Friday, 15 February 2013

Education’s role in addressing sustainability and ESD

Sustainability can be interpreted as a challenge to the education system due to a number of reasons. For example, decision-makers’ and public’s inadequate understanding of sustainability is a key barrier to addressing it effectively. 
That education should play a key role addressing sustainability has now achieved global recognition, as shown by the following:

§  Chapter 36 of Agenda 21: ‘Education is critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues’ (UN Sustainable Development 1993)

§  The UNESCO website: ‘Education is essential to sustainable development. Citizens of the world need to learn their way to sustainability’ (UNESCO 2012)

§  The UN DESD (Decade for Education for Sustainable Development) emphasises ‘the indispensible role of education for achieving sustainable development’ (Zilahy et al 2009)

Education’s key role in sustainability has coined the phrase ‘Education for Sustainable Development’ (ESD) (or ‘Education for Sustainability’ EfS). ESD is ‘a process of learning how to make decisions that consider the long-term future of the economy, ecology and equity of all communities’ (UNESCO 2004 in Djordjevic and Cotton 2011). Its aim is to equip people with the knowledge, skills, values and competencies needed to bring about change. Like sustainability, ESD is a contested term.

ESD has risen to global limelight with the UN Decade of ESD 2005-2014. With one of its four thrusts being reorienting education to address sustainability, this decade strives to integrate SD into all education and all areas of life, from communities to society in general, with a view of generating the behaviour changes needed for building a more sustainable society.

Within education, what role has higher education got to play in building a sustainable world. The next blog entry will explore that…

Resources on education and sustainability

Educationfor sustainable development (Higher Education Academy)
Educationfor Sustainability Guides (University of Gloucestershire)

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) (UNESCO)
Educationfor Sustainable Development (UN University)
Education for Sustainable Development (Wikipedia)

Educationfor Sustainable Development Toolkit

Education for Sustainable Development (UK National Commission for UNESCO)
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD resources)

References & Bibliography

Blake, J. and Sterling, S. (2011) Tensions and transitions: effecting change towards sustainability at a mainstream university through staff living and learning at an alternative, civil society college. Environmental Education Research, 17(1), pp.125-144.

Chalkley, B. and Sterling, S. (2011) Hard times in higher education: the closure of subject centres and the implications for education for sustainable development (ESD). Sustainability, 3, pp. 666-677.

Djordjevic, A. and Cotton, D.R.E. (2011) Communicating the sustainability message in higher education institutions. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 12(4), pp. 381-394.

Ferrer-Balas, D; Lozano, R; Huisingh, D; Buckland, H; Ysern, P; Zilahy, G (2010) Going beyond the rhetoric: system-wide changes in universities for sustainable societies, Journal of Cleaner Production, 18, pp.607-610

Jones, P., Trier, C.J., and Richards, J.P. (2008) Embedding Education for Sustainable Development in higher education: A case study examining common challenges and opportunities for undergraduate programmes. International Journal of Educational Research, 47, pp.341-350.

Hopkinson, P., Hughes, P. and Layer, G. (2008) Sustainable graduates: linking formal, informal and campus curricula to embed education for sustainable development in the student learning experience. Environmental Education Research, 14(4), pp.435-454.

Raivio, K. (2011) Sustainability as an educational agenda. Journal of Cleaner Production, 19, pp. 1906-1907.

Sterling, S. and Scott, W. (2008) Higher education and ESD in England: a critical commentary on recent initiatives. Environmental Education Research, 14 (4), pp. 386-398.

UNESCO (2004) United Nations Decade for Education for Sustainable Development 2005-2014: Draft international implementation scheme. Paris: UNESCO.

UNESCO (2006) ESD: The United Nations decade (2005-2014). Paris: UNESCO.

UNESCO (2012) Education for Sustainable Development [Online] Available from: (Accessed 27 November 2012)

UN Sustainable Development (1993) Agenda 21 [Online] Available from: (Accessed 23 November 2012)

Yarime, M., Trencher, G, Mino, T., Scholz, R.W., Olsson, L., Ness, B., Frantzeskaki, N. and Rotmans, J. (2012) Establishing sustainability science in higher education institutions: towards an integration of academic development, institutionalization, and stakeholder collaborations. Sustainability Science, 7 (Supplement 1), pp. 101-113.

Zilahy. G., Huisingh, D. Melanen, M., Phillips, V.D. and Sheffy, J. (2009) Roles of academia in regional sustainability initiatives: outreach for a more sustainable future. Journal of Cleaner Production, 17, pp. 1053–1056.
Photograph by Asitha Jayawardena

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