Harry Potter and the 3 E’s of Sustainability

by Rachel Brett

What does Harry Potter have to do with EFS? A lot, especially if you’re trying to teach kids about sustainability. As any Harry Potter fan knows, one of the most important lessons that Harry learns during his quest to fight evil is that he can’t do it alone. Although Harry may be the star of the books, he needs the help of his two best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, to ultimately triumph. Focusing only on Harry means that you’re looking at just one piece of a much bigger puzzle.

So what lessons can we take from Harry Potter? Well, when many people hear the word “sustainability,” their mind goes immediately to the environment. For many, sustainability means being “eco-friendly.”  The environment may well be the Harry Potter of sustainability, but it’s not enough. Instead, EFS must integrate the 3 E’s into how we define and understand sustainability. The 3 E’s are environment, economy and equity, and all three are essential and interconnected elements of EFS. J.K. Rowling builds this theme of interconnectedness into her books both explicitly and implicitly and makes it clear how vital it is for the heroes’ success. For example, Dumbledore repeatedly emphasizes to Harry and others how interdependent life is: what seems inconsequential or unrelated often has vast implications when the big picture is revealed. This concept is woven into the very fabric of the novels, as well. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that each small and seemingly insignificant action and event has consequences and reverberations on a much grander scale.

When we teach about sustainability, we need to teach people to look at it from multiple perspectives. Environmental health, social justice, and economic stability shouldn’t be at odds with one another—they are all critical components of the big picture of sustainability. If the problems we face are interdependent, then the solutions must also be integrated. As environmental justice advocates like Van Jones and Majora Carter emphasize, even the greenest idea in the world won’t solve our problems if it’s so expensive only the wealthy can access it. After all, it was the boy from under the stairwell, a muggle-born girl, and the son of a mid-level bureaucrat who together brought peace and justice to the wizarding world, not the elite, affluent Malfoy family. In addition, by embracing a vision that was diverse yet cohesive—not fragmented or divisive—Harry found unexpected allies in house elves and Centaurs. Adopting a similar scope through the 3 E’s, then, will not just ensure that our solutions are more holistic—it will also help unite people in constructing a society that is sustainable and equitable for all.

The students I work with understand this. I’ve heard fifth graders wax poetic about how a new technology isn’t sustainable unless it’s fair to all; how our ability to make change often depends on money but our ability to make money depends on the resources in our earth; how each of these concepts are just individual—but interlinking—pieces of that big puzzle. I’ve heard the same students discuss their favorite Harry Potter characters, and although some revere Harry while others may have “I love Ron Weasley” t-shirts in their closets, they all recognize that each character is only one part of the story. There is a lot more to Harry Potter that creates a complete, complex world encompassing the struggles of ordinary people trying to get by in an unfair world. Only by looking at the bigger picture can we understand that world; only by bringing together all the pieces can Harry and his friends save that world. These lessons apply to us as well: only by integrating the 3 E’s and the many pieces of our own big picture will we ultimately achieve our purpose of creating a more sustainable society ourselves.

2 comments
  1. Thank you Rachel! Can’t wait to share this on my FB page, and with my college students.

  2. Mona dalmia said:

    Dear Rachael, Thanks for making me think through this very interesting piece on EFS – Moma

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