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Education for Sustainable Development

Education for
Sustainable Development

A resource for all, hosted by
the School for Cross-faculty Studies

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is an internationally recognised educational concept that utilises education to build a sustainable future. Here at the University of Warwick, we thrive to provide a critical and interdisciplinary learning experience to equip learners with knowledge and competence to support and respond to the pressing concerns of sustainable development.

United Nations

According to UNESCO (2022), ‘Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)’ gives learners of all ages the knowledge, skills, values and agency to address interconnected global challenges including climate change, loss of biodiversity, unsustainable use of resources, and inequality. It empowers learners of all ages to make informed decisions and take individual and collective action to change society and care for the planet. ESD is a lifelong learning process and an integral part of quality education. It enhances the cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioural dimensions of learning and encompasses learning content and outcomes, pedagogy and the learning environment itself. [1]

In essence, ESD can be understood as a holistic approach of learning knowledge and training competence to address current and future interconnected global challenges (these challenges are mostly related to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals). ESD learning contents can be interdisciplinary, and the learning process of ESD is lifelong. The goal of ESD is to promote social transformation towards a sustainable future.

Education for Sustainable Development at Warwick

At the University of Warwick, we recognise the importance of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and adhere to ESD principles in the education we provide. Following the creation of the SDGs, the Global Sustainable DevelopmentLink opens in a new window (GSD) Department was established in 2016 as a response to urgent global sustainable development challenges. As a world-class university in the UK, Warwick is committed to fully integrating the University's mission to create excellent research relevant to local, national, and international stakeholders. We do this while providing students with a highly enabling environment to reach their potential as future leaders, responding to the current and future sustainable development challenges. Through this holistic approach to research and education, we are better able to prepare our students to support social, cultural, and economic growth and enable social transformation for a sustainable future.

ESD at a Glance

'Sustainability’ is a wicked problem, which is by nature controversial. It addresses the tensions between economic, social, and environmental development and combines them into a single concept. 'Sustainability' therefore requires a holistic perspective to understand the urging complex sustainable development challenges around the world. In order to tackle these challenges, UNESCO highly recommends using an inter- and trans-disciplinary education approach to address the complexity of sustainable development. The University of Warwick offers unique inter- and trans-disciplinary education that joins disciplines from arts, humanities, social, and natural sciences as we believe that current/future sustainable development challenges are all interconnected among the economic, environmental, and social principles. Interdisciplinarity, therefore, is essential in teaching, learning, and research at Warwick.

The Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies

In 2012, the Centre for Interdisciplinary MethodologiesLink opens in a new window (CIM) was established to foster innovative and experimental forms of knowledge production through a sustained focus on methodology. Since then, CIM is dedicated to expanding the role of interdisciplinary methods through new lines of inquiry that cut across disciplinary boundaries, both intellectually and institutionally. Staff and students have a real opportunity to transcend these disciplinary boundaries and create new knowledge about the world we live in.

The Global Sustainable Development (GSD) Department

The GSD Department, based in the School for Cross-faculty Studies, offers 12 undergraduate programmes: a Single Honours Link opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window degree and 11 Joint Honours degrees.Link opens in a new window These innovative degrees provide a unique transdisciplinary learning experience for students. On the Joint Honours degreesLink opens in a new window, students have the opportunity to learn and train skills in their desired discipline. For example, students may enrol in the BASc Sociology and Global Sustainable DevelopmentLink opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window to learn anthropological and social implications of sustainable development, or participate in the BASc Education Studies and Global Sustainable DevelopmentLink opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window to examine the relationship between education and sustainable development and the associated challenges facing the education sector both in the UK and overseas. GSD also provides postgraduate taught and research opportunities for students who wish to dive deeper into the world of global sustainable development. The MASc in Global Sustainable DevelopmentLink opens in a new window offers flexibility for students to combine academic learning with practical action and applied thinking to tackle problems linked to the SDGs. The MPhil/PhD programme in Global Sustainable Development provides young researchers the opportunity to cross disciplinary boundaries to address complex challenges of global sustainable development.

The Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning

The Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning (IATL)Link opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window creates innovative and collaborative pedagogies that support interdisciplinary and international education at Warwick. The eye-opening pedagogies Open-space Learning and the Student as Researcher ask students to re-identify themselves as co-creators of knowledge in open spaces. IATL’s innovative modules are open to all Warwick students. For example, the module Rethinking Health ScienceLink opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window explores science, life sciences, and medicine to rethink the benefits and limitations of science and medicine in the Covid era. This module highlights SDG 3 (Health and Well-being), and fosters the development of critical thinking and communication skills.

The Liberal Arts Department,

The BA Liberal Arts degree, offered by the Liberal Arts Department in the School for Cross-faculty StudiesLink opens in a new window places competence training at the heart of learning, developing students' critical thinking skills and encouraging innovative problem solving. The Problem-Based Learning pedagogy allows students to understand a topic by examining complex problems from a variety of perspectives, which will develop their own distinctive stance on that problem. The undergraduate Liberal Arts programme also approaches ESD through the interdisciplinary curriculum design. Students on this course select either a disciplinary route or a bespoke pathway, bringing together knowledge from across the University to develop specific expertise in their area of interest.

These are just a few leading examples of Warwick’s implementation of ESD. The University of Warwick endeavours to provide the best learning environment for our students. We believe that our teaching and learning should reflect the demands of global challenges. Therefore, Warwick adopts a problem-based, solution-focused learning approach, supported by an innovative curriculum that engages all 17 SDGs to help students better understand global sustainable development.

“Our BASc Global Sustainable Development degrees are the first undergraduate programmes of this kind in the United Kingdom, offering a theorisation and a critical pedagogy that enables you to 'envision a moral economy of social justice, citizenship and sustainability, based in social democracy' (Huckle). These degrees require you to deploy a range of theoretical approaches drawn from science, social sciences and humanities in order to critique the various approaches to development, and to examine the possibilities for bringing together sustainability efforts and development policies in a politically sound, economically fair and socially democratic setting.” - Professor Stéphanie Panichelli-Batalla, Head of the School for Cross-faculty Studies

Education for Sustainable Development and the Way to Sustainable

Creating a Sustainable Future

The Way to Sustainable

"Warwick’s Strategy 2030 presents a vision for the University as we build into the future, committing us to excellence with purpose; to having a positive impact on society. Our strategy commits us to growth and embeds sustainable development into our strategic plans and activities, so we must find better ways of operating to ensure our growth is environmentally sustainable.

If we are to be credible global citizens and leaders, we need to be prepared to roll up our sleeves, get involved and prove that change can happen. We accept that no one person, group, or organisation has all the answers, and the journey to a sustainable future will be unpredictable and demanding. But it is a path we must take, and we all must work together. We’re calling Warwick’s approach to sustainability ‘the Way to Sustainable’, a name that reflects our collective journey of continuous improvement and the important elements of curiosity, learning, engagement, collaborative planning, and action needed to achieve the most effective outcomes."

- Professor Stuart Croft, Vice Chancellor at the University of Warwick

The University of Warwick is dedicated to enabling our students to become responsible global citizens, providing them with the skills and attributes to be active contributors in our journey towards the achievement of the SDGs, and empowering our students to take responsibility and lead transformative change. Below are the key pillars that will help the University to achieve a more sustainable future for ourselves and for future generations

Warwick is committed to progressing its contribution to the United Nations' SDGs, guided by the insight from its research and building on its educational excellence. We are a world-leading research-intensive university, and are very well placed to tackle global challenges, through both disciplinary excellence and truly interdisciplinary and innovative research across the social sciences, arts and humanities, and science, engineering, and medicine.

This mission is supported by the Institute for Global Sustainable Development, acting as a transdisciplinary gateway to research on global sustainable development at Warwick, and by faculties and many departments across the University that are focused on contributing to the SDGs within their research.

"There is an understanding that change is all around us. What is important is to develop a consensus as to how we make the world more sustainable. Sustainability is everything, and for everyone. It is actually about our real commitment to make the world better. We as a collective body, we need to ensure not only that each one of us is committed, we need to find consensus, share practice, and also have a policy impact, so that all this knowledge will be of relevance."

- Professor Elena Korosteleva, Director of the Institute for Global Sustainable Development



[2] Wals, A. (2009). Review of Contexts and Structures for Education for Sustainable Development. [online]. Paris: UNESCO, 1-84. Available at:

[3] UNESCO, United Nations. (2005). About ESD. Retrieved from: esd/about-esd/




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