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    Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation

    (27 reviews)

    Tom Theis, University of Illinois, Chicago

    Jonathan Tomkin, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

    Copyright Year:

    Publisher: OpenStax CNX

    Language: English

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    CC BY


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    Reviewed by April Ann Fong, Biology and Environmental Studies Instructor, Portland Community College on 6/24/20

    The book is fairly light on much of the science science side of sustainability. The book could have more on agriculture, disease (wow even more relevant now), population dynamics, forestry, fisheries, conservation, and climate change (updates). read more

    Reviewed by Jane Rice, Teaching Specialist, Michigan State University on 11/22/19

    There are many impressive qualities of this text in terms of its comprehensiveness (discussed below). However, I have one over-riding suggestion that I think would greatly increase the impact of this text on college students. My suggestion has... read more

    Reviewed by Margaret du Bray, Assistant Professor, Augustana College on 7/15/19

    This critique goes to both comprehensiveness and organization (see below). I think there is slightly more from the "human dimensions" of sustainability presented in this text, and while I am a social scientist by training, I am teaching an... read more

    Reviewed by Kathryn Roberts, Substitute Lecturer, New York City College of Technology on 4/8/19

    In my opinion, this book does a great job in providing a thorough framework for the topic of sustainability. In discussing the subject with my students, I’ve realized that they often have an extremely narrow understanding of what that term... read more

    Reviewed by George Loumakis, Lecturer, Glasgow Caledonian University on 2/1/18

    This is a very rich book that tackles the many aspects of sustainability. Everything is written in an easy to understand language and the inclusion of some case studies (for example Chicago's climate action plan) makes things more relatable.... read more

    Reviewed by Sujata Bhatia, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Delaware on 2/1/18

    The book provides a comprehensive introduction to sustainability that incorporates engineering, economics, history, and ethics, and it will be of interest to students in all of these fields. Each chapter has an effective glossary. read more

    Reviewed by Kang-Won Lee, Professor, University of Rhode Island on 2/1/18

    It was relatively complete. read more

    Reviewed by Courtney Green, Lecturer, University of North Carolina at Charlotte on 2/1/18

    The textbook provides a comprehensive study of sustainability. The book includes chapters on history, policy, energy, and sustainable infrastructure that would be well suited in an engineering technology undergraduate class in sustainability. ... read more

    Reviewed by Nicole Barclay, Teaching Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte on 2/1/18

    The text holds true to its title, "....Comprehensive Foundation." Sustainability is a broad topic that applies to a wide range of fields. However, the authors discuss the foundation concepts of sustainability. read more

    Reviewed by Rachel Goodman, Associate Professor, Hampden-Sydney College on 6/20/17

    I do not teach a course specifically called Sustainability; rather I teach and Introductory Environmental Science course. With this disclaimer in mind, I found this text to provide a thorough overview an in-depth coverage of the topics contained... read more

    Reviewed by Ephraim Massawe, Associate Professor, Southeastern Louisiana University on 6/20/17

    This is an outstanding book on Sustainability. It is discussed in a detailed way under the title "Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation". However, this textbook is aimed at students pursuing undergraduate degrees, in particular those who... read more

    Reviewed by Martin Hubbe, Professor, North Carolina State University on 6/20/17

    The word "comprehensive" is in the title of this open textbook, and the editors and authors have made an effort to include numerous aspects of the topic without leaving anything out. read more

    Reviewed by Nilmani Pramanik, Associate Professor, University of Northern Iowa on 12/5/16

    This book "Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation" contains a vast amount of matter on sustainability and it does cover the entire range as it claims. However, some chapters and contents are very specific and may not be suitable for... read more

    Reviewed by Alison Olcott Marshall, Associate Professor, University of Kansas on 8/21/16

    The book is relatively comprehensive, especially considering the breadth of the topic. However, as some have noted, the book gives short shrift to some issues, such as agriculture, that are important facets of sustainability discussions. Given... read more

    Reviewed by Kolson Schlosser, Assistant Professor of Instruction, Temple University on 8/21/16

    This text is nothing if not comprehensive. It is so comprehensive, in fact, that one wonders about whether there exists an upper threshold after which it is simply too much. One student could not really consume this much in one semester. That... read more

    Reviewed by Jennifer Cochran-Biederman, Instructor of Biology, Winona State University on 8/21/16

    As a foundational resource on the field of sustainability, I find this book to be reasonably comprehensive. I think that certain chapters provide more detail and depth than others – and in a magnitude that’s necessarily consistent with the amount... read more

    Reviewed by Sean Bryan, Instructor, Colorado State University on 1/7/16

    This book has "comprehensive" in the title, and it delivers on that promise. The book covers a full range of topics relating to the multi-disciplinary nature of sustainability. On a chapter level, I found the book covered most if not all of the... read more

    Reviewed by Kelly Curl, Assistant Professor, Colorado State University on 1/7/16

    As the title portrays, this is a very comprehensive collection of subjects and topics related to sustainability. Sustainability is a large topic though. As a professor of landscape architecture, there are many more topics, lessons, sustainable... read more

    Reviewed by Dale Gentry, Associate Professor of Biology, University of Northwestern - Saint Paul on 6/10/15

    Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation excels in some facets of comprehensiveness but is lacking in others. I am impressed by their inclusion of social and policy details that are missing in many environmental science and sustainability... read more

    Reviewed by Nathaniel Springer, Postdoctoral Associate and Lecturer, University of Minnesota on 6/10/15

