Campus Sustainability Office

Historical Roots of Sustainability (pre-1960) 

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The roots of sustainability are derived from the Romantic and Progressive eras in the United States at the turn of the 20th century. At the time, preservation and conservation efforts were most prominent. These ideals, along with the science of European forestry, led into the building blocks of early ecological thinking and environmentalism. These movements in turn led to an expansion of thought that gave us sustainability as we understand it today. 

We are where we are today because of the efforts of those who came before. Here you will find writings from figures such as

  • Romantic writers such as Henry David Thoreau
  • John Muir, the famed preservationist who started the Sierra Club
  • President Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and other prominent conservationists
  • Aldo Leopold (see photo below), famous WI forester and ecologist who developed the Land Ethic
Sustainability is a process, a fluid concept that looks to the past as much as the future in order to develop best practices and then apply what works to the model, the lifestyle, and the overall concept of sustainability.

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(CC Image courtesy of on Flickr)

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