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Education for Sustainable Development

"Greg has consistently shown a commitment to embedding sustainable development both within his research and his teaching.  He has had the unique opportunity to contribute to  the development of one of the world's most innovative interdisciplinary degree programmes on sustainable development at the University of St Andrews, and he has brought back insights and experience from this  work to Plymouth University.  Gregory is a valuable member of the Centre for Sustainable Futures (CSF) Sustainability Education Developers programme (SEDs) and has some innovative ideas about how this can be embedded within his school,  faculty and across the university".

Stephen Sterling - Professor of Sustainability Education,  Director, Centre for Sustainable Futures and Head of Sustainability Education at the University of Plymouth. Member of UNESCO International Expert Reference Group for Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD).

 Whitelee Wind Farm Fieldtrip

In 2012 I organised a field trip for third year BSc (Hons) Sustainable Development students at the University of St Andrews. Students  visited Whitelee wind farm, the largest wind farm in Europe. The visit was part of the programme  introducing various aspects of policy, people and participation. A central component of the debates on sustainable development emphasise the role of technology and the increasing viability of renewable energy.  Students experienced first hand some the complex  issues relating to sustainable development and wind energy.  The group received a talk from representatives of the wind farm and were also accompanied by Keith Potter from Scottish Power.

 Buckhaven Fieldtrip

Third year sustainable development students visiting the community of Buckhaven on the East Coast of Fife. Activities included lectures from community leaders, tree pruning and path building.  Students heard talks from and were guided by members of CLEAR  Buckhaven. CLEAR  is a voluntary community association established by local residents interesting in improving their surroundings and the quality of the local environment.



Sustainability education also referred to as education for sustainable Development (ESD) has been defined as:


UNESCO, 2014

"Education for Sustainable Development allows every human being to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future.

Education for Sustainable Development means including key sustainable development issues into teaching and learning; for example, climate change, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity, poverty reduction, and sustainable consumption.

It also requires participatory teaching and learning methods that motivate and empower learners to change their behaviour and take action for sustainable development. Education for Sustainable Development consequently promotes competencies like critical thinking, imagining future scenarios and making decisions in a collaborative way.

Education for Sustainable Development requires far-reaching changes in the way education is often practised today."

Council of the European Union, 2010


"ESD is essential for the achievement of a sustainable society and is therefore desirable at all levels of formal education and training, as well as in non-formal and informal learning."  

Sustainable Development Education Panel Report, 1998


"ESD is about the learning needed to maintain and improve our quality of life and the quality of life of generations to come ... ESD enables people to develop the knowledge, values and skills to participate in decisions about the way we do things individually and collectively, both locally and globally, that will improve the quality of life now without damaging the planet for the future."

Pedagogical approaches in ESD

There is no ‘correct’ pedagogy for sustainability education, but there are some broad  themes that include active, participative, and experiential learning methods that engage the learner and make a real difference to their understanding, thinking and ability to act.

whilst the list is by no means definitive the following are approaches that I employ in my teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate level 


1. Critical reflection – including the more traditional lecture, but also newer approaches such as reflexive accounts, learning journals, and discussion groups.


2. Systemic thinking and analysis – the use of real-world case studies and critical incidents, project-based learning, stimulus activities, and the use of the campus as a learning resource.


3. Participatory learning – with emphasis on group or peer learning, developing dialogue, experiential learning, action research/learning to act, and developing case studies with local community groups and business


4. Thinking creatively for future scenarios – by using role play, real-world inquiry, futures visioning, problem-based learning, and providing space for emergence.


5. Collaborative learning – including contributions from guest speakers, work-based learning, interdisciplinary/ multidisciplinary working, and collaborative learning and co-inquiry.

Please feel free to comment on my education for sustainable development DISCUSSION PAPER

Background Image: Tidal Road, Averton Gifford, UK

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