What is ‘Sustainability’, and how do you embed it in creative arts curricula? These are two huge questions, and it would be possible to write a book on each. At UCA, we are committed to embedding principles of ‘Education for Sustainable  Development’ in all of our courses. But what does this mean, and how do we go about it?

Firstly, it is necessary to try and narrow down what we mean by sustainability, as it is a term that means different things in different contexts. In the context of Further and Higher Education, it is helpful to align sustainability with the idea of ‘sustainable development’, which has been by the United Nations as:

development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Bruntland, 1987).

At the United Nations World Summit (2005), this statement was developed in order to identify three clear ‘pillars’ of sustainability – economic, social, and environmental. Using these three pillars, the United Nations defines education for sustainable development as follows:

Education for sustainable development 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.

QAA-ESD-v2By using this definition to frame the context and scope of sustainability in education, it is possible to identify themes that programmes of education need to enable students to experience. Guidance for educators from the UK Quality Assurance Agency therefore suggests that education for sustainable development means working with students to encourage them to:

  • consider what the concept of global citizenship means in the context of their own discipline and in their future professional and personal lives
  • consider what the concept of environmental stewardship means in the context of their own discipline and in their future personal and professional lives
  • think about issues of social justice, ethics and wellbeing, and how these relate to ecological and economic factors
  • develop a future-facing outlook, learning to think about the consequences of actions, and how systems and societies can be adapted to ensure sustainable futures

The QAA guide also highlights that:

[Education for sustainable development] aims to develop students’ ability to understand and evaluate connections between big issues, such as inequality, public health, global consumption, biodiversity loss, and the limits of natural systems. Learning for and about sustainable development aims to prepare graduates to contribute to, stimulate and lead the debate on complex issues such as what constitutes global citizenship and good governance, sustainable resource use, and the determination of ecological limits.

Informed by the above explanations of what sustainability means in the context of education, we can now explore what sustainability in the curriculum actually looks like. Perhaps the best way to do this is using case studies as these provide real examples of activities designed to help students learn about sustainable values and principles. Click the links below to open the case studies.

Activating learning in sustainable design: using a hands-on materials workshop to engage students – This case study focuses on the design and delivery of a hands-on workshop involving second year Interior Design students in the Sir John Cass department of Art, Media and Design at London Metropolitan University.

Integrating sustainability and active learning in the Fashion and Textiles curriculum – This article describes how an introductory lecture on Globalisation for 60 learners on a 2nd  year BA (Hons) Fashion and Textiles programme, which was part of a lecture series, and required a 500 word follow-up written report became instead a successful active learning and research project about ethical fashion.

Making a difference: sustainability in the arts curriculum – This descriptive paper by Dr. Nicholas Houghton presents case studies of how various course teams have set about teaching about sustainability through their art and design discipline.

Integrating sustainability into design education – This resource contains five examples of education for sustainable development activities integrated into design curricula. To view the case studies, just scroll down the page and click ‘Next’.

Poetry and sustainability – This case study was part of the English Subject Centre’s ‘Bringing the Outside In’ case studies initiative. Students went on a field trip to Kingley Vale nature reserve in West Sussex as part of a module on contemporary poetry and the environment.

Embedding Sustainable Development into Performing Arts and Music – Performing Arts and Music Level 2 and level 3 students at Blackpool University worked in partnership with the Lancashire Global Education Centre to embed sustainable development within the curriculum. The partnership has offered students the knowledge and information to
understand how their individual actions impact on local and global communities.

Promoting Positive Behaviour for the Future of Fashion – The Fashion and Clothing Diploma course team at Blackpool University aims to teach students about the different skills and aspects of fashion and how to develop a deeper commitment to sustainability principles. The course introduces students to a range of ethical issues that surround the fashion industry and allows students to develop design solutions using themes of recycling and re-use of clothing.

Social-SustainabilityDesigning for Social Sustainability – This paper sets out how to plan, design and develop successful and socially sustainable new communities. The ideas and examples are drawn from a large scale review of evidence about what makes communities flourish, with practical examples and approaches from new settlements around the world.  It was commissioned by the Homes and Communities Agency as part of Future Communities.

Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future is a UNESCO programme for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. It provides professional development for student teachers, teachers, curriculum developers, education policy makers, and authors of educational materials.

If you are interested in developing opportunities to integrate Education for Sustainable Development into your teaching, please contact Annamarie Mckie or Tony Reeves for an initial conversation.


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