Illustration 1: Sustainability



In this illustration, the geographical concept sustainability, and the cross-curriculum priority sustainability, are examined in relation to the curriculum in Years 9–10.

The geography of the heavenly planet is within reach.

Bunge, (1986), p. 291.


Knowledge of geography enables people to develop an understanding of the relationships between people, places and environments over time – that is, of Earth as it was, is and might be.

Kriewaldt, (2004), p. 27.


The new challenge for geography is to determine how we can assist students to create futures within the spaces and places we live in, enjoy and seek to sustain.

Bardsley, (2004), p. 34.

Learning goals

The illustration-specific learning goals are:

  • defining sustainability
  • identifying the cross-curriculum priority sustainability in the Australian Curriculum: Geography Years 9–10
  • presenting sustainability principles which allow students to make judgements about sustainability
  • discussing the connections between sustainability and scale
  • introducing teachers and students to materials on 'education for sustainability'
  • discussing various worldviews about sustainability.

Geographical understanding and context

Sustainability is often merged with a 'green agenda' in geography and frequently referred to interchangeably with sustainable development. Both sustainability and sustainable development are concerned with achieving the same goal – to reconcile human activity with environmental process to the mutual benefit of both. It is better to regard sustainability as the goal, and sustainable development as the means to obtain such a goal.

There are a number of important questions to be asked, namely: What exactly is to be sustained? At what scale? By and for whom? Which governmental or judicial processes should be involved?

Once some of these questions are answered, geography students are better able to assess sustainability. An important means of reaching this goal is to make assessments against specified principles of sustainability.

Teaching approaches

The materials presented in this illustration of practice are provided so that you can explore the concept of sustainability in the context of the Australian Curriculum: Geography in Years 9–10.

Sustainability in focus (PDF) features a range of information that will help you and your students to develop an understanding of sustainability, including:

  • an extended definition of sustainability
  • an explanation of why sustainability should be seen as a societal goal
  • a list of principles of sustainability developed by The Second World Conservation Strategy: Caring for the Earth 
  • a list of principles of sustainability that informed the development of the Australian Curriculum: Geography
  • an examination of the differences between the ideas behind sustainability and sustainable development
  • a discussion of the various worldviews regarding sustainability.

What you need

Sustainability in focus (PDF) includes extracts and explanations that develop an understanding of sustainability. They will support you and your students to embark on meaningful inquiry work and enable you and your students to develop informed approaches towards sustainability and the content descriptions expressed in the curriculum Years 9 and 10. The material is organised under the following headings:

  • Defining sustainability
  • Sustainable development as a process or journey
  • Ten key values of the green movement
  • Education for sustainability
  • The Second World Conservation Strategy
  • Worldviews about sustainability
  • At what scale should sustainability be studied?

The following resources will help you to further develop an understanding of sustainability:

  • ACARA cross-curriculum priorities: Sustainability details this cross-curriculum priority within the context of the Australian Curriculum and provides organising ideas and links to sustainability sections in curriculum areas.
  • The future of sustainability: Re-thinking environment and development in the twenty-first century (PDF) develops key arguments explored at the 2006 IUCN meeting on the issue of sustainability in the twenty-first century. It aims to provide a basis for future discussions by IUCN Council in the 'rethinking sustainability' process.
  • Teaching and learning for a sustainable future is a UNESCO program developed as a professional development tool for student teachers, teachers, curriculum developers, education policy makers, and authors of educational materials. It includes four modules: curriculum rationale, sustainable development across the curriculum, contemporary issues, and teaching and learning strategies.
  • UN decade of education for sustainable development, 2005 – 2014 (PDF) responds to seven questions about sustainable development and the United Nation's role: What is sustainable development and how can we make it happen? Why a decade of education for sustainable development? What do we expect from the decade? How to implement the decade? Which good practices? What is UNESCO's role? What are the challenges?


Books and articles:
Adams, W. (2006). The future of sustainability: Re-thinking environment and development in the twenty-first century. Report of the IUCN Renowned Thinkers Meeting, 29–31 January 2006, Gland: IUCN. Retrieved October 2019, from:
Bardsley, D. (2004). Education for sustainability as the future of geographic education. Geographical Education, Vol. 17, pp. 30–35.
Bunge, W. (1986). Epilogue: Our planet is big enough for peace but too small for war. In R. J. Johnston & P. J. Taylor. A world in crisis? Geographical perspectives. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Castree, N. (2005). Nature: Key ideas in geography. London: Routledge.
Fien, J. (2004). Education for sustainability. In R. Gilbert (Ed.). Studying society and environment: A guide for teachers. South Melbourne: Cengage Learning Australia.
Ginn, F. & Demeritt, D. (2009). Nature a contested concept. In N. Clifford, S. Holloway, S. Rice & G. Valentine. Key concepts in geography, (2nd ed.) London: Sage.
Huckle. J. (1990). Environment and democracy: What we consume. Godalming: WWF UK.
Hutchinson, N. & Hirsch, P. (1996). Geography in focus, Book two. Milton: Jacaranda Press.
Hutchinson, N. & Bonnor, C. (1990).Focus on global futures: People, environment and change. Milton: Jacaranda Press.
Kates, R., Parris, T. & Leiserowitz, A. (2005). What is sustainable development? Environment: Science and policy for sustainable development, 47(3), pp. 8–21. Retrieved October 2019, from:
Kriewaldt, J. (2004). The place of school geography in education for sustainability. Geographical Education, Vol. 17, pp. 24–29.
Lynam, A. (2012). Navigating a geography of sustainability worldviews: A developmental map. Journal of Sustainability Education, Vol 3. Retrieved October 2019, from:
Mansfield, B. (2009). Sustainability. In N. Castree, D. Demeritt, D. Liverman, & B. Rhoads (Eds.). A companion to environmental geography. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Maude, A. (2012). Defining and explaining sustainable development and sustainability: A review of curriculum guides and school texts. In M. Robertson (Ed.). A focus on Australia, New Zealand, and the Oceanic Region series: Schooling for sustainable development, Vol. 3. Sydney: Springer, pp. 49–63.
McEwen, C. A. & Schmidt, J. D. (2007). Leadership and the corporate sustainability challenge: Mindsets in action.
Porritt, J. (2007). Capitalism: As if the world matters. London: Earthscan.
Savage, V. (2006). Ecology matters: Sustainable development in Southeast Asia. Sustainability Science, 1, pp. 37–63.
Sneddon, C. (2000). Sustainability in ecological economics, ecology and livelihoods: A review. Progress in Human Geography, 24(4), pp. 521–549.
Sveiby, K. & Skuthorpe, T. (2006). Treading lightly: The hidden wisdom of the world's oldest people. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Whitehorse, M. (2006). Spaces of sustainability: Geographical perspectives on the sustainable society. London: Routledge.
Williams, C. (2006). Green power: Environmentalists who have changed the face of Australia. South Melbourne: Lothian Books.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2010). Teaching and learning for a sustainable future. Retrieved October 2019, from: