Sustainable development in teaching

Sustainable development themes are included in Tampere Universities’ joint competence objectives under internationality and global responsibility. According to the objective, students have to learn to identify degree-related local and global sustainable development issues and related connections in the ecological, social-cultural and economical dimension as well as to know how to work in a target-oriented manner and find and implement solutions which promote sustainable development.

By including sustainable development themes into students’ degree programme, graduates can promote sustainable development objectives and apply sustainable development knowledge in their field.

This page contains materials with which teachers can include sustainable development themes into their teaching.

What is sustainable development?

This section offers information on sustainable development and its inclusion into curricula.

Sustainable development goals (SDG)

  • UN member countries agreed on sustainable development goals and action plan in their New York summit in September 2015. The purpose was to guide global development efforts until 2030.
  • The sustainable development goals took effect at the beginning of 2016. There are 17 goals.
  • Read more on the UN’s website

UNESCO 2017: Education for Sustainable Development Goals – Learning Objectives

  • The report aims at offering information on the role of sustainable development and its integration into teaching.
  • The report includes sustainable development related key learning objectives, topic examples and teaching methods.
  • The report also presents key sustainable development skills.

FAO –elearning Academy

  • FAO offers short online courses free of charge.
  • There is a wide variety of courses on different topics.

Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN)

  • SDSN provides information on sustainable development education in higher education institutions
  • SDG Academy can also be found on the website. It offers free sustainable development courses and a material library.

Sustainable development skills

Wiek et al (2011) list five skills which are important for promoting sustainable development:  

  • Systems thinking
  • Foresight skills
  • Normative skills
  • Strategic thinking skills
  • Interpersonal skills

UNESCO (2017) also includes critical thinking skills and problem solving skills as sustainable development skills. They are skills at which higher education generally aims.

Diverse teaching methods can be used for teaching sustainable development and practising important sustainable development skills. The underlying table describes teaching methods which develop different skills and are suitable for teaching sustainable development. References given in the table can be found in the list of references.

Foresight skills

  • Back casting
  • ACTVOD-workshop
  • Quist et al. 2006
  • Wiek et al. 2011
  • Lauttamäki 2016

Systems thinking 

  • Cause-effect graph
  • CATWOE Analyses
  • Climate Interactive -Youtube channel
  • Paliwal 2005

Critical thinking

  • Figueiro & Raufflet 2015

Normative skills 

  • Back casting
  • Quist et al. 2006
  • Wiek et al. 2011


  • Dobson et al. 2012
  • Filho et al. 2016

Strategic thinking skills 

  • Back casting
  • Sosio-technical map
  • Quist et al. 2006
  • Mulder 2014

Interpersonal skills

  • PBL
  • debates
  • teamwork
  • Brundiers et al. 2010
  • Wiek et al. 2011

Identification and alleviation of environmental anxiety

Many young people experience environmental anxiety. The role of feelings thus has to be considered when environmental issues are discussed in teaching. Students’ anxiety can be alleviated in many different ways.

What is environmental anxiety?

Research of environmental anxiety has expanded in recent years (Pihkala 2019). Environmental anxiety is anxiety caused by the prevailing environmental state, such as the climate change (Kelly 2017). According to Pihkala (2019), feelings related to environmental and climate issues may include worry, guilt and anger but also hope and healthy pride.

Why is it important to consider environmental anxiety in teaching?

Many young people experience environmental anxiety. The role of feelings thus has to be considered when environmental issues are discussed in teaching. Environmental anxiety experienced by university students has been researched for example in Australia. According to Kelly (2017), a significant number of university students think that environmental courses do not sufficiently prepare for facing the negative feelings caused by environmental issues. Identification and management of environmental feelings is important during the studies in order to alleviate unpleasant environmental feelings (Pihkala 2019).

How can feelings be managed?

Students’ anxiety can be alleviated in many different ways. It is important that safe discussion possibilities are offered for students. According to Pihkala (2019), it is worth making sure that students have the chance to discuss and communicate their feelings. Students also have to be genuinely listened. (Pihkala 2019.) Kelly (2017) also emphasises the importance of a safe discussion connection in research-related interviews.

Pihkala (2019) presents many exercises which can be used for managing environmental feelings. For example, different writing assignments are exercises through which students can communicate their feelings. A writing assignment may begin by students selecting pleasant words which describe feelings. Based on them, students can write a text and make a mind map. It is also possible to make a timeline of environmental feelings which helps in considering the history and development of personal feelings (Pihkala 2019.)

Another example is an exercise by Moore (n.d) which she uses on her course ”Contemporary Issues in Environmental Communication”. The nine-phase exercise helps students to face feelings related to environmental issues. The basic idea is that student groups become familiar with environmental materials which evoke difficult feelings. Thereafter students tell other groups about the feelings they experienced. When the feelings have been identified, students consider in groups how they could reduce their uncomfortable feelings by themselves. Finally, students present their methods and test one of their ideas in real life. (Moore n.d.) During the studies, it is especially important to develop practical skills which make it possible for students to participate in environmental activities and solutions. It is cut out for alleviating environmental anxiety. (Kelly 2017.)

Links checked 19.9.2023