ENVS101 Sustainability Essay

This assignment builds on the conceptual framework for sustainability discussed in Shammin 2008, “Sustainability definition and principles” assigned for Class#2.  Your assignment is first to formulate a well posed question that is related to the issue of sustainability and to your own life experience. Include this question at the top of your essay. Then, answer this question in less than 2,000 words.  This is about 3-4 pages. Use “Word Count” in the tools menu of MSWord.  Your question and answer are constrained to meet the criteria described below. I will use these criteria to grade your essay, so I suggest that you use these as a checklist. As always, I encourage you to brainstorm and share ideas with your classmates.  Feel free to answer a question that is similar to that posed by a fellow student.  However, your answer must reflect your own thinking and writing (each essay should be written by one student). Submit your essay as a single spaced MSWord document. Use the naming convention for your file (“SELastName.FirstName”) and send it as an attached file in the appropriate section on Blackboard. Although your essay is not officially due until late in the semester, I strongly encourage you to work on it earlier as the work load in this and other courses is heavy late in the semester.  You must make a mandatory appointment with the writing center to review your work before you submit it:

Writing Center Location: Mudd Library, 101A­—in the Academic Commons
Writing Center Hours: Sun., 2pm–1am; Mon., Tues., Weds. & Thurs., 7pm­­–1am; Fri. & Sat., 7–9pm

There are two approaches that you might take to constructing your first paragraph.  The first is to simply start by directly building a clear thesis statement that you then defend in subsequent paragraphs (see “Writing Guidelines” linked on home page of the class web site).  The second is to relate a brief anecdote or provide a narrative that sets the context for your essay and then end with a thesis statement.

Grading criteria for your question:

·         Is of appropriate breadth for a 3-4 page essay – question must be narrow enough in scope to be answerable within limitations.

·         Focuses on one particular issue related to your own experience (e.g. land use, power generation, human relationships, the economics of small businesses, life in Oberlin dorms and coops, etc.).

·         Addresses issues of sustainability at multiple scales, including the local scale.


Grading criteria for your answer:

·         Clearly addresses the four principles of sustainability discussed by Shammin (2008).

·         First paragraph provides a thoughtful and tailored definition of sustainability for the particular issue addressed. Be certain that this definition is specific to your topic; do not provide a generic definition that applies to all things.

·         Writing is of high quality: logic is well organized; first paragraph contains clear thesis statement; each paragraph contains a clear topic sentences; assertions and opinions are supported with evidence, conclusion draws together ideas and follows from essay; grammar is used correctly, references are appropriately cited, spelling and typographical errors are minimal.  Writing conforms to standards outlined in “ENVS101 Writing guidelines” (linked on home page of class website).

·         Draws extensively on (and correctly cites) readings used in class.  Use at least three references from class readings.  If you draw on other sources, be certain to cite these as well.  Neglecting to cite ideas or text that come from other sources is a violation of academic ethics and of the Oberlin honor code. 

·         Essay is written so that it would be understandable to a group of students who have just signed up for ENVS101, but have not yet taken it.  All terms and concepts that might be unfamiliar to this audience must be explained.


Example Definition:

Consider an essay on what makes for sustainability in student dining cooperatives.  Your definition might start with, “For cooperatives (coops), the term sustainability has particular social, economic and environmental components.  From the social standpoint, a sustainable coop is one in which the basic personality and atmosphere continue to perpetuate each year.  For example, Tank remains a party-oriented….”


Five randomly selected essay questions from previous years:

1. How would the inclusion of local foods in CDS lead to a more sustainable local economy?

2. Why and how should we combat suburban sprawl in Schenectady County, NY?

3. Are current practices of internment sustainable, if they are not what is?

4. How does living in an unsustainable community create a positive feed-back loop that leads to the continuation of unsustainability and environmental destruction?

5. How can purchasing from local businesses make the town of Oberlin a more sustainable community?


Ten sustainability essays from previous years:
(Note: format and grading criteria have changed – follow the criteria above)

1. FactoryFarms.doc

2. HomeFoodSystem.doc

3. MenstrualCycle.doc

4. MakingFamilySustainable.doc

5. FoodSystemInAsheville.doc

6. GarageSales.doc

7. CommunityCenter.doc

8. PhysicalLabor.doc

9. ForestryInGhana.doc

10. PersonalAutomobile.doc



‘Think globally and act locally’ (Biologist René Dubos, 1901-1982)