Education for Sustainable Development

Our role as an educator is a privilege and a responsibility. A privilege to have the opportunity to teach hungry, open and creative minds, and a responsibility for delivering learning that meets the needs of our  students, now and in their roles following their graduation. We are proud that in 2024 we achieved TEF Gold, illustrating our outstanding approach and delivery of education.

What is Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)?

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.”

The student demand for sustainable development has never been higher; an NUS study found “Eight in every ten students consistently believe that sustainable development 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.”

Climate change is the biggest global threat of the 21st century and without action it will continue to affect people and our natural environment across the world. Supporting action is a global responsibility, with a UN driven ambition to limit climate temperature increase to no higher than 2oC. These are legally binding commitments which are aimed at every organisation to achieve a reduction of 80% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as set out in the Climate Change Act (2008).

Current graduates will therefore be faced with great challenges, but with those challenges come opportunity. As a teaching institution we must ensure that our students have the necessary knowledge and skills to deal with these issues, and regardless of career sector can drive forwards positive change for a sustainable legacy.

ESD at Greenwich

In January 2015 we started research into the most appropriate approach to deliver ESD. We presented our results to our Academic and Quality Standards Committee (AQSC) in  September 2015. A further piece of research and analysis  to set out approaches for ESD application was initiated in January 2016 and presented to AQSC in July 2016.  This work was supported by the work our Sustainability Hub did in delivering the NUS’s Responsible Futures Framework.

Moving forwards, in 2020-21 the University developed, approved and launched the Curriculum Framework, which includes 8 dimensions that all teaching will have to integrate into teaching and learning, including sustainable development and all areas have the capability of sustainable inclusion:

  • Inclusivity
  • Personalised learning
  • Employment-focused & Industry-led
  • International
  • Student-informed
  • Research and pedagogy-informed
  • Wellbeing and
  • Sustainable development.

The University’s Academic Council is responsible for ensuring the success of the Curriculum Framework with students represented by our elected SU officers to ensure our teaching is relevant and appropriate. Student representatives were involved with the development of the Curriculum Framework Dimensions with Greenwich Students’ Union Officer Niel Lewis a member of the writing and steering groups of the Sustainable Development Dimensions.

The institutional lead for the Curriculum Framework is Professor Jenny Marie, Pro Vice-Chancellor Education, responsibility for this and the Student Success Sub Strategy is with Professor Vanessa Lemm, Deputy Vice-Chancellor & Provost.

The University provides training and workshops for our academics to learn about the relevance of sustainability in their programmes and we utilise the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as the framework to illustrate the applicability of sustainability to programmes across the board. Sustainable student inductions are also available.

We still have a way to go, but are committed for sustainability to be included as a core element of all teaching.

Exploration of sustainability can also occur through our ‘living laboratory‘, utilising the campus itself for research.  

Progress is reported to the Sustainability Management Committee and including  representatives from all Faculties, Greenwich Students Union, the DVC for Student Success and others with a direct role in ensuring sustainability is integrated effectively in our curriculum.

In 2023 the university participated in the AdvanceHE SDG programme that enabled the university to review its sustainability work including ESD. The Associate Professor in HE Learning and Teaching attended to ensure learning can be transferred accordingly.

The University is also collaborating with industry partners to develop innovative approaches to help ensure all students and staff get the chance to learn about the importance of sustainability to their learning and careers.

ESD Community of Practice

A staff led community of practice is available for any staff to join to learn about and share best practice about the application of sustainability in teaching across the university. To join this hybrid meeting please contact to be added to the members list. This group meets every term with staff creating the ongoing content.

ESD Training

Get in touch with the sustainability team for updates or alternatively check the Academic Learning and Enhancement (ALE) workshop webpage for forthcoming and regular ESD focused training sessions. Furthermore the Greenwich Sustainability Champions Network provides all staff including academic focused sessions to champions involved with learning and teaching. As an example to help ourstaff prepare for the next academic year the Sustainable Development Unit ran a series of trainings in May and June 2024. Two sessions were recorded so please email to get the links.

