Education for sustainable development

Sustainability education (SE), Education for Sustainability (EfS), and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) are interchangeable terms describing the practice of teaching for sustainability. ESD is the term most used internationally and by the United Nations.[1] Agenda 21 was the first international document that identified education as an essential tool for achieving sustainable development and highlighted areas of action for education.


Groundwork has been laid for sustainability education worldwide. Recent changes in service learning, a focus on literacies and skills, standards that support interdisciplinary thinking, and the role of systems thinking have all increased the visibility of the movement.[2] Various approaches to ESD encourage people to understand the complexities of, and synergies between, the issues threatening planetary sustainability and understand and assess their own values and those of the society in which they live in the context of sustainability. ESD seeks to engage people in negotiating a sustainable future, making decisions and acting on them. While it is generally agreed on that sustainability education must be customized for individual learners,[3] according to Tilbury and Wortman, the following skills are essential to ESD:[4]

United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD)

In recognition of the importance of ESD, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2005-2014 the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD).[5] UNESCO leads the Decade and has developed an International Implementation Scheme[6] for the Decade. The goals of the decade are to provide an opportunity for refining and promoting the vision of, and transition to, sustainable development – through all forms of education, public awareness and training; and to give an enhanced profile to the important role of education and learning in sustainable development. Education[7] for sustainability is the practice of learning how to achieve global and local sustainable communities.

The objectives of the DESD are to:

U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development

The U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development (USPESD)[8] consists of individuals, organizations and institutions in the United States dedicated to education for sustainable development (ESD). It acts as a convener, catalyst, and communicator working across all sectors of American society.

The U.S. Partnership was conceived at a November 2003 "Open Space" gathering held in Washington, DC that included almost 100 participants from a diverse range of sectors including K-12 and higher education, science and research organizations, conservation and environmental NGOs, faith communities, living institutions, youth advocacy organizations, government agencies and others. Convened by the National Council on Science and the Environment and University Leaders for a Sustainable Future, the group met to respond to the call by the UN General Assembly for a Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005 through 2014) and to consider specifically:

  1. How the Decade could be leveraged to advance education for sustainable development (ESD) in the United States;
  2. What were the opportunities for collaboration within and across sectors; and
  3. How could widespread engagement in the Decade by U.S. organizations be facilitated.

A subsequent strategic planning retreat on the campus of Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania gave shape to the emerging Partnership. Hosted by the International Center for Leadership Results and facilitated by Group Jazz, participants agreed upon the Partnership's Vision - "sustainable development integrated into education and learning in the United States;" and Mission - to "leverage the UN Decade to foster education for sustainable development in the United States". They also conceived of an operating structure for the Partnership, including Action Teams (Marketing, Outreach, Funding, ICT, Youth etc.) and Sector Teams (K-12, Higher Education, Faith Communities, Business, and Communities.), whose volunteer leadership would comprise an Executive Team. An "Interim Steward" would provide ongoing facilitation and leadership.

Participants decided that the Partnership would not design or implement programs of its own. Rather, it would serve as a clearing house - helping to connect, highlight, and foster collaboration among partners - and serving as a catalyst to convene groups and build community to support existing and emerging initiatives.

The Partnership supports its vision and mission through periodic conference calls, in-person meetings and events, and its website. Action and Sector Teams remain key operational components of the Partnership, carrying out a range of activities in support of its mission and vision. Action Teams are responsible for planning and carrying out joint activities that support the entire partnership (e.g. Funding, ICT, Marketing). Sector Teams focus on the needs of their own sector (e.g. Higher Ed., K-12, Faith Communities). The Sector Teams have compiled ESD tools and resources and worked together to advance ESD through initiatives held "in collaboration with the U.S. Partnership". The Disciplinary Associations Network for Sustainability and the Higher Education Associations Sustainability Consortium are networks of national higher education associations integrating information about our urgent sustainability challenges and solutions into education. The Decade and the U.S. Partnership provide international and national context for such efforts, helping to promote and strengthen education for sustainable development in the United States.

Sustainable development in Canada

Sustainable Development Strategy for organizations in Canada is about the Government of Canada finding ways to develop social, financial, and environmental resources that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs in Canada. A Sustainable Development Strategy for the organization needs to be developed that establishes the Sustainable Development goals and objectives set by the Auditor General Act of Canada and provides the written policies and procedures to achieve them. Sustainable Development is based on responsible decision-making, which considers not only the economic benefits of development, but also the short-term and long-term, Canadian environment and environmental impacts.


The following individuals are associated with the sustainability education movement:

Educational institutions

Professional organizations often produce their own standards and best practices lists. The North American Association for Environmental Education[10] has produced a detailed "Guidelines for Excellence" in educational programming.[11] Some educational institutions that focus on ESD include:

In other parts of the world, some active organizations are

Awards for education programs aimed at promoting sustainability programs such as EfS

The Zayed Future Energy Prize,[23] was proud to announce the launch of the new "Global High School Prize" category in 2012. High Schools from around the world will be requested to submit a business case for how they plan on utilizing the prize for the purpose of raising awareness on the importance of sustainability and improving the school’s environmental footprint. The Global High School Prize is also a UAE commitment to the UN Secretary General’s Year of Sustainable Energy for All, which was launched from Abu Dhabi on January 16, 2012.

