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The Objectives of Sustainability Education

Updated on October 4, 2012
Sustainability education makes the topic known.
Sustainability education makes the topic known. | Source

The objectives of sustainability education are the inroads to sustainable development.

Many people may peripherally understand sustainability (“something about the environment”) or practice their own ways of being sustainable and green, which is good. But how does sustainability become a pervasive ideal and measurable goal?

Further, how is sustainable development, inclusive of its many aspects, developed in the minds of people so that the actions and choices of individuals, companies, and municipalities change to reflect new priorities in responsible citizenship? This is the task of sustainability education.

Education For Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is a global imperative. The United Nations has led the way with its Agenda 21, an extensive sustainability action plan for dealing with human impacts on the environment, from combating poverty to the management of biotechnology. Part of Agenda 21 outlines protocols for increasing public awareness, promoting training in all sectors of society, and reorienting education towards sustainable development.

Agenda 21 was initially adopted by 178 nations that were granted freedom to devise their own strategies for implementing the tenets of the action plan. In America, the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, a group consisting of individuals, organizations, and institutions dedicated to sustainability, accepted leadership of the UN plan for the American people and today works to integrate the topic into schools, universities, businesses, and communities.

The goal is to develop sustainability in the mind to change behavior and choices.
The goal is to develop sustainability in the mind to change behavior and choices. | Source

Have you participated in any form of sustainability education?

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Approaches to Sustainability Education

Sustainability education is to be understood as a catalyst for sustainable development. It is a method of training to move individuals and groups toward sustainable practice and is accomplished by different approaches, including:

  • Awareness. Many people do not fully grasp sustainable development. For instance, there are three major interconnected sectors of sustainability (environmental, economic, and social) and other peripheral sectors. People often only think “environment” when they hear the word sustainability, but they may never understand why environment is so crucial. Humans are dependent on the earth. If there is no healthy earth, human life cannot be sustained. Further, our economic decisions and social allowances also account for the health of the planet because the planet supplies all raw materials that provide for our needs and give comfort to our lives—but if the earth is not healthy that would end. The goal in making people aware is to understand the interconnectedness of human activities and the environment in which it happens. This requires systemic thinking. Practically, it requires curricula development and its implementation in schools, companies, and organizations to teach people how to think about the subject and personal responsibility.
  • Critical Thinking. Developing solutions and better practice comes with understanding why problems ever develop, questioning current beliefs and assumptions, studying existing complexities, and examining all of this in a sustainability context.
  • Developing Synergies. Sustainability solutions derive from many sources if only because sustainability problems derive the same way. Linking, partnering, interacting with stakeholders, and making concerted efforts to solve problems creates enhanced methods, increases best practices on the subject, and advances the science.

American Green Schools and A Sustainable Company

In America, groups like the Green Education Foundation and The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education are leading the charge in the field. Schools are introducing kids to new, often advanced, programs transforming them into participants in the cause. Even colleges and universities are offering degrees in sustainability and sustainability education. Prescott College in Arizona offers a doctoral degree in Education for Sustainability.

One great case study is Siemens Corporation. Siemens sets the bar high in sustainability having integrated the issue in its corporate initiatives. The company actively incorporates global and UN initiatives, including Agenda 21 and others, into its philosophy and practices. I have found no better model of sustainability education.

The multinational conglomerate was ranked No. 1 in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for “Industrial Goods and Services” for 2012. The company has also opened the The Crystal, Urban Sustainability Center in London, a city landmark and discussion center dedicated to the sustainable future of cities. Such a place encapsulates the objectives of sustainability education.


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