How the Sustainable Development Unit can help introduce sustainability into your programmes (online). Including: Providing guest lectures, Induction, Welcome Week, introductions to sustainability, Advice about sustainability integration into your programmes and Using our estates as learning lab.

Sustainability integration into the curriculum (online). Here understand what sustainability is, understand the relevance of sustainability to your programmes, use the UN SDGs to connect your programmes to key social and environmental issues and evelop a lesson plan

Using our estates as learning labs (held at the Avery Hill Community and Forest Garden) Explore how using outdoor learning environments can engage and inspire students, connect your programmes to applied and unique learning methods and use spaces for student bonding and team building opportunities

ESD Greenwich Resource Bank:

To support the delivering of Sustainable Development Teaching and supporting the Curriculum Framework the University has produced a Resource Bank. This is supported by a Moodle site with information to help academic staff identify resources that support their sustainability application in their subject areas.

Additional Academic Support

The Sustainable Development Unit is offering a range of services that academics can utilise to help them understand better how sustainability including the SDGs can relate to their programmes. This can be a precursor for academic course leads to further develop their learning using the resources and support identified on this page. This includes subject tailored guest lectures, living lab development opportunities, the use of the university natural spaces as novel and impactful learning environments.

Additional and downloadable resources are included on this page.

Living Lab

The University encourages students and staff to apply their problem solving and innovation developing skills with our Professional Services, particularly our Estates and Facilities Directorate. For more information click here.

University of Greenwich Shift Conference

Best practice examples of sustainability teaching is presented at the annual Shift Conference. In 2022 sustainability was one of the four key themes as part of the UoG Shift Conference in 2022, open to UoG and university and other educational experts from national and international HEIs. Many papers, and professional development presentations were given focused on ESD.

The university encourages and supports the inclusion of key issues relating to the university’s sustainability ambitions and expectations into teaching. This for example includes teaching around Fairtrade, and Net Zero Carbon Planning.

ESD Case Studies:

Chapters from ‘The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy’

  • Eco-criticism (Greg Garrard)
    • The ability to investigate cultural artefacts from an ecological perspective.
  • Optimisation (John Naish)
    • The art of personal sufficiency
      • How our constant striving for greater consumption is driving depression, stress and anxiety, and how consumer culture in on a direct collision course with ecological collapse
    • Grounded Economic Awareness (Satish Kumar)
      • Based on ecological and ethical values. Understanding the broader ecological effects that the pursuit of money as an end it itself has. ‘Place-based economic awareness’
    • Advertising awareness (Arran Stibble)
      • The ability to expose advertising discourses that undermine sustainability
    • Commons Thinking (Justin Kenrick)
      • The ability to envisage and enable a viable future through connected action
    • Systems Thinking (Glenn Strachan )
      • The ability to recognize and analyse the inter-connections within and between systems

For a full list see:

Literature on Sustainability competencies, teaching and assessment methods

Research on competencies for sustainability

  • Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., Redman, C.L. (2011) Key competencies in sustainability: a reference framework for academic program development. Sustainability Science 6(2):203–218. 
  • Brundiers, K., Barth, M., Cebrián, G. et al. Key competencies in sustainability in higher education—toward an agreed-upon reference framework. Sustain Sci 16, 13–29 (2021). 
  • Lozano, R., Merrill, M., Sammalisto, K., Ceulemans, K., & Lozano, F. (2017). Connecting Competences and Pedagogical Approaches for Sustainable Development in Higher Education: A Literature Review and Framework Proposal. Sustainability (Basel, Switzerland)9(10), 1889–. 
  • Tejedor, G. et al. (2019). Didactic Strategies to Promote Competencies in Sustainability. Sustainability. 11(7), 2086. 

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