Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

ESD is seen by many in HE as a priority for action. In 2009 HEFCE published an update to their strategy for sustainable development (2009/03). The Foreword by Professor Lord Stern of Brentford provides an excellent context to the importance of ESD and the role of HE:

‘Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge facing the world today. To meet this challenge, the world needs minds capable of creating new possibilities for meeting our basic needs such as energy, water, shelter and food; minds that can transform our daily experiences into ones that allow a sustainable development, safeguarding our opportunities and the environment for future generations.

The higher education sector is where these minds are trained and developed. Therefore, it is crucial that the sector contributes strongly to sustainable development. It can do so by training and expanding these young minds; researching answers to challenges and informing public policy; showing its own understanding and commitment through careful campus management; and by being a responsible employer and active member of the business and local community.

There is much under way already and much more that can be done to avoid the worst effects of climate change - but only if we act now, with urgency, to transform our current ways of thinking and operating. We need to create low-carbon growth if growth is to continue and the great risks to the planet from climate change are to be avoided. The higher education sector offers a vital platform for undertaking this transition and can contribute to the global shift that is necessary to safeguard a secure future.

The HEFCE sustainable development strategy provides an invaluable resource to take forward action in the higher education sector. It has the potential to influence many minds and lives, so I urge you to take action to influence the leaders of tomorrow by creating a sustainable future today'  (

HEFCE identified that there was widespread agreement that the HE sector could contribute to sustainable development through its ‘role as educator; (through) generation and transfer of knowledge; leadership and influence in local, national and international networks; and business strategy and operations' (HEFCE 2009/03, p.12).

Regarding pedagogy and the curriculum, HEFCE advises, ‘The greatest contribution HE can make to sustainable development is by enabling students to acquire the skills and knowledge that allow them to make a lasting difference. What they learn and what they are taught are therefore critical' (HEFCE, 2009/03, p15).

HLST Resources

HLST Case Studies relating to sustainable development can be found at the HLST Sustainable Development Case Studies page.

In 2006 the HLST, GEES and C-CAP subject centres ran an event entitled Learning for Sustainable Futures, many of the outcomes of which can be found at the above link.

The Centre for Sustainable Futures based at the University of Plymouth is a CETL that ‘aims to put Sustainability at the centre of the thinking and doing of the University and also the wider national and international community.' Their website provides an impressive range of resources and the curriculum section includes a range of activities suitable for use with students, in addition to discussions of pedagogy for sustainability.

The Centre for Active Learning based at the University of Gloucestershire is a CETL working to engage students in active learning. Strands of their work relate to sustainability and they have published a text ‘Greener by Degrees: Exploring Sustainability through Higher Education Curricula.' It has 37 chapters exploring different aspects of sustainability in the undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum in a range of disciplines, and can be purchased through the centre. Chapters can be downloaded through their website or the book purchased through their website. Information on CeAL can be found at the Centre for Active Learning Website and on their Publication Page.

UNESCO designated the years 2005 to 2014 as the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. The UNESCO education website includes extensive resources and reports on sustainability. Their Education for Sustainability Manual provides an excellent introductory resource and a comprehensive overview. In 2011 UNESCO also launched the National Journeys Towards Education for Sustainable Development, a publications series that aims at documenting the way societies engage in learning and education to address the sustainability challenges of our time.

The Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds adopts an interdisciplinary approach to sustainability and investigates: 

  • ‘Sustainable development and environmental change
  • Environmental policy, planning and governance
  • Ecological and environmental economics
  • Business, environment and corporate responsibility
  • Sustainable production and consumption.'

The Higher Education Academy runs an ESD Project and this includes an email list for those seeking to keep up to date with events and ideas. The project is currently running a change programme called Green Academy: Curricula for Tomorrow during which it will work closely with eight HEI's to develop their sustainability strategies.

The HEA ESD Project has published a report on First-year student attitudes towards, and skills in, sustainable development.

Student Force is a charitable organisation that supports young people in learning about sustainability of communities and employability through placements, volunteering and careers advice.

For those interested in food, well being and gastronomy, Slow Food is likely also to be of interest.

The Journal of Sustainability Education is a free online journal which serves as a forum for academics and practitioners to share, critique, and promote research, practices, and initiatives that foster the integration of economic, ecological, and social-cultural dimensions of sustainability within formal and non-formal educational contexts.

Beginning in 2010, the HEFCE-funded initiative 'Leading sustainable development in higher education' is supporting eleven sustainable development projects in the higher education sector.

The HEA UK Centre for Bioscience has produced a series of 'how to' sheets containing practical hints and tips for making your teaching more sustainable.

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