“ESDG” – addressing the Global Goals via developing sustainability competencies in higher education

At the recent AASHE2018 conference in Pittsburgh, which drew 2000 people to discuss sustainabilty in higher education, I came across a new acronym that gave me a useful lightbulb moment: ESDG.

Universities across the globe, including my own, are rightly starting to focus their attention on addressing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. These include acting to eliminate hunger and poverty, reducing societal inequalities, ensuring free and fair elections and a lot more. Universities might contribute via their teaching, research and public engagement work, and have a key role in relation to Goal 4 on Education, and Target 4.7 (below).

By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.

As the SDGs were being formulated, the UN’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) was coming to a close. As a result, ESD is a well-established (though of course, hotly debated) set of principles and practices for understanding and implementing sustainability education, in universities and elsewhere. DESD was followed by UNESCO’s Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD, expressed via a Roadmap published by UNESCO. As this was published prior to the SDGs, I gather from an AASHE session that work is underway to explicitly link the SDGs to GAP.

So, with much of the new push for action for sustainability in universities focusing on the SDGs, how can this also incorporate the insights developed on ESD over recent years?

The idea of “ESDG”, which I first heard at AASHE offers a helpful bridge – meaning the kind of education that will support the achievement of the Global Goals.

How to make this concept tangible for university staff and students looking to make ESDG happen? My initial thinking is to suggest working with two main conceptual frameworks: the SDGs and Core Competencies for sustainable development.

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