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Education for Sustainable Development at Plymouth Marjon University

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is the process of equipping students with the knowledge and understanding, skills and attributes needed to work and live in a way that safeguards environmental, social, and economic wellbeing, both in the present and for future generations (Education for sustainable development: Guidance for UK higher education providers, HEA & QAA, June 2014). Sustainability can be embedded into any degree programme; it's not limited by discipline to those with an obvious environmental focus or by type of degree. Most sustainability models include three elements: social economic and environmental and different aspects of sustainability have relevance for different degree programmes.

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Why do I need to know about Sustainable Development?

Knowing about sustainability and how to be sustainable in academic, professional, and personal contexts is an essential part of becoming a twenty-first-century graduate. Marjon recognises this and encourages its academics to consider Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in all its curricula. It does this by embedding ESD into local infrastructure which influences curriculum design. For example, the Marjon values of humanity, ambition, curiosity, and independence are aligned with sustainability principles and help inform curriculum design and content.

PhD supervisor gives a talk about Sustainability

The Learning and Teaching Strategy advocates holistic and inclusive pedagogies and research-informed teaching which encourages critical thinking, evidence-based reasoning, and complex problem-solving in students – all of which are key ingredients of sustainability literacy. The quality assurance process, through which new programmes are peer-reviewed, requires that each programme states how it incorporates sustainable development. This ensures that ESD is present in all provisions, regardless of discipline. Complementing this regulatory provision, staff development in ESD is available, led by educational development and sustainability experts.

Examples of ESD at Plymouth Marjon University

All journalists need an awareness and understanding of environmental issues, including climate. In every module I teach, from employability to investigative journalism, I make sure my lectures include case studies, examples of coverage, and guest speakers that relate to the environment in all genres and platforms – from sports and politics to fashion and food. Many students are really engaged with this and choose to specialise in climate-related journalism in their dissertations.
Journalism - Anna Turns

I take my students to various outdoor locations (beaches, woods, moors, etc.) where they engage with different types of creative practice (drawing, land art, sculpting, music, and storytelling). In doing so we look at creative practice as a pedagogical tool suitable for strengthening people's relationship to the environment.
Outdoor Adventure Education - Georgios Katsogridakis

What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

There is no definitive content that is required to address sustainability, it is a wide-ranging concept. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (UNDP, 2015) are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030, all people enjoy peace and prosperity. These three aims align closely with the Marjon values of Humanity, Curiosity, Independence, and Ambition. There is an urgent call for the SDGs to be embedded across higher education (Chankseliani and McCowan, 2021) which makes them a useful tool when considering topics to address part of ESD in your programme. There is useful guidance available to support educators to operationalise the SDGs into learning outcomes, teaching activities and assessment (UNESCO, 2017).

A table listing the ESD objectives

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are:

  1. No poverty
  2. Zero Hunger
  3. Good health and well-being
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Clean water and sanitation
  7. Affordable and clean energy
  8. Decent work and economic growth
  9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
  10. Reduced inequalities
  11. Sustainable cities and communities
  12. Responsible consumption and production
  13. Climate action
  14. Life below water
  15. Life on land
  16. Peace, justice and strong institutions
  17. Partnerships for the goals

As you can see the SDGs cover many areas of social activity, some of which are very relevant to the Marjon family of disciplines. For example:

3 - Good Health and Wellbeing
4 - Quality Education
5 - Gender Equality
7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
10 - Reduced Inequalities
16 - Peace and Justice - Strong Institutions

How might I include sustainable development in my teaching?

When (re)designing programmes, it’s worth considering key concepts related to sustainable development alongside the SDGs outlined above. The Future Fit Framework (2012) describes seven key concepts which are seen as a central to sustainable development. These might already appear as cross-cutting themes in your programmes. Consider and map where these concepts might have relevance for your discipline, and use this mapping to feed into your programme specification details on ESD:

  • Interdependence – society, economy & environment
  • Citizenship and stewardship – rights and responsibilities
  • Needs and rights – of future generations
  • Diversity – cultural, social, economic, and biological
  • Quality of life, equity, and justice
  • Sustainable change – development and carrying capacity
  • Uncertainty and precaution in action

There is no ‘right’ pedagogy for sustainability education, but approaches that are particularly effective tend to have an authentic aspect, enabling students to relate their learning to real-life problems and situations. Experiential and interactive approaches are also particularly well suited, particularly where they encourage students to develop and reflect on their own and others' values. It’s also worth thinking using the outdoors for learning, use of the campus, linking the curriculum to informal learning and considering the hidden curriculum. Read the Cotton and Winter (2010) chapter and Sterling’s (2012) Future Fit Framework for more ideas about pedagogic approaches.

Changes you might consider:

  • Increasing groupwork to increase social interaction
  • Opportunities for students to discuss and debate controversial issues, and to consider different value positions
  • Practical work/ placements on or off campus
  • Using the University campus, operational and business activities as examples of an organisation in sustainability transition
  • Introducing debates, project work and team-based learning

Examples of ESD at Plymouth Marjon University

The distance-learning MSc in Management for a Sustainable Future focuses entirely on how business managers and leaders can step up to address 21st century global business challenges. An innovative alternative to a traditional MBA, this course is fully accredited by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and examines traditional management subject areas such as finance and strategy through a modern lens.
Management for a Sustainable Future - Richard Thain

Katheryn has developed an innovative approach to teaching research methods through a social justice lens. This has proved an effective way to promote the importance of research methods and to develop a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of diversity and cross-cultural variation – to prepare Marjon students for global citizenship and employment.
Psychology - Katheryn Edwards


Your assessment tasks and outcomes offer opportunities for students to demonstrate achievement of knowledge, skills or graduate outcomes related to sustainability. Appropriate tasks might include:

  • Development of critical thinking and problem-solving in relation to sustainability issues
  • Opportunities to undertake research and analysis in real-world contexts
  • Capstone assessment (e.g., dissertations, placements) which incorporate sustainability as an element or focus in relation to the core discipline.

ESD self-assessment for programme leaders

To begin your journey to embedding ESD into curriculum consider the following questions and then complete the table below.

  • Identify how sustainability is already part of what you teach
  • What links are there in your programme to the SDGs?
  • Which of the 7 key concepts outlined above link best in different modules?
  • Where do you employ sustainability pedagogies in your teaching?
  • Do you make links to the informal or campus curriculum?
  • Do your assessment criteria include reference to sustainability as relevant to your discipline?
Module 1 2 3
What are you already doing?      
Link to SDGs      
Core concepts covered      
Sustainability Pedagogies      
Links to informal or campus curriculum      
Assessment links to sustainability      
Summary of sustainability elements in this module      
Next steps      

Use this exercise to identify what you need to know to embed ESD and future proof teaching and learning. There are lots of Marjon academics already working in ESD in Marjon. Perhaps link up with them to discuss how you can take this forward in your own teaching.

Examples of ESD at Plymouth Marjon University

This programme includes a module that explores how a future-facing curriculum helps students learn what they need to face the challenges of the 21st century. Students consider a range of flexible pedagogies they can employ to assist them in this, including Sustainability Education.
Professional Education Practice - Lynne Wyness

Outdoor Education is grounded in explorations and adventure, key characteristics of colonialism. Through a decolonial critique of the discipline students are challenged to think differently about the past, about history and about the impact of past events on present understandings of environment and nature.
Outdoor Education - Mark Leather