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Sustainability Literacy – That's Our QEP

Train Your Brain to Sustain

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Year 4 Theme

To find more about the yearly themes, scroll down to read more.

To cast your vote, click here or on the picture!

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Sustainability Literacy as a Bridge to Addressing 21st-Century Problems

The College's new Quality Enhancement Plan is Sustainability Literacy as a Bridge to Addressing 21st-Century Problems. This is an initiative to endow students with the tools and knowledge they'll need to address 21st-century problems such as climate change, social injustice and economic inequality.

At the College, we acknowledge that our world faces steep challenges, and that these are global in magnitude and complexity. Whether it's diminishing resources, human-induced climate change, economic inequality, or some other pressing concern, our society has arrived at this point precisely because of the way we think and how we behave. If we wish to change both our thinking and our actions, we will first need to change the education we deliver. That is the central notion underpinning the College’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) – Sustainability Literacy as a Bridge to Addressing 21st-Century Problems.

Within this initiative, it is the responsibility of our campus community to provide our students the sustainability literacy they will need to be effective problem solvers for the 21st century.  


SLI envisions positive social, economic and environmental change from a sustainability literate College of Charleston community.


The SLI supports teaching, learning and research in sustainability literacy at the College of Charleston and the communities with which it interacts.


Education - The Institute supports established pedagogical practices that teach sustainability literacy, and facilitates teaching faculty such practices.

Engagement - The Institute actively fosters interdisciplinary collaboration about sustainability literacy amongst faculty, and between faculty and staff, faculty and students, and the larger community.

Expression - The Institute advocates for and supports the expression of sustainability literacy at individual, campus, local, regional, national, and international levels.

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CofC Sustain/Solves Themes

Each year the CofC community engages in a shared discussion around a “CofC Sustains/Solves” sustainability literacy theme.  This theme helps unify our collective advocacy for resiliency and entry into interdisciplinary creative problem solving at the interface of social, economic, and environmental systems.  Over the course of their CofC career, students will be exposed to multiple sustainability “big ideas,” with our campus joining in national and international discussions around sustainability.   Each annual sustainability literacy theme will be studied in sustainability focused and related courses and learning communities, during faculty/student research, explored during the SLI Changemaker Challenge, and addressed by other curricular and co-curricular events and programming.  Focusing on an annual sustainability big idea helps build awareness about sustainability literacy; helps students identify policies and practices that have led to unsustainable behaviors related to this theme; and presents an opportunity for a shared discussion about how to design solutions to such behaviors.  CofC students will then be able to bring these insights into future careers, helping advocate for solving interconnected 21st century problems.  Overall it is hoped that students recognize that the themes are all interconnected, and all impact and are impacted by social, economic, and environmental systems.

CofC Sustains/Solves theme for 2017-2018: Water Quality and Quantity

CofC Sustains/Solves theme for 2018-2019: Social Justice and Fair Distribution

CofC Sustains/Solves theme for 2019-2020: Food Security

CofC Sustains/Solves theme for subsequent years will be decided by a campus vote.

To Learn more, go to Our Commitment

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Humans are social primates; we are communal beings.  The mission of CofC recognizes this, as the College exists to help students “become responsible, productive members of society.”[1]  What this means to various students may differ, but implied is that all members of the campus community should be concerned with issues of justice and fairness, the CofC Sustains/Solves 2018-2019 sustainability literacy theme of the year (officially: “social justice and fair distribution”).

For example, all religious and ethical systems from all human communities, past and present, have some type of concept of justice and fairness that guide their social relations.  In the Western intellectual tradition justice was articulated at least as far back as Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics; while Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, African tribal religions, Sikhism, Native American religions, and many other religious systems all speak of some variety of the Golden Rule: of aiding the stranger, helping the poor, and treating others as you wish to be treated.

Overall, justice is understood as impartial fairness and equality amongst people, regardless of their social location.  There are different types of justice, including but not limited to:

  • Distributive-the equitable sharing of burdens and benefits across all members of society.
  • Procedural-impartial and fair treatment of all peoples in regards to laws and regulations.
  • Restorative-those who commit an injustice work with their community to rebuild trust
  • Punitive-punishment of some kind for criminal offenders
  • Interactional-the type and quality of treatment people received based on implemented procedures
  • Intergenerational-factoring in the impact on future generations when deliberating actions taken today
  • Environmental-“the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”[2]

Fair distribution builds on the concepts of distributive (the allocation of limited resources) and restorative (accounting for structural inequalities based on colonial expansion, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other intersectional forms of oppression) forms of justice.  The 21st century will see a need for more fairness in distribution of rights, privileges, access to opportunities, and access to material goods across all societies.  In part this is because as a species humans appropriate >50% of all available net primary productivity, so all other species have to live off <50%.  This implies that access to clean water, healthy soil, a stable climate, and dignified work will have to be fairly distributed amongst a human population that is 7.5 billion and growing in a world of rapidly dwindling resources. 

