Encyclopedia of Sustainability in Higher Education

2019 Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho

Role of Education for Sustainable Development

  • Subarna SivapalanEmail author
  • Sarah Speight
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11352-0_28


UNESCO (2018) defines education for sustainable development as education that 'empowers people to change the way they think and work towards a sustainable future’. The literature provides us with many variants upon the phrase “education for sustainable development,” for instance, “education for sustainability” (EfS) and “sustainability education.” The phrase ESD is, however, most widely used, predominantly in United Nations documents (McKeown 2002). This entry discusses the concept of “education for sustainable development” or “ESD” and its role within the context of higher education. It starts with an explanation and definition of ESD before exploring the political and policy environment in which ESD has spread. The impact of ESD upon the practice of university teachers and upon the outcomes of university students is then considered, drawing particularly upon evidence from the UK and from Malaysia to provide a balance of western and eastern approaches and contexts.


This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Armstrong CM (2011) Implementing ESD: The potential use of timehonored pedagogical practice from the progressive era of education. Journal of Sustainability Education. 2. Retrieved March 14, 2011, from http://www.jsedimensions.org/index.php?s, http://www.jsedimensions.org/wordpress/2010-inaugural-edition/
  2. Bossellmann K (2001) University and sustainability: compatible agendas? Educ Philos Theory 33(2):167–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Byrne E, Desha C, Fitzpatrick J, Hargroves K (2010) EESD: a review of international progress. Workshop paper for 3rd international symposium for engineering education, Cork, 30 June–2 July 2010Google Scholar
  4. Cotton D, Bailey I, Warren M, Bissell S (2009) Revolutions and second-best solutions: ESD in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 34(7):719–733CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. de le Harpe B, Thomas I (2009) Curriculum change in universities: conditions that facilitate ESD. J ESD 3(1):75–85Google Scholar
  6. Drayson R, Bone E, Agombar J, Kemp S (2013) Student attitudes towards and skills for sustainable development. Retrieved 12 May 2014, from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/sustainability/2013_student_skills_final_report
  7. Everett J (2008) Sustainability in higher education: implications for disciplines. Theory Res Educ 6(2):237–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Idros ANS (2006) Exploring environmental Behaviours, attitudes and knowledge among university students: positioning the concept of sustainable development within Malaysian education. J Sci Math Educ South East Asia 29(1):79–97Google Scholar
  9. Jones P, Selby D, Sterling S (2010) Introduction. In: Jones P, Selby D, Sterling S (eds) Sustainability education: perspectives and practice across higher education. Earthscan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  10. Kagawa F (2007) Dissonance in students’ perceptions of sustainable development and sustainability: implications for curriculum change. Int J Sustain High Educ 8(3):317–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. McKeown R (2002) ESD toolkit version 2.0. Retrieved 5 Apr 2011, from http://www.esdtoolkit.org/discussion/default.htm
  12. Quality Assurance Agency and Higher Education Academy (2014) Education for sustainable development: guidance for UK higher education providers. Retrieved 10 Dec 2017, from, http://www.qaa.ac.uk/en/Publications/Documents/Education-sustainable-development-Guidance-June-14.pdf
  13. Rode H, Michelsen G (2008) Levels of indicator development for ESD. Environ Educ Res 14(1):19–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Sivapalan S (2016) Engineering education for sustainable development in Malaysia: student stakeholders perspectives on the integration of holistic sustainability competences within undergraduate engineering programmes. In: Leal FW, Brandli L (eds) Engaging stakeholders in education for sustainable development at university level. World sustainability series. Springer, ChamGoogle Scholar
  15. Sivapalan S, Subramaniam G, Clifford MJ (2015) Institutional practices versus student needs and its implications for the development of a holistic engineering education for sustainable development (EESD) framework. In: Leal Filho W (ed) Transformative approaches to sustainable development at universities. World sustainability series. Springer International Publishing, Cham, pp 413–433.  https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-08837-2_28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Sterling S (1998) Sustainable development educational panel report. Retrieved 5 Apr 2011, from http://www.seed.org.uk/resources/Sustainable_Development_Education_Panel_Annual_Report_1998.pdf
  17. Sterling S, Scott W (2008) Higher education and ESD in England: a critical commentary on recent initiatives. Environ Educ Res 14(4):386–398CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. UNESCO (2005a) United Nations decade of education for sustainable development (2005–2014): draft international implementation scheme. UNESCO, Paris. Retrieved 10 Dec 2017, from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001399/139937e.pdfGoogle Scholar
  19. UNESCO (2005b) United Nations decade of education for sustainable development (2005–2014): international implementation scheme. UNESCO, Paris. Retrieved 10 Dec 2017 from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001486/148654E.pdfGoogle Scholar
  20. UNESCO (2015) Rethinking Education Towards a Global Common Good? UNESCO, Paris. Retrieved 22 Nov 2018 from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002325/232555e.pdf
  21. United Nations (1992) United Nations conference on environment & development, Rio de Janerio, 3 to 14 June 1992: Agenda 21. Retrieved 10 Dec 2017, from https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/Agenda21.pdf
  22. United Nations (2017) The SDG Accord: the university and college sector’s collective response to the sustainable development goals. Retrieved 10 Dec 2017, from http://www.sdgaccord.org/
  23. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2006) United Nations decade of ESD 2005–2014. Retrieved 30 Sept 2010, from www.unesco.org/education
  24. Wals AEJ (2009) A mid-DESD review: key results and ways forward. J ESD 3(2):195–204Google Scholar
  25. Wong KK (2001) Taiwan’s environment, resource sustainability and green consumerism: perceptions of university students. Sustain Dev 9:222–233; Wong KK (2003) The environmental awareness of university students in Beijing, China. J Contemp China 12(36):519–536CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. World Wide Fund for Nature (2008) Environmental citizenship: a report on emerging perspectives in Malaysia. Retrieved 10 Apr 2013, from http://awsassets.wwf.org.my/downloads/environmental_citizenship_study_report_170510.pdf

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Social Transformation for Sustainable LifestylesUniversiti Teknologi PETRONASPerakMalaysia
  2. 2.Associate, School of EducationUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK
  3. 3.School of EducationUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • Luciana Brandli
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Passo FundoPasso FundoBrazil