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Education for sustainability

Learning to love the World for sustainability
Education is one of the seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, seen as a catalyst of a more sustainable future where human rights, gender equality, peace, an appreciation of cultural diversity and environmental protection are the norm.

Education for sustainability fosters the knowledge, skills, values and world views necessary for people to act in ways that contribute to more sustainable patterns of living.

Every learner is different so education for sustainability must be customised, however there are some principles that are considered essential. The principles of education for sustainability are:

Transformation and change
Education for sustainability is not simply about providing information but involves equipping people with the skills, capacity and opportunity to engage with the World in an informed manner, focusing on protecting environments and creating a more ecologically and socially just world. People learn how to plan and manage change towards sustainability within an organisation, industry or community.

Education for all and lifelong learning
Education for sustainability is driven by a broad understanding of education and learning that includes people of all ages and backgrounds and at all stages of life and takes place within all possible learning spaces, formal and informal, in schools, workplaces, homes and communities.

Systems thinking
Understanding connections between environmental, economic, social and political systems helps us deliver education for sustainable development in a way that goes beyond piece-meal, problem-solving and cause and effect approaches. Education for sustainability is a form of pedagogy that interweaves everything we do and all areas of knowledge, to support more sustainable patterns of living.

Envisioning a better future
Futures thinking engages people in imagining preferred visions for the future. It engages people in meaningful understandings and interpretations of sustainable development and enables the exploration of people’s assumptions. This process of envisioning futures leads people to take ownership and responsibility for a sustainable future and to find a renewed and balanced approach to the way they interact with each other and the environment.

Critical thinking and reflection (ability to reflect on our own and World views)
Critical and creative thinking enables people to explore new ways of thinking and acting, make informed decisions, and create alternatives to present choices. It involves reflecting on how people interrelate with each other, understanding cultural differences and creating alternative ways to live together. Education for sustainability provides a lens through which we see and interact with the World and strive for a more sustainable existence.

Participation
The engagement of people is necessary in order to build a sustainable future together. Engaging diverse stakeholders and communities is essential, as they value and include differing knowledge systems and perspectives. The process of participation is also important to creating ownership and empowerment.

Genuine partnerships for change
Partnerships are a motivating force towards change. They empower people and groups to take action, take part in decision-making processes and build capacity in sustainable development. They provide a way to combine individual and collective endeavours across local and global communities.

More information

Online sustainability e-learning

Guiding Principles for the Global RCE Community

UN Sustainable Development Goals

UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) summary

Education for sustainability toolkit

Leading Practice Publication: Professional development of university educators on ESD in Europe