This guide is designed to support interdisciplinary research in sustainability.

Library Research Guide

What is Sustainability Literacy?

"Sustainability Literacy is demonstrating one’s awareness of issues that destabilize local and global relationships between economy, environment, and society, and having the information and knowledge necessary to make positive contributions within a transdisciplinary, collaborative, community-based forum of research focused on developing innovative solutions that work toward equity, responsibility, accountability, and resolution."

Western Washington University's Sustainability Institute Initiative



"Expressed at the highest level, a sustainability literate person might legitimately be expected to:

  • Understand the need for change to a sustainable way of doing things, individually and collectively.
  • Have sufficient knowledge and skills to decide and act in a way that favours sustainable development.
  • Be able to recognise and reward other people's decisions and actions that favour sustainable development."

Forum for the Future's consultation workshop,
a sustainability development charity in London


The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy: Skills for a Changing World identifies the term, sustainability literacy, as "the skills, attitudes, competencies, dispositions and values that are necessary for surviving and thriving in the declining conditions of the world in ways which slow down that decline as far as possible" (p. 10-11).


The literacy in sustainability literacy refers:

"to a wide range of practices people are empowered to participate in, through having skills in using language in particular ways . . . Literacy, then, is a collection of skills that allow for effective participation and influence in diverse areas of social life. As people gain sustainability literacy skills, they become empowered to read society critically, discovering insights into the unsustainable trajectory that the society is on and the social structure that underpin this trajectory. But more than this, they become empowered to engage with those social structures and contribute to the re-writing of self and society along more sustainable lines (p.11)."

The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy: Skills for a Changing World


Sustainability Literacy Competencies

The Center for Ecoliteracy has identified a set of fifteen core competencies that young people need to develop for living in sustainable communities—the ability to:

Head (Cognitive)

  • Approach issues and situations from a systems perspective
  • Understand fundamental ecological principles
  • Think critically, solve problems creatively, and apply knowledge to new situations
  • Assess the impacts and ethical effects of human technologies and actions
  • Envision the long-term consequences of decisions

Heart (Emotional)

  • Feel concern, empathy, and respect for other people and living things
  • See from and appreciate multiple perspectives; work with and value others with different backgrounds, motivations, and intentions
  • Commit to equity, justice, inclusivity, and respect for all people

Hands (Active)

  • Create and use tools, objects, and procedures required by sustainable communities
  • Turn convictions into practical and effective action, and apply ecological knowledge to the practice of ecological design
  • Assess and adjust uses of energy and resources

Spirit (Connectional)

  • Experience wonder and awe toward nature
  • Revere the Earth and all living things
  • Feel a strong bond and deep appreciation of place
  • Feel kinship with the natural world and invoke that feeling in others