Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has been a long-standing body of work carried out by universities, schools and civil society for many years to work towards a more prosperous, socially just and ecologically healthy world.

“ESD empowers learners to take informed decisions and responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society, for present and future generations, while respecting cultural diversity. It is about lifelong learning, and is an integral part of quality education. ESD is holistic and transformational education which addresses learning content and outcomes, pedagogy and the learning environment. It achieves its purpose by transforming society.” UNESCO, 2020

DMU students discussing the SDGs in a workshop

The focus of ESD is not just on learning about sustainability issues such as climate change, health inequalities and preserving biodiversity in the oceans.

ESD also aims to develop people as active agents of change – developing the required competencies such as systemic and strategic thinking and interpersonal skills to be able to effectively collaborate to promote sustainability in a range of settings.

For this reason, universities have a key role to play in education for sustainability – potentially inspiring and training students (along with staff and the university’s wider community) to make a positive difference for the rest of their lives.

ESD is increasingly being framed in terms of the contribution it can make towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which gives us the emerging concept of “ESDG” (Education for the Sustainable Development Goals).

Below are a range of key resources that introduce ESD and ESDG in a national and international context, including accessible advice on how to put ESD into practice. (See also the pages on Teaching Resources for further ideas.)

UK Guidance on implementing ESD

ESD Guidance for HE Providers (2021). Developed by Advance HE and Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), defining ESD and providing updated guidance on implementation for programme design and linking sustainability to activities across the whole university.

AdvanceHE ESD Framework (2024). A short accessible guide of issues to consider for students, institutions and educators.

The Future Fit Framework (2012). Developed by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) with Prof Stephen Sterling from the University of Plymouth. An accessible introduction to ESD in practice.

Sustainable Education (2019). Website containing key ideas from Prof Stephen Sterling

Responsible Futures Criteria (2017). An overview of activities at institutional and programme level that universities and colleges can employ to promote ESD. DMU is a participant in Responsible Futures and was successfully audited in March 2019.

Key International Texts

Global Action Plan on ESD (2018). Key documents from the UNESCO-led work to promote Education for Sustainable Development and action towards SDG#4 on Quality Education.

UNESCO Policy Brief: ESD and the SDGs (2018). A short overview on linkages between ESD and the SDGs.

Commonwealth Curriculum Framework for the SDGs (2017). Detailed guidance on developing taught courses to address the SDGs (both holistically and individually), aiming to transform: knowledge and understanding; skills and applications; values and attitudes.

Education for Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives (2017). UNESCO guidance on developing teaching and learning to  address the SDGs.