Education for Sustainable Development

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Activists, interest groups, politicians, or companies – each makes a contribution or has the potential to contribute to societal development. Sustainable Development is a vision, which is promoted through individuals. Education for Sustainable Development is empowerment for sustainable change. Learning and education builds a bridge between the content of sustainability and the initiative of the people.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

Empowers learners with knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to take informed decisions and make responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society. UNESCO.

A detailed description of Education for Sustainable Development's learning objectives can be found in the brochure: ESD Learning Objectives

The subject of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is defined by the term "sustainability", coined by the United Nations Commision "Our Common Future". Although environmental issues are central to this approach to education, this definition shows that they are not the sole core. Sustainability here is related to the environment, the social, the economic. In addition, "development" refers to the fact that ESD is a transformative approach to education - towards a more sustainable world.

This also shows how strongly ESD is linked to active citizenship education, the commitment to a democratic and sustainable society.

Sustainable Development: Definition

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (United Nations Commission Our Common Future)

"Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy, and sustainable human development.” Kofi Annan

Video: What is Education for Sustainable Development?

GreenComp - EU Competence Framework


The European sustainability competence framework, created in 2022 by the European Commission/Joint Research Centre.

GreenComp identifies a set of sustainability competences to feed into education programmes to help learners develop knowledge, skills and attitudes that promote ways to think, plan and act with empathy, responsibility, and care for our planet and for public health Download.

1. Embodying sustainability values

  • 1.1 Valuing sustainability. To reflect on personal values; identify and explain how values vary among people and over time, while critically evaluating how they align with sustainability values.
  • 1.2 Supporting fairness. To support equity and justice for current and future generations and learn from previous generations for sustainability.
  • 1.3 Promoting nature. To acknowledge that humans are part of nature; and to respect the needs and rights of other species and of nature itself in order to restore and regenerate healthy and resilient ecosystems.

2.1 Systems thinking

  • 2.1 Embracing complexity in sustainability. To approach a sustainability problem from all sides; to consider time, space and context in order to understand how elements interact within and between systems.
  • 2.2 Critical thinking. To assess information and arguments, identify assumptions, challenge the status quo, and reflect on how personal, social and cultural backgrounds influence thinking and conclusions.
  • 2.3 Problem framing. To formulate current or potential challenges as a sustainability problem in terms of difficulty, people involved, time and geographical scope, in order to identify suitable approaches to anticipating and preventing problems, and to mitigating and adapting to already existing problems.

3. Envisioning sustainable futures

  • 3.1 Futures literacy. To envision alternative sustainable futures by imagining and developing alternative scenarios and identifying the steps needed to achieve a preferred sustainable future.
  • 3.2 Adaptability. To manage transitions and challenges in complex sustainability situations and make decisions related to the future in the face of uncertainty, ambiguity and risk.
  • 3.3 Exploratory thinking. To adopt a relational way of thinking by exploring and linking different disciplines, using creativity and experimentation with novel ideas or methods.

4. Acting for sustainability

  • 4.1 Political agency. To navigate the political system, identify political responsibility and accountability for unsustainable behaviour, and demand effective policies for sustainability.
  • 4.2 Collective action. To act for change in collaboration with others.
  • 4.3 Individual initiative. To identify own potential for sustainability and to actively contribute to improving prospects for the community and the planet.


Materials: Education for Sustainable Development/ Global Learning