The New Academy... Beyond Sustainability

Name: The New Academy… Beyond Sustainability (NABS)

Purpose: To promote and support changes in thinking, learning, knowing, and acting essential to moving beyond sustainability to a new and better way of life.  

Principles: The guiding principles of the New Academy Are:

  • Holistic Thinking: A process of acquiring knowledge based on the belief that everything is interconnected. Wholes are more than the sums of their parts; relationships matter
  • Collaborative Learning: An approach to education where students are challenged to formulate, articulate, and defend their own ideas and to create their own conceptual frameworks of information, understanding, and knowledge
  • Deep Sustainability: A way of thinking, learning, knowing, and acting rooted in the ethical, philosophical, and spiritual foundation upon which sustainability depends 
  • Beyond Sustainability: A condition where natural ecosystems and human societies are not simply sustained but are enhanced, economic conditions are more fair and equitable, and the spiritual aspect of being is respected and accepted as essential to human well-being
The New Academy is also guided by the basic principles of sustainability: including the ecological principles such as holism, diversity, and interdependence; social principles of trust, kindness, and courage; and economic principles of scarcity, efficiency, and sovereignty. These principles permeate all aspects of the organization.

The organizational structure is still evolving, but local activities are being carried under the conceptual umbrella of the New Academy. For now at least, opportunities to participate in the New Academy are limited to those local events. See the "Calendar" page for information concerning New Academy learning opportunities.

Background of the New Academy... Beyond Sustainability
Some Initial Thoughts: by John Ikerd

The New Academy for Sustainability will provide a dynamic organizational structure that initiates and nurtures a variety of collaborative learning experiences addressing issues of authentic sustainability. The concept of academy dates back Plato’s school of philosophy which was founded around 385 BC at Akademia, a sanctuary of Athena the Greek goddess of wisdom and skill. The new academy for sustainability will be rooted in the tradition of Plato, allowing knowledge to arise through dialogue among thoughtful participants engaged in processes of collaborative learning. While the concept of academy is old, the mission of this academy is new: it is committed to the acquisition of educational skills and wisdom relevant specifically to issues of sustainability.

The name of the academy is meant to distinguish it from the myriad of other educational institutions addressing issues of sustainability. Sustainability ultimately is a matter of intergenerational equity: meeting the needs of the present without compromising opportunities for the future. The ability to meet the needs of the present and future depends on ecological, social, and economic integrity. No one is any less critical or more important than the other. Most contemporary sustainability programs, both private and public, address specific issues such as energy conservation, environmental protection, resource substitution, income redistribution, social justice, or “green” economics. Programs that address only one or two dimensions of sustainability may be useful and valuable, but they lack authenticity, in that they fail to address the whole of sustainability. Furthermore, our responsibility to those of future generations is inherently moral or ethical. We have no economic or social interest in the well-being of those seven or seventy generations in the future.Authentic sustainability is deep sustainability; it questions the rightness and goodness of our relationships with other people and with nature.

The New Academy will be a dynamic, self-organizing, evolving organization, and as such, must be guided by a common commitment to a clearly defined purpose and set of core principles rather than ruled or restrained by a rigid set of bylaws and fixed organizational structure. The NABS must promote an understanding of sustainability not just as a pressing public issue but as the transformational force of twenty-first century that ultimately will reshape virtually every aspect of people’s lives, including how they think.

Finally, an understanding of authentic sustainability lights the path to a new and better world, beyond sustainability. We are physical beings and our individual economic needs must be met for a desirable quality of life. However, we are also social beings; we need to respect and be respected, to love and be loved. We are also moral and ethical beings; we need a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Happiness is the natural consequence of balance and harmony among the physical, social, and spiritual dimensions of life. We will not address the challenges of authentic sustainability until we understand three dimensions of sustainability are completely compatible with the three dimensions of happiness and quality of life. The New Academy will look beyond the current challenges of sustainability to reveal the realistic possibilities for a new and fundamentally better way of life.


Moving Beyond Sustainability

Transcending Sustainability: Principles and Paradigms Exploring Deep Sustainability. This was the title of a conference organized by a local ad hoc group which was held in Fairfield in June of 2012. The name: New Academy... Beyond Sustainability, the organizational purpose, and set of guiding principles emerged from discussions begun at that conference.


The purpose of the conference was “to provide a supportive environment for systems thinking and collaborative learning guided by the principles of authentic sustainability.” Sustainability is the defining question of the 21st century: How do we meet the needs of the present without diminishing opportunities for the future? It is neither a passing fad nor a challenge that can be met by fine tuning or tweaking conventional ways of thinking. To create a sustainable society and economy, we eventually must change virtually every aspect of our lives.


Sustainability is a direct challenge to the economic and societal status quo. Gandhi wrote: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” We have succeeded in bringing defenders of the status quo through the first three level of progress. They have ignored us, laughed at us, and fought us, but the sustainability movement has continued to grow. In today’s society, there is another step between fighting and victory: “They try to co-opt you” or to appropriate your movement to serve their own purposes. Today, those in positions of economic and political power are attempting to redefine and redirect the sustainability movement to accommodate their continued economic exploitation of both nature and society.


The New Academy... Beyond Sustainability represents a commitment to moving sustainability to the “next level” toward ultimate success for the movement – toward winning the hearts and minds of all thoughtful, caring people. Every major corporation and public institution has a sustainability initiative, but few are committed to achieving “authentic sustainability.” Authentic sustainability is about moving beyond using natural resources more efficiently, but only whenever it’s more profitable to do so. It’s about moving beyond simply substituting renewable for nonrenewable sources of energy, while using the same old industrial paradigms of economic development. Authentic sustainability is about changing the way we view the world and our place within it. It’s about co-creating the new and different ways of thinking and knowing necessary to move beyond sustainability to a new and better world for the future – a world that does not yet exist.


The Transcending Sustainability conference was a tremendous success, as least from the perspective of the organizers. Our most optimistic hopes were to attract a group of 30  people to the conference, which we assumed would be mostly from Fairfield and the surrounding area. Without the necessary funding to bring in “big-name” speakers, we were not sure that many people would be willing to travel from other states to a small town in southeast Iowa just to talk with other likeminded people about sustainability. Instead, more than 60 people registered and attended the conference, with closer to 75 when we count students and volunteers. People came from Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Delaware, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and of course, Iowa. The conference facilities at the new Sustainable Living Center on the MUM campus could have not accommodated many more.


The success wasn’t just in the size of attendance. The conversations were thoughtful, sincere, and at times intense, but civil. They focused on a wide variety of physical, social, and ethical issues related to economic, social, and ecological sustainability. A few people still weren’t willing to accept sustainability as the appropriate word for the movement, but most were ready to meet the challenges of sustainability and move beyond to something fundamentally better. As the comments of those at the closing circle and the written evaluations confirmed, the vast majority of the people considered the conference to be an intellectually stimulating and personally rewarding experience.


We also had a lot of fun. The weather was somewhat of a challenge for our tour on the first afternoon, but didn’t dampen the spirits of those who attended the reception at the local winery that evening. The sun came out the next morning, and we had great weather for the Art Walk in downtown Fairfield, the Farmers Market, and our Chautauqua on the Square over the next two days. The many and varied talents of the people of Fairfield were on display. If there was a star of the event, it was Fairfield.


One objective of the conference was to explore the possibility of developing a “New Academy” to meet the needs of the new world “beyond sustainability.” The diverse group of volunteers recruited at the conference discussed the purpose, principles, and organizational structure for The New Academy over a period of several months. The name, purpose, and principles on The New Academy reflects the work of that group.


John Ikerd