What is Education for Sustainability?

If we define sustainability as addressing the ongoing capacity for Earth to maintain life, and we consider this our goal, Education for Sustainability (EfS) is how we get there.

Education for Sustainability (EfS) is an educational approach that aims to develop students, schools and communities with the values and the motivation to take action for sustainability – in their personal lives, within their community and also at a global scale, now and in the future.

Education for Sustainability (EfS) aims to build awareness and knowledge of sustainability issues but also to develop students and schools that are able to think critically, innovate and provide solutions towards more sustainable patterns of living.

ACARA's definition of Education for Sustainability is as follows:

“Education for sustainability develops the knowledge, skills, values and world-views necessary for people to act in ways that contribute to more sustainable patterns of living. It enables individuals and communities to reflect on ways of interpreting and engaging with the world.  Sustainability education is futures-oriented, focusing on protecting environments and creating a more ecologically and socially just world through informed action. Actions that support more sustainable patterns of living require consideration of environmental, social, cultural and economic systems and their interdependence."

Source: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), viewed on the Australian Curriculum website on 21/10/2015.

Education for sustainability is based on the following seven principles, which were developed collaboratively by EfS practitioners and published in Living Sustainably: National Action Plan on Education for Sustainability, 2009. We have simplified them here.

Copyright permission granted from Department of Environment March 2015.

Transformation and change

Education for Sustainability involves equipping people with skills, capacity and motivation to plan and manage change towards sustainability within an organisation, industry or community.

Education for all and lifelong learning

Education for sustainability is driven by a broad understanding of education and learning that includes people of all ages and backgrounds and at all stages of life and takes place within formal and informal learning places, in schools, workplaces, homes and communities.

Systems thinking

Education for sustainability aims to equip people to understand connections between environmental, economic, social and political systems.

Envisioning a better future

Education for sustainability engages people in envisaging diverse, sustainable futures.

Critical Thinking and Reflection

Education for sustainability encourages individuals and groups to reflect upon personal experiences and worldviews, and challenges accepted ways of interpreting and engaging with the world.


Education for sustainability recognises community participation as critical to the collective shift towards an environmentally sustainable society.

Partnerships for change

Education for sustainability focuses on partnerships to build networks and relationships, and improve communication between different sectors of the community.