Siirry sisältöön
Bridging social and environmental sustainability in teaching

In our students’ minds, sustainability is often synonymous with environmental sustainability. It is important to teach them that social and environmental sustainability are intertwined and one is incomplete without the other.


Rakhshanda Khan

senior lecturer
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 23.04.2024

Addressing social issues are vital to achieving environmental change, and nurturing the mindset of the students to identify this interconnectedness of social and environmental sustainability is crucial. It is important to reflect on the ways we as individuals can contribute to both social and environmental sustainability in our own lives and communities.

The interconnectedness of social and environmental sustainability

Sustainable development has been defined as the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs (United Nation’s World Commission on Environment and Development 1987). This definition stresses the need for development by incorporating environmental and social goals in order to design a sustainable future.

In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental sustainability by itself is insufficient. It is widely recognized that the social pillar of sustainability facilitates environmental sustainability (Thomsen & King 2009). Social and environmental sustainability are interconnected by their shared commitment to promoting well-being and preserving natural resources. Addressing the social issues directly impacts environmental sustainability outcomes. Communities that have achieved social well-being can encourage environmental protection. At the same time environmental justice ensures that all communities have equal access to clean environments.

Moreover, individual consumption habits impact resource depletion and educational initiatives empower communities to address environmental challenges. Understanding interdependence between social and environmental sustainability is important for all of us.

Grasping the interdependence of social and environmental sustainability

Below are a few strategies and best practices for teaching the understanding of interdependence between social and environmental sustainability.

  1. Incorporating sustainability across different disciplines. It is important to show our students how sustainability impacts the decision making across all fields of study.
  2. Inviting industry experts to the classroom is a great way of showcasing how businesses successfully balance the social and environmental goals.
  3. Experiential learning is a good way to teach students the link between social equity and environmental responsibility. Field trips to responsible businesses that effectively integrate social and environmental dimensions can be excellent sources of inspiration for students.
  4. Assigning projects related to sustainability can be another way to learn the connection between social and environmental sustainability, where students learn to apply theoretical knowledge into practice.

At Haaga-Helia, we have used all of the above-mentioned practices to teach the interdependence of social and environmental goals through various sustainability courses over the years. Lately, this link has been made more pronounced in our courses.


United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our Common Future, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thomsen, G. K., and King, M. C. 2009. Working out Social Sustainability on the Ground. In J. Dillard, V. Dujon, & M. C. King (Eds.), Understanding the social dimension of sustainability. pp. 199–210. New York: Routledge.

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