Sustainability carries the aim of improving prospects for people across the globe whilst protecting the natural systems that life depends upon.

The idea of sustainability – or sustainable development – recognizes that our health, cultural, financial, security and environmental issues are not separate, competing, and hierarchical, but systemic and interdependent.

Sustainability requires more than technical and scientific innovation. Most importantly, it involves changes in our thinking and lifestyles. Therefore sustainability can ultimately be seen as a challenge of learning and a priority for education. This is the key idea behind Education for Sustainability.

Sustainability on the International Stage

In 2015, UN Member States adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, as successor to the Millennium Development Goals. This intergovernmental agreement – Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – follows the ‘Rio+20’ Earth Summit in 2012 and aims to connect global economic, social and environmental goals, to advance the post-2015 development agenda.

Sustainable Development Goals

Visit the SDG website
Learn about the Global Goals

UN Education Programme

Defining Sustainability – the Brundtland Report (1987)

There are many definitions of sustainable development, which emerged from the study of natural systems and has gained in visibility since the 1970s. The most commonly quoted is from ‘Our Common Future’, the 1987 publication of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development:

“Sustainable Development is development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”

Sustainability in Higher Education

The global Higher Education community is increasingly active in sustainability in line with international agendas. In the UK significant sector initiatives have supported innovation and built capacity within universities to take these ideas forward, with support from the HE funding agencies of the devolved administrations and feed through into the curriculum and research activities.

National Union of Students:

  • Winner of UNESCO International Education for Sustainable Development award for ‘Green Impact’
  • The NUS ‘Green Fund’ invested £5m in Students Unions to drive sustainability with the HE Funding Council for England
  • The NUS has conducted annual skills surveys with the HE Academy since 2010 reaching over 35,000 students
  • NUS Responsible Futures accreditation provides a framework to advance sustainability in the curriculum and academic activities

“86% of students across all levels and subjects believe sustainability is something universities should actively support and promote.” NUS, 2015

Teaching & Learning Agencies:

  • EfS is included as a priority theme in the revised UK Quality Code for HE from the UK Quality Assurance Agency
  • National EfS Guidance was released in 2015, developed by an expert group co-ordinated by the QAA and HEA
  • The HE Academy has resourced research and development in Education for Sustainable Development since 2005
  • Education for Sustainability frameworks and guidance have been published by agencies including LSIS, NIACE and Ofsted

“All graduates will share responsibility as stewards, not only of the environment, but also of social justice – as employees, citizens and, in many cases, parents and mentors of the next generation.” (QAA, 2014)