Training Sustainability Change Agents: Lessons from International Water Education

  • Ellen Pfeiffer
  • Uta Wehn
  • Lakshmi Charli-Joseph
  • Amy M. Lerner
  • Kenneth Irvine
Part of the World Sustainability Series book series (WSUSE)


Unsustainable socio-economic practices manifest prominently in water crises and water-related disasters. This turns water managers into prototypical sustainability professionals, and important change agents in a broader societal transformation towards sustainability. Water education is, de facto, sustainability education. By bridging the gap between a pedagogical and a professional view on required sustainability competencies, experiences with water education offer valuable insights in the context of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). The paper reports on recent experiences with increasing the sustainability orientation of water education programmes, and explores key issues that require attention in ESD programmes in general. The experience of three international degree and capacity development programmes at the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) reveals lessons on learning environments and capacities essential to the design and implementation of training programmes in, for and about sustainable development. To guide ESD programme development in higher education, it proposes adopting a ‘learning and applying what we teach’ approach, with particular attention to: skill development for meaningful stakeholder engagement; normative and value-based aspects of sustainability education; and necessary organizational capacities and professional skills of educational providers.


ESD Sustainability Competencies Higher education 



We thank Anne van Dam, for leading the didactic revision of the UNESCO-IHE MSc degree programme in Environmental Sciences and colleagues of the programme for their constructive inputs, the partners, and the reviewer of the LWM joint degree programme for their valuable insights, the staff of UNAM for active reflection in course development, and the numerous partners and colleagues that have interacted in the UNESCO-IHE capacity development programmes.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ellen Pfeiffer
    • 1
  • Uta Wehn
    • 2
  • Lakshmi Charli-Joseph
    • 3
  • Amy M. Lerner
    • 3
  • Kenneth Irvine
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Managing for SustainabilityDen HoornThe Netherlands
  2. 2.UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water EducationDelftThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Laboratorio Nacional de Ciencias de La Sostenibilidad (LANCIS)Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)Mexico CityMexico
  4. 4.Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality ManagementUniversity of WageningenWageningenThe Netherlands

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