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Sustainability has become a buzz word--a term used so often that its signification has become lost. To some, sustainability has positive associations with a bright future, while for others simply hearing the word can cause them to disengage. Many practitioners have come to define sustainability by the 1987 UN Brundtland Report known as "Our Common Future." In that report sustainable development is described as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

SLE recognizes that sustainability goes beyond development, and extends far prior to the year 1987. People have long been practicing and understanding sustainability by many names and approaches, including indigenous communities like those of the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi people, whose ancestral home is now occupied by the University of Michigan.

The SLE approach to sustainability acknowledges native knowledge and traditions, and also holds wellness and diversity as key components of sustainable communities. These are a part of the three E's of sustainability articulated by Robert Goodland in 1995: environment, economics and equity. SLE students will have the opportunity to explore these concepts together and come up with their own working understanding of sustainability and the role it plays in their lives.