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Sustainability Metrics

Natalie D. Hunt, Eddy Project, Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College

Sustainability is a complex term applied to many different contexts in a variety of ways. As a result, it can be challenging to determine how sustainable something really is. In this module, students will use an analytical framework with publicly available data to formulate questions, analyze data, and report metrics of sustainability.

This learning activity takes three 60min class periods

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Anticipated prep time to become familiar with materials is about 1 to 2 hours.
  • The Sustainability Metrics Lecture Slides provide solid background information and discussion of key concepts of the module.
  • Teachers may find it useful to do a short walk-through in class with the students before starting this project.
  • This resource would work well for a take-home class project or could be used in a virtual setting.
  • This activity can lead to a presentation, or a research paper to further investigate patterns and how a country has changed over time.

About the Content

  • This resource allows students to use real-world data to visualize and quantify patterns of sustainability and its impacts.
  • This is an in-depth resource for students to ask sustainability questions in relation to the economy, environment, and social effects.
  • The science is covered in an interactive, inquisitive and meaningful way.
  • In Activity A, students are guided through the steps to generate a graph of CO2 emissions, energy usage, population, and income (GDP) in the Gapminder tool interface.
  • This resource has digitally available data with links to sources, and references are listed in the slide deck and Gapminder.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Gapminder provides and excellent interface for students to visualize how the social, economic, and environmental sustainability pillars are connected. This resource also encourages students to critically consider the limitations that exist when quantifying sustainability. Generally, I think the idea of using the IPAT equation in conjunction with the Gapminder interface is great, however I would recommend supplementing the provided instructor PowerPoint and student guide with additional information on how the Impact, Population, Affluence, and Technology terms are defined (by providing the units). In the current format, only examples are provided, which I think is misleading. Specifically, the definition of "technology" is unclear in the resource's current state. I recommend updating the PowerPoint (slide 10) and the 3rd paragraph of the student guide to include more explicit definitions of I, P, A, and T: I = Impacts = Environmental impact from human activities P = Population A = Affluence = Level of consumption per unit of population T = Technology = Environmental damage from technology per unit of consumption

About the Pedagogy

  • The learning outcomes for students are to form questions about sustainability, use the Gapminder tool, read graphs, and report their findings with evidence.
  • Students are encouraged to work individually, in pairs, or in small groups no larger than three for the duration of the module. Group work is suggested.
  • The lesson is rooted in the Activity Guide to walk students through the data selection and analysis of their choosing.
  • Activity A is useful for exploring Gapminder and preparing students for Activities B and C.
  • This tool is positively engaging, although students who aren't technologically savvy may need some more time.
  • Students must have previous experience in reading graphs and some basic data analysis skills, and an understanding of the three facts of sustainability.
  • This module is intended for an upper-level undergraduate course in sustainability, environmental studies, systems thinking, natural resources consumption, or any interdisciplinary course that includes these concepts.
  • The Instructor Guide provides step-by-step instructions for the activities, with example responses and teaching notes in green.
  • The Student Guide provides step-by-step instructions for the activities.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Data for this lesson is easily accessible on Gapminder.
  • Teachers can request access to a teacher's guide, and no permission is needed to access the slide deck and activity guide.
Entered the Collection: September 2023 Last Reviewed: June 2022

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