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Definition of ESD

“Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a learning process (or approach to teaching) based on the ideals and principles that underlie sustainability and is concerned with all levels and types of learning to provide quality education and foster sustainable human development – learning to know, learning to be, learning to live together, learning to do and learning to transform oneself and society.”

Everybody has a different vision of sustainable development and the role they can play. ©UNESCO/Hartfried Schmid

©Dominique Roger

There is not one single correct interpretation and use of ESD. Perhaps ESD can be seen as the total sum of diverse ways to arrive at a ‘learning society’ in which people learn from and with one another and collectively become more capable of withstanding setbacks and dealing with sustainability-induced insecurity, complexity and risks. From this vantage point, ESD is about - through education and learning - engaging people in sustainable development issues, developing their capacities to give meaning to SD and to contribute to its development and utilizing the diversity represented by all people - including those who have been or feel marginalized - in generating innovative solutions to SD challenges and crises.

ESD is a vision of education that seeks to empower people to assume responsibility for creating a sustainable future. Central to ESD is the concept of culture as an essential underlying theme. It has been acknowledged that there is no “single route” to sustainable development. Further, it is coherent that understandings of and visions for sustainability will be different for each of us and that we will need to work together to negotiate the process of achieving sustainability.

There are many different stakeholders in sustainable development (i.e., governments, businesses, educational institutions, media, youth, etc). Each of these sectors has a different vision of sustainable development and how it can contribute. Some are interested in environmental preservation and protection, some have economic development interests while others may be more interested in social development. In addition, how each nation, cultural group and individual views sustainable development will depend on its own values. The values held in a society help define how personal decisions are made and how national legislation is written.

The challenge is to bring these different stakeholders together so that they may collaborate in partnerships to find a balance between their interests and priorities. Various approaches to ESD encourage people to understand the complexities of and synergies between the issues threatening planetary sustainability, and understand and assess their own values and those of the society in which they live, in the context of sustainability.

Education for Sustainable Development must be seen as a comprehensive package for quality education and learning within which key issues such as poverty reduction, sustainable livelihoods, climate change, gender equality, corporate social responsibility and protection of indigenous cultures, to name a few, are found. The holistic nature of ESD allows it to be a possible tool for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Education for All (EFA) goals. Both of these initiatives have a set of objectives to be achieved by a certain time limit. ESD could be perceived as the vehicle for achieving those objectives.