub format and the table of contents and other navigational aids functioned well
The images are numerous, colourful, illustrative and compliment the text well. The text includes links to videos.
This is definitely one of the strengths of this publication; the text feels like it has been written or at minimum formatted for the ePub or online format.

Interface Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

The text was well-written and I found no grammatical errors

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

The examples are almost exclusively American and there are many opportunities to substitute examples from different places around the world. This overlaps with the idea about including other races and ethnicities.

Most examples are neither inclusive nor exclusive of culture (eg. discussion of hydro-electric dams), however, as intragenerational sustainability is an important aspect of sustainability I believe that this topic is under-represented and should be included. So for example, I would include a long discussion of the developing world, its impact on global pollution levels, and a discussion of distribution of resources and wealth. This could even be done at a more local scale; for example, there are nuances of hydro-electic activity in Canada (e.g. in particular, northern Quebec and James Bay/Cree) which, it could be argued, are good examples to discuss in terms of intra-generational equity.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 2 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

• Module 2 focuses on the history of the American conservation movement. As sustainability is a global context with roots abroad, then it would be appropriate to have a more indepth discussion about 1) global conservation history 2) Canadian conservation history
• Canadian examples should be used alongside American examples or substitute American examples as they are missing from the text Eg. Discussion of soil dust storms in the 1930s uses American examples and illustrations (p. 81) when Canadian examples could and should be utilized; discussion of environment impact on health uses American health statistics; ecological footprint uses American examples to illustrate
• In some cases it would be appropriate to keep the American examples, eg. Love Canal is a famous contamination case
• Regarding updates, this book is full of statistics and figures from (American) government sources. They will become dated and if not replaced with Canadian ones should be updated with the next Federal census and as other sources are updated.
• Some topics include specific references to technology, as the concept of technological developments offsetting the impacts of development is a key aspect of mitigation to impacts of pollution, climate change etc. eg solar energy panel use, geothermal energy applications, woodchips and burning as alternatives to burning fossil fuels

3. Reviewed by: Carlos Leon Guevara
  • Institution: Fairleigh Dickinson University - Vancouver
  • Title/Position: Adjunct Faculty FDU, Sessional Instructor University of the Fraser Valley
  • Overall Rating: 4.7 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

Yes, the text covers most of the areas and ideas of this challenging subject appropriately. Looking at the organization of the text, it incorporates the topic of Climate Change as one of the first Chapters. I think this is key to help the students to understand the importance of the environment and to achieve a sustainable development. Looking at other textbooks there is a topic, soil, which is quite brief and more importantly a discussion on food production and distribution that could be considered for new editions. One of the strengths of the textbook is the discussion on sustainable energy. Its glossary is outstanding. In many chapters there is a focus on policies, which helps us to understand the evolution of the American Conservation movement. For a Canadian audience there would be the need to include cases relevant for this country. These cases could be incorporated as part of the case studies.Overall, it is quite complete and effective.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

Yes, the content is accurate and unbiased. In some occasions the discussion of different points of view can lead to interesting in class discussions. In this textbook and field it is absolutely necessary that the students are confronted with different ideas that will help them to develop their critical thinking skills. One of the strengths of this textbook is that it clearly outlines its learning objectives, which will help instructors to guide discussions to achieve these objectives. One aspect that can be considered it to update some of the stats and figures. Also some of the figures would benefit with the addition of a figure legend. One interesting fact about the textbook is that it has been written by more than twenty experts in the different areas. This allows for different voices to be heard/read and offers different perspectives of some topics.

Content Accuracy Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

Yes, the content is up-to-date but in a couple of years it will benefit of modifying some figures to represent the current data. One aspect that is of interest is that some of the figures contain simulations and projections of processes into the future. It would be interesting to know how these predictions differ from the actual data, now available. One important aspect of the course is its modular design which allows to study individual chapters; this will also facilitate individual update of modules. In summary, any necessary updates will be relatively easy to implement. One aspect that will help the textbook to be up-to-date is that most of cases are historical. It would be important for the instructors to incorporate current events that would help in student engagement. It would also stress the relevance of studying this field as a tool to tackle current affairs that effectively affect the student's world.

Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

Yes, the text is written in clear prose. The writing style is consistent, despite the large number of contributors. Each module contains references to a glossary, links to resources, review questions and case studies. The glossary is quite helpful to check any unfamiliar terminology to the reader. The fact that the textbook is written in a clear, lucid way is key as it may be applied not only to an introductory class but may complement specialist courses, with students from different backgrounds like economics or politics. One aspect that I found very attractive from this textbook was the discussion of the contribution of artistic expressions on our understanding of our environment.

Clarity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

Yes, the terminology and framework are consistent. As pointed out before there is a uniformity in the style (four main pillars). A point for future consideration could be the use of fewer topics for the case studies. It may be interesting to examine one topic from different angles. This way a topic can be examined in depth and the concepts can be integrated.

Consistency Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

Yes, the text is divided in modules that in general, are self sufficient and do not require an examination of previous modules. This is a key feature considering that it is a comprehensive textbook and probably you will have to pick only a certain number of chapters to develop in a one semester course. The organization of the different chapters follows current trends in environmental sciences textbooks. The case studies and the discussion questions can be examined in a tutorial or lab environment.

Modularity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

Yes, the topics are presented in a logical fashion, both within the modules and the flow of the different modules as a whole. The last chapter on sustainable infrastructure, in particular, builds on the concepts discussed in the previous chapters and it is a nice ending to help us to understand how sustainability can become part of our lifestyle.

Organization Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

Yes, the text is free of significant interface issues. I would suggest to add some legends to figures and tables which are missing them. There is also a figure which is pending authorization for use. In general, the quality of images and charts is very good.

Interface Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

The text contains no grammatical errors to the best of my knowledge.

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. The examples include different continents, ethnicities and backgrounds. The use of this textbook with a Canadian audience would benefit with the discussion of the interaction between the First Nations and the rest of the country and how they may have been affected by federal and provincial policies directed to the exploitation of their natural resources.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

In summary, this is an excellent textbook which can be adapted to be used in Canada. As pointed out previously, the use of this textbook in a Canadian institution would require the discussion of Canadian issues. For example, the textbook describes the impact of the Atlanta Olympic Games. This could be replaced by a discussion of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and how still shapes our city development. In the last chapter on Sustainable infrastructure, we can discuss the efforts of the University of British Columbia in becoming a zero waste institution.
The discussion of current environmental issues in the light of historical cases, could help the student participation and integration of the extensive knowledge provided by this textbook.