The Educating Africa Award[24] for Entrepreneurship in Education Awarding educational projects in Africa that are entrepreneurial, self sustainable and creating impact.

Other sources

The Walmart corporation offers a program for employees focused on sustainability education that includes the skill sets of EfS.[25]

Sustainable Development and Education in Uganda

From a political point of view you can say that the idea of sustainability comes from two different trends developed after the Second World War, which can be related to when colonial powers ended their occupation. Within the first trend, it was noticed that the former colonies suffered from social and economical problems like poverty and lack of food. The United Nations therefore arranged several conferences where solutions to these problems were outlined. Several international organs were established, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group (WBG). The second trend stars out from the alarming reports that began to appear during the 1960s, which warned for humans’ way of using nature resources. The resources would come to an end because of the future economical growth and increase in population. A first attempt to discuss these trends could be seen during the United nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm 1972. As a result, United Nations development Program (UNDP) was founded.

The first conference concerning environmental education (EE) was held in Tblisi in 1977 and it resulted in the Tblisi declaration. The document focuses on EE and maintains among others that it should be interdisciplinary, be a lifelong process and develop critical thinking and problem – solving skills. The declaration has had a large effect on curriculums, for example in the Uganda strategy to implementing education for sustainable development The term SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT got an international breakthrough in 1987 with the Bruntland Commissions final report. Our Common Future. The definition of sustainable development was stated in this report and it is still ubiquitous.“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” Sustainable development is about a global responsibility and solidarity between generations, between women and men and between different cultures and countries. It is about safeguarding and efficient use of existing nature resources. Investment in management of human, social and physiological resources is also crucial parts of sustainable development. Democratic values permeate the society and the citizens feel that they can influence the development, and that they have the will of taking that responsibility for doing so.

The principles underlying sustainable can be separated into a social, economic, and ecological dimension. The economic growth is used to be seen as a requirement for development. No country can achieve a sustainable economic growth if the environment is worsened, if the prosperity is not fairly distributed and if growth of the human resources has not taken place. Therefore, the economical dimension means that economical growth shall carry on with: first, respect taken to the environment, second, growth of the people’s health and education and third, a fair distribution of prosperity. The social dimension points out the importance resources, power and influence are fairly distributed and that people can feel security and can participate. The social dimension is therefore a requirement for economic growth. The environment dimension means that considerations are taken for the social and economical development. These three dimensions are integrated with each other as they are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. The implication of this is that sustainable development to a large extent is about politics In 1992 a UN conference, also known as Earth Summit, was held in Rio de Janeiro. The most famous agreement from that meeting is the Agenda 21, a plan of action for sustainable development. Two major differences from earlier conferences were:

Education is critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues. Both formal and non-formal education are indispensable to changing people’s attitudes so that they have the capacity to assess and address their sustainable development concerns. It is also critical for achieving environmental and ethical awareness, values and attitudes, skills and behavior consistent with sustainable development and for effective public participation in decision making. In the year 2000 the United Nations Millennium Declaration was adopted, which emphasizes that a global development demands a comprehensive view. The declaration formed the basis of time –bound and measurable goals for development. It contained eight goals that should promote a global development. Among them were goals for reduction of poverty, reduction of infant mortality, reduction of the HIV/AIDS, malaria spreading and a sustainable development until 2015.

Education for Sustainable Development in Germany

Within the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development the field of ESD in Germany has expanded a lot. There are broad school-networks and strong relationships between schools and out-of-school-education. Nevertheless, estimations say that the concept only has reaches nearly 10% of the schools and many individual teachers all over the country. ESD and Global Education - in the past two different concepts - now work under the same headline. Global Education (in Germany "Global Learning") is a special entry to ESD which emphasises the relationships between north and south in a globalized world and discusses injustices between the different parts of the world, partly with reference to the postcolonial discussion . The German education ministry has reached out a “Curriculum Framework Education for Sustainable Development” which has to develop more activities in the school sector .


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  2. Dernback, J.C. (2002) Stumbling toward sustainability. Environmental Law Institute. p. 608.
  3. Huckle, J. and Sterling, S.R. (2006) Education for sustainability. Earthscan. p. 139.
  4. Tilbury, D. and Wortman, D. (2004). Engaging People in Sustainability. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  5. "The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005 – 2014". UNESCO. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
  6. "UNESCO Office in Bangkok: International Implementation Scheme".
  7. "Academics at Prescott College".
  9. 1 2 "HOME - Green Education Foundation - GEF - Sustainability Education".
  10. "NAAEE". NAAEE.
  11. "National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education". North American Association for Environmental Education. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
  12. "Education for Sustainability". London South Bank University.
  14. "CAT Education and Life Long Learning".
  15. "Bristol University - Sustainability - Education for Sustainable Development".
  16. "Baltic University Programme - A regional university network".
  17. "Home Masters in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability Programme - Blekinge Institute of Technology - in real life".
  20. "Home - In the Field - CBC Radio". 16 February 2016.
  21. "Education Charter International - Home".
  22. "".
  25. "Sustainable Packaging Scorecard". Retrieved July 7, 2010.
  26. "WWF - Find your local WWF office".


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