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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 had been held at IICE conferences and other venues up to that point.


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


Discussions by academics, program directors, administrators, environmental agency personnel, and practitioners, combined with results from classroom and program design trials, 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 to produce a living set of consensus-based recommendations concerning the pedagogical and administrative aspects of interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability education. Roundtable participants have agreed that while both specialist and more holistic approaches are needed to address environmental issues, the SHES style of 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.


The vision of the SHES Roundtable is to promote the emergence of societies that facilitate, enhance, and sustain indefinitely the well-being of human individuals, their communities and their environments. The instrumental SHES mission in support of that vision is to sustain the viability of human and environmental systems through the maintenance of their structural integrity, functional utility, adaptive resilience, as well as the number and diversity of system interactions to support the vision. Pedagogically, the SHES goal then is to facilitate social learning to build  knowledge of, capacity for, and commitment to the viability of human and environmental systems and their interactions.


The task of institutions desiring to support SHES programs is therefore to develop courses, programs, and administrative structures that support this pedagogical goal; to 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 a strategy for 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 has reached provisional consensus on a set of  core competencies for SHES-style 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. This information and proposals from the first 15 Roundtables is available in the Routledge book titled Education for Sustainable Human and Environmental Systems: From Theory to Practice. The work of the SHES Roundtable is ongoing, and the effort is open to all who wish to contribute. To participate, contact one of the Co-chairs listed above.

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