Education for sustainability

Education for Sustainability – also known as Education for Sustainable Development – is an approach to education that develops the capabilities of people to create more sustainable ways of life. It is a high level vision for rethinking education – its purposes, methods and content – in light of the challenges societies are facing and the need for an educational response.

Education for Sustainability offers an education that empowers people to shift their thinking and priorities, grapple with the ‘three pillars’ of sustainability, adopt a global perspective and think using longer time frames, to get beyond a focus on meeting immediate needs at the cost of the future.

Find out about our Education for Sustainability work

See examples of our curriculum change activities

Read our summary of how EfS relates to the wider sustainability movement 

Learn about Education

UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development

The United Nations co-ordinated global capacity building from 2005-2015 through the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD). Co-ordinated by UNESCO, the DESD worked with education systems to better support sustainability at all levels of formal and informal learning.

The UN DESD Final Report underlines the role of higher education in leadership on ESD and the importance of professional development for educators, to build capacity for integrating ESD into education. 

Transformative sustainability learning

Education for Sustainability is a new area of education practice grounded in transformative learning theory and critical pedagogy. It means more than just teaching about sustainable development or setting up special courses on sustainability.

Passing on expert knowledge without an understanding of how to apply it, work with other professionals, or drive change, does not empower people to tackle the complexities and uncertainties around sustainability. We need to connect sustainability with their professional responsibilities and equip them to take effective and collaborative action to bring about change.

The focus in Education for Sustainability is on teaching and learning methods pedagogy that empowers people to critique existing knowledge and practices, and to innovate and apply an understanding of sustainability relevant to different specialisms or settings.

Common pedagogical approaches to support this shift to better futures:

  • futures thinking
  • systems thinking
  • learning to change
  • critically reflective thinking
  • stakeholder engagement
  • participatory learning

Browse our LIFT staff support programme

Browse our Education for Sustainability resources and tools.

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