EfS, or Education for Sustainability, is a rapidly emerging field in education. The U.N. defines EfS as “a lifelong learning process that leads to an informed and involved citizenry having the creative problem-solving skills, scientific and social literacy, and commitment to engage in responsible individual and cooperative actions. These actions will help ensure an environmentally sound and economically prosperous future."
The education sector at all levels has increasingly recognized the responsibility it has to teach people differently in order to prepare people adequately to address the globally interconnected and complex challenges of the 21st century.
“Ecological disorder reflects a prior disordering of thought, perceptions and values. The ecological crisis is a crisis of mind, which makes it a challenge for those institutions which purport to improve minds. It is, in other words, an educational crisis.” -David Orr, Earth in Mind (1994)
There is irrefutable evidence that current patterns of growth and development are placing dangerous burdens on the natural environment and future generations. The challenges created by global climate disruption; resource depletion; social and economic disparities; world hunger, and poverty; soil, air, and water pollution; and other factors are immense. Coupled with a rapidly increasing world population and rising consumption levels in countries around the world, the Earth’s resources, species, and people are in peril. Yet most of these resources are potentially renewable or reusable, if handled wisely.
According to the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) “There is no longer any doubt that every ecosystem that life depends on is compromised and in danger.” The global environmental emergency facing us has made achieving sustainability in social and economic development and population growth our most urgent need.
With this emergency, however, also comes unprecedented opportunity.
The concept of sustainable development emerged in the 1980s in response to a growing awareness of the need to link economic, political, and social development with environmental and social responsibility. It offers a framework for understanding and addressing the urgent problems of our times and recognizes that the challenges are complex and interdependent, and require interdisciplinary solutions that incorporate economic, social, environmental, moral, and political aspects. In 1987, the Brundtland Report “Facing Our Future”i defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This has become the most widely accepted definition.
A commonly used conceptual model for Education for Sustainability is the Four Pillars of Sustainability, i.e., Environmental Stewardship, Social Responsibility, and Economic Prosperity, and their intersection in Global Responsibility. In 2003, the United Nations declared 2005-2015 the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Eight key action areas were defined for the Decade of ESD: Gender Equality, Health Promotion, Environment, Rural Development, Cultural Diversity, Peace & Human Security, Sustainable Urbanization, Sustainable Consumption. Click on the links for a description of how each applies to sustainable development.
EfS tackles the “crisis of education” that has led to the global sustainability crisis, and offers new knowledge, and methods for creative analysis, critical thinking, and collaboration that will change the way we think and act in our world. EfS emphasizes an interdisciplinary and experiential model for education that engages students with communities in real-life problem-solving, as part of the curriculum. The knowledge, attitudes, skills, and competencies that result will prepare students to meet the global challenges and be leaders in the 21st century.
i World Commission on Environment and Development (1987). Our Common Future. Brundtland Commission. England: Oxford