Why incorporate Education for Sustainable Development?


What is ESD?
In essence, Education for Sustainable Development is the pedagogic approach required to ensure social, economic and ecological well-being, now and for the future; ultimately providing individuals with the skills to combat any prospective ‘wicked problems’.

The UN defines it as:  “a vision of education that seeks to balance human and economic well-being with cultural traditions and respect for the earth’s natural resources.”

Student demand
The rise in tuition fees has meant that students feel they should have a greater input into their education, with more and more students seeking both universities and employers who incorporate and reflect good sustainability practices. This process of looking forward will hold a level of contemporary relevance with students, thus furthering engagement. A recent NUS study found:

“Eight in every ten students consistently believe that SD should be actively incorporated and promoted by universities, and this increases as respondent’s progress through their studies. International students are significantly more likely to agree that action should be taken by universities in this way.”

Viewing your subject through the lens of sustainability, both in research and delivery, may provide a new perspective on a certain topic, providing the basis for innovation. This will transpire at both a staff and student level, enriching the curriculum and enhancing the process of teaching and learning.

Career Development
Coupled with the possibility for innovative research brings the prospect for career development both as a lecturer and an academic.  There are  a number of courses available that provide ESD skill, for example: PGCAP 760/770 NSM on Sustainability Education at Plymouth University is a 15 credit Masters level course designed to provide university lecturers with an introduction to sustainability education.

Because sustainability is all encompassing, its incorporation within the curriculum can create platforms for collaboration between departments that perhaps otherwise may not have been discovered. If these links are passed on to students, they will be greater prepared for working life which frequently demands knowledge drawn from a breadth schools – i.e. Natural Resource Institute at Medway campus.

Market Drive
The integration of sustainability throughout business will bring with it financial benefits (weblink), in fact the Stern Review found that not acting on climate change equates to the loss of at least 5% of annual global GDP.

Owing both to the increase in fees and relatively week graduate job market, students want degrees that will assist them in their careers.

  • Of 700 organisations across different industry sectors, 93% stated their business is likely to do more in the next five years to incorporate sustainability into their strategies (BITC/EDF Energy).
  • In 2010 96% of CEOs ‘Strongly Agreed’ that sustainability should be fully embedded into company strategy and operations, this was up 24% from 2007 (UN Global Compact-Accenture, “A New Era of Sustainability”)

There is an increasingly strong mandate for the implementation of ESD into HE coming from a variety of channels, including:

  • The UK Government as reflected in the ‘Carbon reduction target and strategy for higher education in England (2010)’
  • The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) have stated they want sustainable development to be central to higher education, and in their 2014 consultation identified sustainable development issues will affect future funding.
  • The United Nations had been encouraging governments across the world to integrate the principles, values and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning.
  • Sustainability is one of the seven KPIs for Learning and Teaching at Greenwich; however, through the application of the ‘Sustainability Lens’ ESD can assist in meeting all seven.

Institutional Responsibility
It is clear that current graduates will be faced with greatly different problems and conditions than those of previous generations. They will need the skills and capabilities necessary to cope with conditions of uncertainty, complexity and rapid change, as well as the ability to contribute positively to a more sustainable, safe and secure future. As a university we must ensure that responsibility is coupled with knowledge.


University of Greenwich Sustainability Blog