The conjoining of the terms learning and sustainable development in the title of this book and its companion reader Key Issues in Sustainable Development and Learning: a critical review may seem quite natural to some readers but very much less so to others. It is certainly possible to be employed as a sustainable development professional, conducting environmental impact assessments for example, without having any interest in learning beyond the personal need to acquire information and skills. It is also possible to be a learning professional, organising vocational courses for unemployed adults perhaps, without ever having given much thought to sustainable development, either personally or professionally. It is our intention to argue that, nevertheless, learning and sustainable development are inextricably entwined. At the same time we hope to lay bare the issues surrounding this claim, and so enable readers to judge its worth for themselves.
Immediate difficulties concern the question of definition. Both terms have been defined in a number of different ways at the theoretical level, for practical purposes by policy makers, and by professionals in everyday usage. Dobson (1996), for example, has recorded over 300 definitions of sustainable development. Both terms also relate to and/or overlap with other terms (for example, lifelong learning, adult education, human resource development, training, sustainability, conservation, environmental management) in ways that are often ambiguous, unclear, and/or contested.
Definition is, of course, important. However, because a major purpose of this book is to seek to further develop definitions of both (lifelong) learning and sustainable development, each by reference to the other, we see definition as a core process of the book as well as a provisional starting point. It seems most appropriate, therefore, to set precision aside and begin with working definitions which are as inclusive as possible. Thus, for the time being we shall take learning to include all the learning that a person does between birth and death. One important consequence of this is that schooling is not excluded, and neither, therefore, are any consequences that schooling may have for what is learned in adult life, or for our abilities to learn. A second consequence is that work by others which is based on narrower definitions of learning, or which while clearly concerned with it does not explicitly use the term, is not excluded from consideration. Hence ideas as diverse as those of OECD (1996),