Sustainability is at the heart of engaged scholarship at Michigan State University. It appears in core MSU programs, activities, and documents as an intrinsic value in developing and evaluating the University's outreach efforts.

A key 1993 report on university outreach at MSU1 mentions "the capacity of off-campus audiences to maintain and sustain outreach gains" as part of the "art and science" of successful community engagement. A later guidebook for planning and evaluating outreach initiatives2 refers to "the sustainability of endeavors" as being embedded in "developmental processes that evolve, grow, and progress over time." In the Matrix for Evaluating Quality Outreach—proposed in that document as a tool for project evaluation—the assessment criteria include such questions as: "What part does the contribution make to capacity building and sustainability?" and "To what extent did the project develop mechanisms for sustainability?"

What is Sustainability?

A 1987 report of the U.N. Brundtland Commission3 defines the term simply as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Many people automatically think of this as a primarily environmental issue. However, those who are involved with the research, policies, and practices of sustainability are more likely to look for what they call the "triple bottom line" of intertwined economic, environmental, and social systems. Sustainability, they say, "is about the interdependence of living organisms and communities (both human and nonhuman) over the long haul...Each has an impact on and consequences for the others."4

Thus, MSU's 2007Campus Sustainability Report includes social indicators (e.g., student, faculty, and staff diversity; health; workplace injuries) and economic indicators (e.g., research funding; employee wages and benefits; student debt) as well as environmental indicators (e.g., land and water management; transportation; energy use).

Long-Term Commitment

The investigators featured in this issue of The Engaged Scholar Magazine approach sustainability from different directions—from wildlife monitoring to community watershed management, grasslands research, sustainable agriculture, energy education, green chemistry, Fair Trade law, and business development. What they have in common is a dedication to keeping in mind the larger systems we are all a part of and how we are both shaped by them and in turn shape them. They are in it for the long haul.

The next issue of the magazine will have an urban focus.

Linda Chapel Jackson

  1. Provost's Committee on University Outreach. (1993). Extending knowledge to serve society: University outreach at Michigan State University. Retrieved May 21, 2009, from
    Go back to Citation 1
  2. Committee on Evaluating Quality Outreach. (1996). Points of distinction: A guidebook for planning & evaluating quality outreach. Retrieved May 21, 2009, from
    Go back to Citation 2
  3. United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987, March). Our common future: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Retrieved May 21, 2009, from
    Go back to Citation 3
  4. University Committee for a Sustainable Campus. (2007, April). Campus sustainability report. Retrieved May 21, 2009, from
    Go back to Citation 4

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