    The textbook follows an issue-based structure, which accurately reflects way sustainability problems are addressed across disciplines, or “metadisciplinary” as the authors describe it. In this sense, it is very comprehensive, covering both... read more

    Reviewed by John Duke, Professor of Damage Science and Mechanics, Virginia Tech on 6/10/15

    For an evolve subject matter area the book covers most of the important areas which ought to be considered, an area omitted is that related to the traditional engineering design paradigm which was a response to a compact with the owner/manager to... read more

    Reviewed by Natalie Hunt, Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer, University of Minnesota on 6/10/15

    This text covers a broad range of social and physical science principles that underpin sustainability and illustrates them well using relevant historic examples and case studies. It is broad in its scope and covers most topics included in many... read more

    Reviewed by Lee Fithian, Associate Professor, University of Oklahoma on 1/12/15

    The text is billed as an introduction to the essential elements of sustainability suitable for first or second year college students. Some topics are remedial in light of current standards in K-12 curriculum; however, this is necessary to account... read more

    Reviewed by Dan Philippon, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota on 7/15/14

    As its subtitle indicates, "Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation" aims for comprehensiveness. The book description claims that the text allows first and second-year college students to begin "comprehensively exploring the essential concepts... read more

    Reviewed by Joel Light, Biology Associate, University of Northwestern - St. Paul on 7/15/14

    This textbooks seems to cover the same information and depth as other texts on the same subject. Its depth and coverage of topics in sustainability would be appropriate for a non-majors, general science course in the environmental sciences. Some... read more

    Reviewed by Linda Vanasupa, Professor, California Polytechnic State University on 7/15/14

    The text occurs to me as comprehensive in terms of approaching sustainability as a issue of environmental management. It contains a single chapter (10) that draws some of the connections between the social and cultural. The chapters that address... read more

    Reviewed by Kate Lajtha, Professor, Oregon State University on 7/15/14

    This text covers many, although not all, aspects of environmental science and sustainability. To be fair, no single book could ever be completely comprehensive, as hte subject is simply too large. This text is more geared towards policy, and... read more

    Table of Contents

    • 1 Foreword
    • 2 Preface
    • 3 Introduction to Sustainability: Humanity and the Environment
    • 4 The Evolution of Environmental Policy in the United States
    • 5 Climate and Global Change
    • 6 Biosphere
    • 7 Physical Resources: Water, Pollution, and Minerals
    • 8 Environmental and Resource Economics
    • 9 Modern Environmental Management
    • 10 Sustainable Energy Systems
    • 11 Problem-Solving, Metrics, and Tools for Sustainability
    • 12 Sustainability: Ethics, Culture, and History
    • 13 Sustainable Infrastructure

    Ancillary Material

    Submit ancillary resource

    About the Book

    With “Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation”, first and second-year college students are introduced to this expanding new field, comprehensively exploring the essential concepts from every branch of knowledge – including engineering and the applied arts, natural and social sciences, and the humanities. As sustainability is a multi-disciplinary area of study, the text is the product of multiple authors drawn from the diverse faculty of the University of Illinois: each chapter is written by a recognized expert in the field.

    This text is designed to introduce the reader to the essential concepts of sustainability. This subject is of vital importance seeking as it does to uncover the principles of the long-term welfare of all the peoples of the planet but is only peripherally served by existing college textbooks.

    The content is intended to be useful for both a broad-based introductory class on sustainability and as a useful supplement to specialist courses which wish to review the sustainability dimensions of their areas of study. By covering a wide range of topics with a uniformity of style, and by including glossaries, review questions, case studies, and links to further resources, the text has sufficient range to perform as the core resource for a semester course. Students who cover the material in the book will be conversant in the language and concepts of sustainability, and will be equipped for further study in sustainable planning, policy, economics, climate, ecology, infrastructure, and more.

    Furthermore, the modular design allows individual chapters and sections to be easily appropriated without the purchase of a whole new text. This allows educators to easily bring sustainability concepts, references, and case studies into their area of study.

    This appropriation works particularly well as the text is free downloadable to anyone who wishes to use it. Furthermore, readers are encouraged to work with the text. Provided there is attribution to the source, users can adapt, add to, revise and republish the text to meet their own needs.

    Because sustainability is a cross-disciplinary field of study, producing this text has required the bringing together over twenty experts from a variety of fields. This enables us to cover all of the foundational components of sustainability: understanding our motivations requires the humanities, measuring the challenges of sustainability requires knowledge of the sciences (both natural and social), and building solutions requires technical insight into systems (such as provided by engineering, planning, and management).

    Readers accustomed to textbooks that present material in a unitary voice might be surprised to find in this one statements that do not always agree. Here, for example, cautious claims about climate change stand beside sweeping pronouncements predicting future social upheaval engendered by a warming world. And a chapter that includes market-based solutions to environmental problems coexists with others that call for increased government control. Such diversity of thought characterizes many of the fields of inquiry represented in the book; by including it, we invite users to engage in the sort of critical thinking a serious study of sustainability requires.

    It is our sincerest hope that this work is shared freely and widely, as we all struggle to understand and solve the enormous environmental challenges of our time.

    About the Contributors


    Tom Theis is Director of the Institute for Environmental Science and Policy, and Professor of Civil and Materials Engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

    Jonathan Tomkin is the Associate Director, School of Earth, Society & Environment, an Associate Research Professor with the Department of Geology and Director, ESE Online.

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