Education for Sustainable Development

How can we shape our world together, so that it becomes more sustainable? What does a good life look like, one that doesn’t come at the expense of other people and the environment?

Jochen Dallmer

Jochen Dallmer is a political scientist living in Berlin, Germany. He works as a freelance consultant on sustainability and education. He is part of the “Travel Different for Future” project team as an advisor and researcher.

A central approach of ESD is to empower people to become active themselves and consciously contribute to sustainable development. Accordingly, ESD is much about competencies. These should enable learners to develop and combine knowledge and skills.

Sustainable development is the great common goal of humankind. So far, it has only been partially achieved. Some of the good ideas and programmes are not yet sufficiently implemented, and in other areas we still have to find out how we can live together sustainably.

Education for Sustainable Development has become a central concept in the last 15 years, with the aim of spreading the topic of sustainable development in the society, but also of better engaging the society by discussing and participating. Worldwide, it’s promoted by UNESCO as an important building block for sustainable development. (1)

What ESD is all about

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is about making people fit to participate in sustainable development. To achieve this, people first need basic information about sustainability, the existing problems and today's global challenges. Therefore, ESD combines topics and perspectives on citizenship education, environmental education and global learning. Sustainability is about ecological, social, cultural and economic perspectives. At the same time, however, it’s important to look beyond analysis. Learning for sustainability isn’t only about identifying and understanding problems, but also about figuring out solutions: where are the starting points for making our world more sustainable? What do we need for sustainability to succeed?

A central approach of ESD is to empower people to become active themselves and consciously contribute to sustainable development. Accordingly, ESD is much about competencies. These should enable learners to develop and combine knowledge and skills. The aim is to enable them to act independently and reflectively. (2) This means that information is provided about a certain topic, but then the question is soon raised as to what more sustainable action in this area might look like: What are (alternative) possibilities for action? What are the starting points for change? Who are the central actors and what role do we play in this?

Education for Sustainable Development - Photo by Dario Moscato - Pexels

How ESD works

In practice, this means that ESD moved forward and away from a classical understanding of learning in the sense of classroom lessons and one-way knowledge transfer. Rather, it’s about learning together: with each other and from each other. Many ESD projects are therefore characterised by elements of non-formal learning: interactive methods, lots of practical activities, stimuli for discussion and reflection. ESD can only partially happen in a classroom. It needs contact with the outside world, for example, in cooperation with extracurricular actors and practical initiatives.

Practical elements and activities in projects that allow for one’s own participation are particularly valuable. This is the best way to learn about and practise sustainable action: Who needs to act and how, and how can we motivate ourselves and other people to act accordingly? What projects do we need to try out and develop new things? What do we need to be able to act in this way, individually and collectively?

In this context, it’s important to facilitate dialogue: there are no blanket recipes or ideal solutions for sustainability. And pointing the finger has never proven to be a pedagogically valuable tool.

To avoid sustainability being imposed from above or outside, it’s valuable to give more space to the aspect of learners' interests and motivations. This creates an attractive learning experience and contributes to a more fruitful learning experience. However, orientation towards participants and learners also helps to deal with and evaluate sustainability issues in a realistic way. Sustainability research shows that in countries like Germany there’s a relatively high level of knowledge about sustainability and many people say that they pay attention to sustainability in their actions. However, this isn’t the case when we look at real everyday actions, e.g., consumption, housing, mobility or travel. So, there’s a gap between what research calls 'environmental knowledge' and 'environmental action'. An innovative and committed ESD must address this problem and also the inherent dilemmas: why do we often find it so difficult to act sustainably?

ESD and sustainable tourism

With regard to our project topic of sustainable tourism, there are accordingly many questions to be explored and worked on together: What are common forms of travel and tourism and what effects do they have in terms of sustainability? How can and do we want to travel, what are our preferences, needs, interests? How can tourism be made sustainable? What (alternative) forms of travel are there that we’re less familiar with or aware of? How do we deal with the dilemma when on the one hand we like to jet through the world, but on the other hand we want to travel sustainably?

In line with the ESD approach of linking learning with everyday life, we will work in a practical and realistic way. We want to create sustainable travel ideas together, develop concrete plans and, preferably, share travel experiences of how the ideas have been implemented in practice. Join us, take part and contribute!


  1. Education for Sustainable Development (
  2. Startseite – BNE-Portal Kampagne (German and English)