We must also recognize that opportunities are lost when some members of society suffer injustice and are systematically kept from fairly sharing in all the goods of society.  For example, the loss of entrepreneurial ideas and economic and technological advancement due to the historical oppression of non-Whites, women, LGBQT+, indigenous, and other peoples is a loss to all citizens.  Too often in history our shared ability to benefit from all humans, equally, who share the same intrinsic worth regardless of intersectional identities, has been stifled due to injustice and an unfair distribution of access to equal opportunities for everyone to contribute equally to society (as seen for example in the Jim Crow laws of the South). 

The following figures should waken us to the very real issues of fairness and access in society, and how these are not distributed equally to all:

  • In the US, “the official poverty rate is 12.7 percent, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 estimates. That year, an estimated 43.1 million Americans lived in poverty according to the official measure. According to supplemental poverty measure, the poverty rate was 14.0 percent.”[1]  The official poverty level in the US is 2 adults and 2 children living off of less than $24,858 a year, so 40 million+ Americans live below this level of combined income.
    • Poverty strongly correlates with lack of access to affordable health care; diabetes and obesity; living in or near food deserts; low rates of high school graduation; high rates of crime and drug use; lack of access to safe, affordable housing; and lack of access to functional public transit.
    • Poverty in the US is heavily stigmatized, although many in poverty work 1 or more than 1 jobs (see the below iceberg model of mental models, as how we are socialized about issues of fairness and justice, especially as these relate to poverty, influence our understanding of the problem and ability to help solve poverty issues).
    • “In our most recent study, we analyze racial differences in economic opportunity using data on 20 million children and their parents. We show black children have much lower rates of upward mobility and higher rates of downward mobility than white children, leading to black-white income disparities that persist across generations.”[2]
    • In South Carolina, 14% of the population lives below poverty.  In total 9% of all whites, 25% of all blacks, and 26% of all Hispanics reside below poverty level.[3]
  • In 2017 the world’s wealthiest 42 people owned more wealth than the world’s poorest 3.7 billion people.[4]
    •  “According to the most recent estimates, in 2013, 10.7 percent of the world’s population lived on less than US$1.90 a day, compared to 12.4 percent in 2012. That’s down from 35 percent in 1990.”[5]
    • Poverty is strongly linked to trafficking in persons, including for the illegal sex trade, and often targets young women, but also young men.[6]
  • “No poverty” is the first of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.[7]
Removing structural barriers that reinforce social inequalities and that keep many from gaining dignified work that pays a living wage in a safe work environment is a shared 21st century problem we must all work to address.  There are many pathways and opportunities to address these issues, from across the political spectrum and that utilize multiple economic incentives and approaches.  The Sustainability Literacy Institute invites students, faculty, and staff to consider this variety, and to work across disciplines to advocate for a more socially just world that has a fair distribution of benefits and burdens for all.

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Quality Enhancement Plan

Every 10 years, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) requires that member institutions be reaffirmed as accredited institutions. In preparing for this reaffirmation process, colleges and universities are required to develop a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). In our case, the Reaffirmation Leadership Team put out a call for proposals, and from the resulting submissions, selected sustainability literacy as the focus of the College’s QEP. The QEP has five overarching goals, each one related to specific student learning outcomes. 

For additional information about the reaffirmation process, see the website for the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning.


Blog Feed

Plant Some Trees with Ecosia
Posted on 12 June 2017 | 11:54 am
As of mid June 2017, the people behind a website called Ecosia have planted 9,263,045 trees, and that number is growing exponentially as you read this. How does this work, you might ask? is a search engine that is very similar to Google. What’s the difference? The folks who run Ecosia use the majority […]
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What Does Sustainability Actually Look Like?
Posted on 6 June 2017 | 2:04 pm
If you’ve ever wondered how sustainability might actually appear if it were put on exhibit, now you’ve got a chance to find out. The College’s Quality Enhancement Plan office has partnered with the staff of Addlestone Library and JoAnn Gilmore’s students from ANTH 319 (Sustainable Museum Exhibit and Design) to present a QEP art exhibit. […]
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Sustainability Events

Jan 29, 2019 6:00 pm
A lecture by Dr. Jonathan Highfield, Professor of English and Director of Sustainability Studies at the Rhode Island School of Design.
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