WHY IT IS A CENTRAL PART OF LEARNING
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) promotes the development of the knowledge, skills,
understanding, values and actions required to create a sustainable world, which ensures environmental
protection and conservation, promotes social equity and encourages economic sustainability.
The reasons for teachers to build ESD into their classroom activities are numerous.
Environmental/Sustainability concepts offer an exciting context for the application of scientific
principles, math and language skills, and social studies concepts.
It promotes critical thinking, problem solving and action, all of which develop confidence in addressing
the challenges to sustainable development.
Above all, ESD is critical in understanding the consequences of what humans are doing to the planet and
the rights and responsibilities that we all share.
Every community has environmental and social concerns, as well as community resources to aid in
exploring those concerns.
The beginning of the 2020’s has been a wake-up moment, as a powerful combination of science and
social science, and citizen activism has pushed climate and environmental change – or emergency – to
the top of public, media, policy and political concern.
Spurred on by youth actions across the globe, inspired by Greta Thunberg and others who are voicing
their concerns about the future of the planet, many of these activists aren’t just demanding climate
action; they’re fighting for justice. Climate change is inherently an issue of inequality: The world’s richest
10% produce half of all greenhouse gas emissions, while the poorest feel the impacts most acutely.
However, as a result of the Coronavirus Pandemic, the world has been shaken up, turned upside down
and has presented us with challenges we probably never expected to face. Sustainability, in many ways,
has been sidelined although we have seen a hopeful window into the future through less air pollution,
cleaner water and biodiversity recovery.
I believe that, faced with imminent danger, the human spirit and community step up in a way that has
been so inspiring to see; whether locally by delivering shopping to those isolated and vulnerable, to
schools showing incredible resolve and initiative to support remote learning; from governments
supporting businesses financially, to amazing ideas, support and empathy from so many across all social
What an opportunity awaits us to take on the climate crisis, and other threats to this planet, in a similar
How children grow and develop emotionally depends on how well they are connected to the real world;
helping to nurture empathy and understanding of the world around them so they have a greater
purpose and involvement in their education and their future. Community spirit across the world has
been so evident to see and we need to take that forward and, using the SDGs as a guide, build that more
into teaching and learning environments.
And an education like that will play an increasingly critical role in raising that consciousness and creating
sustainable solutions for the future of our planet.
From the experiences I have had of working in many schools globally, I have noticed a greater interest
and concern in taking on sustainability issues; whether within the school itself, the local community or
supporting international projects.
However, the challenges remain the same.
● Time pressures on an increasingly busy and demanding school year
● Whole school engagement
● Curriculum integration within systems that can be quite rigid and overloaded
● Staff development and support
The starting point, therefore, has to be a fundamental assessment of the central role that sustainability
needs to play in education. The Why and the How.
It is also about making it personal. Thinking of loved ones, whether family or friends, and imagining how
the world could be in their lifetime and the lifetimes of future generations.
How basic rights, including the rights to health, nutrition, shelter, safe water and access to necessary
resources and social structures that take care of and support all elements of the ecosystem, are being
impacted already; how things could worsen in the future as a result of the climate crisis worsening.
How we are damaging vital ecosystems across the globe that we depend on and that support so many
species now under serious threat of extinction.
Making it personal helps to motivate not only a desire to learn and understand more, but the motivation
and desire to do something about it.
However, there has to be a clear focus on, support for and commitment to climate change and
sustainability education throughout a whole school community; not as an add on but as a core purpose.
This purpose must embrace the connectivity of all of the 17 UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a
way to develop caring and informed global citizens who can make a real positive difference to the
Empowered teachers and students, through opportunities to learn and share ideas, can then help their
schools to develop a more effective framework to take forward because they genuinely want to.
We HAVE to put Sustainability at the very heart of learning.