Monday, 21 October 2013

Opportunities for integrating sustainability across curricula (Part 2 of EDUCATION pathway to a Sustainable University)

The previous post looked at the first of the six pathways to a sustainable university, namely Education, Research, Outreach, Operations, Culture and Institution. This post is the second part of the previous post, on Education. Today, let’s consider the opportunities available in universities for integrating sustainability across their curricula, embracing both content and pedagogy.


When curriculum is mentioned, what comes usually to our mind is the formal curriculum. However, there exist other curricula that offer opportunities for embedding sustainability. An example is the three-curriculum approach, comprising formal, informal and campus curricula (Hopkinson et al 2008).

The diagram, showing the key links, indicates how the three curricula fit into a typical university model adapted from the 4-C model comprising campus, curriculum, culture and community (Blake and Sterling 2011).

In this framework, the first opportunity is the formal curricula. Literature indicates five approaches to integrating sustainability into formal curricula:

§  Including some environmental coverage in an existing course (Lozano 2010)

§  Adding modules to existing courses (Minguet et al 2011)

§  Embedding sustainability at the whole programme level (Roberts and Roberts 2008)

§  Developing new courses (Lozano 2010, Lukman et al 2009)

§  Developing a new discipline (Sibbel 2009)


Note: The last approach above, i.e. developing a new discipline (e.g. ‘Sustainability Science’), will be discussed in detail in a future blog post on the Research Pathway.


Turning to formal curricula, a number of studies have demonstrated that sustainability could be linked virtually to any discipline or programme (Hopkinson et al 2008) and a list of ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) teaching opportunities in conventional disciplines, ranging from Agriculture (e.g. organic food) to Tourism (e.g. green travel) is available from Chalkley and Sterling (2011).


The second opportunity is informal curricula. Informal curricula exist outside their formal counterpart and are largely student driven, voluntary, open to all and non-credit bearing; they involve activities that influence the wider student experience and examples include volunteering, internships, clubs and societies and events (Hopkinson et al 2008). This is an effective way to harness students’ potential for sustainability locked in their kinship to the environmental movement (Helferty and Clarke 2009) and their passion for sustainability (Beringer and Adomssent 2008).


According to Lipscombe (2008), the extra-curricular sphere has much potential to advance sustainability because of the following strengths: (1) being an interface between curriculum, campus and community (2) its subject neutrality and openness for internal and external influences, so it is not defended as in the case with formal curricula (3) its fluidity facilitates changes quicker than those in formal curricula. Another source of rich sustainability potential is spiritually-oriented service learning (Podger et al 2010).


The third opportunity is campus curricula. Campus curriculum is the use of campus environmental management and sustainability as an educational resource for supporting students’ learning about sustainability (Hopkinson et al 2008). Campus sustainability projects have potential to enhance pedagogy because they give access to local, hands-on, experiential education (Savanick et al 2008). Moreover, campus curricula can tap into a rich source of sustainability leverage points hidden in two interlocking subsystems (i.e. academia and operations) of universities (Beringer and Adomssent 2008), whose divide is well known (Djordjevic and Cotton 2011). Therefore, campus sustainability projects facilitate linking of operations and academia while using operations as an educational resource (Savanick et al 2008). Moreover, engaging external stakeholders in such projects can improve the projects while strengthening the university-community relationship (Savanick et al 2008).


The next post, the third part of the Education pathway, will outline a practical programme for integrating sustainability across the curriculum of a typical university.

Useful Resources

Books and Reports

2014 (to be published)

BOOK:Higher Education and Sustainable Development: A model for curriculum renewal, by Desha, C. and Hargroves, K.


BOOK: The Sustainable University: Progress and prospects, by Sterling, S., Maxey, L. and Luna, H. (editors)



BOOK:Journeys around Education for Sustainability, by Parker, J. and Wade, R. (editors)


BOOK: Values in Higher Education, by Robinson, S. and Katulushi, C. (editors)


BOOK: The Sustainability Curriculum: The Challenge for Higher Education, by Blewitt, J. and Cullingford, C. (editors)


BOOK: Key Issues in Sustainable Development Learning: A Critical Review, by Gough, S. and Scott, W. (editors)


BOOK: Sustainable Education – Re-visioning Learningand Change (Schumacher Briefing No 6), by Sterling, S.


BOOK: Education for Sustainability, by Huckle, J. and Sterling, S. (editors)

Websites, web pages & blogs

Education for sustainable development (HEA)

Sustainability Education - The University of Gloucestershire

Guide to Quality and Education for Sustainability in Higher Education - Leading Curriculum Change for Sustainability: Strategic Approaches to Quality Enhancement project

Education for sustainable development (ESD) – The Higher Education Academy

Greener Curriculum: Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) – National Union of Students (NUS)

Embedding Sustainability into Teaching, Learning and Curriculum in the learning and skills sector - Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS)

Embedding sustainable development in the curriculum- EAUC

A Pedagogy for ESD? - Bill Scott's blog

Sustainability and Pedagogy – Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University, US

Effective pedagogy in education for sustainability - Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI), New Zealand

Resources on Sustainability Curriculum - Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

References & Bibliography

Beringer, A. and Adomssent, M. (2008) Sustainable university research and development: inspecting sustainability in higher education research. Environmental Education Research, 14(6), pp.607-623.


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.


Helferty, A. and Clarke, A. (2009) Student-led campus climate change initiatives in Canada. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 10(3), pp.287-300.


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.


Lipscombe, B.P. (2008) Exploring the role of the extra-curricular sphere in higher education for sustainable development in the United Kingdom. Environmental Education Research, 14(4), pp.455-468.


Lozano, R. (2010) Diffusion of sustainable development in universities' curricula: an empirical example from Cardiff University, Journal of Cleaner Production, 18, pp.637-644.


Lukman, R., Krajnc, D. and Glavic, P. (2009) Fostering collaboration between universities regarding regional sustainability initiatives – the University of Maribor. Journal of Cleaner Production, 17, pp. 1143-1153.


Minguet, P.A., Martinez-Agut, M.P., Palacios, B., Pinero, A. and Ull, M.A. (2011) Introducing sustainability into university curricula: an indicator and baselines survey of the views of university teachers at the University of Valencia. Environmental Education Research, 17(2), pp. 145-166.


Podger, D.M., Mustakova-Possardt, E. and Reid, A. (2010) A whole-person approach to educating for sustainability. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 11(4), pp.339-352.

Roberts, C. and Roberts, J. (2008) Starting with the staff: how swapshops can develop ESD and empower practitioners. Environmental Education Research, 14(4), pp. 423-434.


Savanick, S., Strong, R. and Manning, C. (2008) Explicitly linking pedagogy and facilities to campus sustainability: lessons from Carleton College and the University of Minnesota. Environmental Education Research, 14(6), pp.667-679.


Sibbel, A. (2009) Pathways towards sustainability through higher education. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 10(1), pp.68-82.

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