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Sustainability is a driving force of modern innovation and for good reason. Through sustainable practices, we stand to build a cleaner and more equitable world. In Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) sustainability is especially vital, since these are the fields that will design many of the green innovations needed in modern industry. 

With our future dependent upon sustainable processes derived from STEM research, we must promote ethical sustainability in STEM education. Here, we explore precisely why this is so important and how you can go about integrating ethical sustainability into your teaching process. 

The Importance of Ethical Sustainability in STEM Education

Sustainability is an essential aspect of every component of STEM. If any one of these academic focuses fails to promote global sustainability, the consequences will be severe. Already, climate disasters have wreaked havoc across the world, with 18 separate events in the U.S. causing over a billion dollars worth of damage each. 

But we often understate exactly how important sustainability is to the people involved in the disaster and injustice that come out of inconsiderate processes. That’s because true sustainability isn’t just about the impact of our actions on the climate but on economies and people as well. Ethical sustainability balances all of these factors to produce harmless solutions on all fronts. 

This is especially vital in light of the threats we face from a variety of sources. On the one hand, big data collection has created questions about our online privacy and the ethics of mass surveillance. Big data algorithms have even been weaponized — intentionally or unintentionally — to produce inequitable outcomes that have worse implications for society as a whole. 

Then, the timeliness of the issue as it applies to clinical research gives us a clear example. In the past, ethical failures in scientific research like the MKULTRA experiments set science back. Now, ethical procedures are vital to the success of COVID-19 treatment research, as any questionable standards in the clinical stage could have massive repercussions in the form of vaccine hesitancy. 

These issues of data usage and clinical research alone illustrate how vital ethics are in our ability to address crises and solve problems. As we educate up-and-coming generations on the importance of sustainability, ethics is a critical tool.

Around 10% of Americans, for instance, don’t believe in climate change and therefore will be unswayed by arguments about the benefits of environmentally friendly STEM practices. Ethical sustainability, on the other hand, should be something anyone can support due to its consideration for people and economic factors. 

The question, then, is how to teach ethical sustainability in STEM education. 

Teaching Ethical Sustainability

Getting kids engaged in learning isn’t always easy, especially with the prevalence of virtual classrooms. Getting them excited about ethical sustainability in STEM is another challenge.

However, teaching ethical sustainability can be a simple process, one that goes hand-in-hand with a larger STEM education and is supported by examples. All it takes is the application of a few best practices and useful tools. 

Here, we’ve assembled a few tips for teaching ethical sustainability in the context of a STEM curriculum:

  1. Focus on the true meaning of sustainability. Real sustainability comprises environments, economies, and societies. As you teach STEM concepts, explore the ramifications as they apply to all three, and teach students to examine outcomes accordingly.
  1. Make sustainability lessons be about the quality of life. Students will have an easier time understanding the importance of ethical sustainability with examples of the impact this topic can have on people’s lives. Use real-life examples like the BP oil spill to demonstrate the consequences of unethical business.
  1. Develop opportunities for students to think critically about sustainability. Because sustainability is multifaceted and long-term, you’ll need to demonstrate these principles to students. Critical thinking problems can help STEM students prepare to overcome challenges.
  1. Create interdisciplinary avenues for exploring ethical sustainability. From personal data to pollution, there’s a lot to consider when developing cleaner practices. Interdisciplinary approaches can invite collaboration and innovative thinking, like how teaching computational thinking in middle schools offered students new perspectives.
  1. Engage students in peer discussions on ethical sustainability. Numerous voices all but ensure different ways of approaching a problem. Open discussion is perfect for inviting all perspectives in STEM conversations to address topics of ethics and sustainability. 

With these suggestions in mind, you’ll be prepared to build the kind of learning experiences students need to understand the importance of ethical sustainability. From there, they will be able to apply these concepts to their future careers in STEM fields, where the tools and knowledge of the future can support unprecedented innovations in sustainability. 

Since sustainability means long-term success for environments, economies, and the people that live within them, supporting sustainable STEM education is a win for all of humanity. Fortunately, the awareness of this truth has spread into the commercial industry, leading to a huge demand for green STEM professionals. 

Sustainable STEM for a Sustainable Future

In the modern era, awareness of climate challenges and industrial pollution has given rise to ethical consumerism, a movement dedicated to taking accountability for the impact of mass production. Now, half of consumers expect a brand to be socially responsible if it is to earn their business. In just about every industry, STEM professionals will be called upon to integrate and monitor the sustainability of business practices to secure a brighter future.

That’s because STEM is the basis for all technological progress. Without it, we would have a much harder time securing the kinds of efficient industrial practices needed to support a healthy population.

Ethical sustainability is a pressing need across global industries. From data to energy use, this means the tools and procedures necessary to scale a business without having people or the environment. Only STEM professionals can support the kind of sustainable outcomes we need for a thriving economy for future generations.

As STEM educators, you too can support a more sustainable future by promoting an ethical approach to global cleanliness and efficiency. Start with these tips to begin making a difference.

About Indiana Lee

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Indiana Lee is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering workplace issues, social justice, environmental conservation, and more. You can follow her work on Contently (https://indianaleewrites.contently.com/), or on twitter @indianalee3.

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Dr. Koshi Dhingra has dedicated her career to STEM education and is passionate about having every child live up to their potential. Seeing a lack of girls and other underrepresented youth in STEM programs, she founded talkSTEM in 2015 to address the imbalance. She has a doctorate in science education from Teachers College, Columbia University, has years of experience teaching in graduate and undergraduate programs, and has held leadership roles in universities. She advises and collaborates with a broad range of educational institutions globally. Dr. Dhingra began her career teaching science in middle and high school in New York. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband, three children, and two dogs.

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