in collaboration with Bianca Roseaux (UAntwerp, Education Department)

This tip is based in part on the online learning module 'Lesgeven voor en over duurzaamheid' ('teaching for and about sustainability')* developed by Duurzaam Educatiepunt, the Flemish government's centre of expertise on sustainability education. The various examples are based on the brochure 'Duurzaamheid in de onderwijspraktijk' (‘Sustainability in educational practice’)* published by UAntwerp in 2022.

* The English version is in preparation and will be included here as soon as possible.

'Sustainable development begins with education,' says UNESCO, emphasising the crucial role of education. But where do you begin, as a lecturer or assistant?

The concept of sustainability

Sustainable development was given its formal modern-day interpretation in the UN Brundtland Report in 1987. The main conclusion of the report was that major global problems were caused by poverty in one part of the world and unsustainable consumption and production in the other. In this report, sustainable development is understood as: 'Development that meets the needs of the current generation without compromising the needs of future generations.'

The most widely known framework for sustainable development is that of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 2015, the UN launched the ’2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, comprising 17 Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs) and 169 specific targets.

Sustainability education

Sustainability education can roughly be divided into:

  • Teaching about sustainability: conveying knowledge and understanding to students.
  • Teaching for sustainability: taking students to a higher level, where they create new knowledge and learn to look for sustainable answers to sustainability challenges themselves.

​​Teaching about sustainability 

In order to convey knowledge of sustainable development to students and to increase their understanding, you can start by adding new 'sustainable content' to your programme (component) or by making your existing learning content more sustainability oriented.

What sustainable theoretical content can be considered for inclusion in your programme (component)?

In the lectures on Ecological History (Bachelor of History, standard study programme part 2, Faculty of Arts, UAntwerp), students learn to look at sustainable development from their own historical backgrounds. They discover that today’s actions do not always have the desired impact on the future.

In addition, you can also discuss sustainability challenges in your programme (component) and link them to the SDGs, thereby strengthening your students’ understanding of sustainable development.

SDG 3 – 'Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages' can be linked to a sustainability challenge such as reducing obesity. This challenge also ties in with other SDGs, such as SDG 1 – 'End poverty in all its forms everywhere' and SDG 4 – 'Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all'.

You can even take things one step further and explicitly include sustainable content in your core and/or final competences. This way, you can give sustainability a central and structural place in your programme (component).

In the Master of Multilingual Professional Communication (Faculties of Arts & Business and Economics, UAntwerp), sustainability has been included as one of the core competences

Teaching for sustainability

In addition to teaching about sustainability, you can also teach for sustainability. This means you gear your programme (component) towards sustainability competences. Sustainability competences are integrated sets of knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable students to constantly shape and re-shape the paths towards sustainable development in ever-changing contexts. As such, they are crucial levers that contribute to a sustainable future. Six different sustainability competences can be distinguished (Rieckmann, 2018; Wiek et al., 2011).

  1. Systems thinking: students recognise sustainability challenges and their complexity.
  2. Normative competence: students can critically examine commonly used systems.
  3. Anticipatory competence: students can provide a well-founded vision of the future.
  4. Strategic competence: Students can design a plan to change unsustainable elements.
  5. Interpersonal competence: students can empathise and cooperate with others.
  6. Self-awareness competence: students are aware of their own norms and values.

Looking for more inspiring examples? Read the full-length Teaching Tip!