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Introducing Sustainability into Business Education Contexts Using Active Learning


The purpose of this paper is to explore how active learning may help address the legitimacy and practicability issues inherent in introducing education for sustainability into business-related degree programmes. The focus of this study is the experience of the authors in the development and implementation of education for sustainability within their business-related higher education programmes. To address the inherent challenges of the task, they apply the principles of active learning, with substantial use of problem-based learning, in the classroom and engage in a process of staff development in their personal time. The method used is a simplified version of action research where the authors worked together over two years and then reflected on the experience through interviews and extensive discussions with each other, with their respective teaching teams, and with sustainability educators from outside of their programmes.

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  1. The United Nations concept of sustainability sees it being constructed on three ‘pillars’ representing economic development, social development and environmental protection (see for example Earth Summit Resolution of 24 October 2005).

  2. The examples used were: London Smog, Los Angeles Smog, Minamata Bay mercury (local issues); Acid Rain and Yellow Dust (Regional); DDT, PCBs, etc.; and Ozone depletion (Global).

  3. This outcome also confirms the priority of the learner's participation over the educators ‘message’ referred to earlier.

  4. With thanks here to Daniela Tilbury, Alex Ryan, Angela Tomkins and Emily Troake, who in their ‘Sustainability Team’ role are helping to develop, resource and monitor the embedding of sustainability in the business and management programme as a whole.


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MacVaugh, J., Norton, M. Introducing Sustainability into Business Education Contexts Using Active Learning. High Educ Policy 24, 439–457 (2011).

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  • education for sustainability
  • active learning
  • problem-based learning
  • higher education
  • pedagogy