Sustainable Human and Environmental Systems Roundtable


The Sustainability Curriculum Consortium gathered on January 26, 2021 to discuss the National Academy of Sciences report on sustainability programs and curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate level. Members of the Sustainable Human and Environmental Systems Roundtable, SHES, including Dr. Michael Reiter, Dr. Paul Barresi, and Dr. Rick Smardon were among the scholars present. 

Those interested in joining the Roundtable and participating in its work, or those interested in the most recent proposals of the Roundtable, are encouraged to contact one of the Co-Chairs.


Dr. Michael Reiter of Bethune-Cookman University   

Dr. Paul Barresi of Southern New Hampshire University

Dr. Richard Smardon of SUNY ESF


The Sustainable Human and Environmental Systems (SHES) Roundtable was formed in June of 2008 by members of the IEA and several other environmental programs and organizations for the purpose of moving forward the assorted academic and administrative discussions on interdisciplinary environmental education that have been held at IICE conferences and other venues over the years.


The focus of the SHES Roundtable involves issues of field identity, name, core competencies, pedagogical approaches, program structure, and recognition for interdisciplinary and higher-order environmental programs in the United States and the potential for an international effort in the future.


Discussions by academics, program directors, administrators, environmental agency personnel, and practitioners have led to consensus on a number of important topics that have become the basis for proposals arising from the Roundtable.


The SHES Roundtable is an ongoing effort producing a living set of recommendations concerning the pedagogical and administrative aspects of interdisciplinary environmental education. Roundtable participants have agreed that both specialist and more holistic approaches are needed to address environmental issues, and that interdisciplinary environmental education seeks to provide the latter. Ongoing discussions of terminology in the environmental education domain led to consensus that the interface between human systems and the environment is the focus of the field with a holistic endpoint being desired, though more reductionist approaches can be part of an ultimately holistic program.


From the perspective of the Roundtable, the ultimate SHES goal is to promote the emergence of societies that facilitate, enhance, and sustain indefinitely both stewardship of the environment and the wellbeing of human individuals and communities. The instrumental SHES goal is then to engage in the holistic, adaptive management of human and environmental systems and interactions in support of the ultimate goal. Pedagogically, the SHES goal is to facilitate holistic, interdisciplinary learning that reveals the complexity of the interactions among human and environmental systems that shape the viability of those systems in support of the instrumental field goal.


It is thus the goal of institutions desiring to support SHES programs to develop courses, programs, and administrative structures that support this pedagogical goal. These goals recognize and elucidate the extent to which the interactions among human systems and environmental systems shape the fate of both. It also implies that neither stewardship of the environment nor the well-being of human individuals or communities can be achieved without an approach to managing the interactions among those systems that is both holistic and adaptive.


The Roundtable proposes that this academic domain be given the name Sustainable Human and Environmental Systems, identified as a supradisciplinary field. Interdisciplinary and supradisciplinary program designs are part of this domain, with pluridisciplinary approaches being a transition phase from lower levels of integration (unidisciplinary, transdisciplinary) to where the field seeks to be.


The Roundtable also reached provisional consensus on a set of 8 skills, 13 perspectives on interactions, and 12 synthetic applications that should be considered core competencies for ESS programs and their students, with these competencies capable of being learned within a wide range of contexts as appropriate to a program’s faculty, location, and interests. As of the 10th Roundtable, this concept and the associated tables are in the process of being revised, updated, and expanded.