is Education for the 21st Century

The Challenge of Sustainability
and the Role of Education
David V. J Bell, PhD
Professor Emeritus and Former Dean
Faculty of Environmental Studies
York University
Chair of the Board
Learning for a Sustainable Future
The Challenge of Sustainability for the 21st
Century is Primarily Educational
We are now on a path that is clearly
unsustainable (climate change, social
inequity, waste, overconsumption,
health, etc.)
Can humankind learn to live differently
on this planet so current and future
generations can have a (good) life?
Our pressures on the planet have increased with our numbers
6.7 billion (2009)
4 billion (1975)
2 billion (1920)
1 billion (1800)
900 1000 1100 1200 1300 1400 1500 1600 1700 1800 1900 2000 2100
Source: UN Population Division 2004; Lee, 2003; Population Reference Bureau
World Gross Domestic Product
“ great wealth” - heavy environmental and social price
$70 trillion in 2009
$10 trillion in 1967
$1 trillion in 1900
Key Sustainability
Issues for Canada
Generating “genuine wealth”
Improving efficiency (“Factor 10 economy”)
Shifting to clean energy
Reducing waste and pollution
Protecting and conserving water
Producing healthy food
Conserving, protecting and restoring Canadian
• Building sustainable cities
• Promoting global sustainability
David Boyd, Sustainability Within
a Generation: A New Vision for Canada, 2004
What is to be done?
• “Humanity is standing at a moment in history when a Great
Transformation is needed to respond to the immense threat
to the Earth. This … can only be achieved with a new global
contract between science and society … to tap all sources of
ingenuity and cooperation….”
(Potsdam Memorandum October 2007)
• “The pressure on ecosystems will increase globally in
coming decades unless human attitudes and actions
(Kofi Anan)
How Can We Do This?
If you are thinking a year ahead, sow a seed,
If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant a tree.
If you are thinking one hundred years ahead, educate
the people.
Kuan Tzu Chinese Poet, c. 500 B.C.
100 Years Ago: The World was Very Different!
• Population (about 2 billion)
• Global governance (few countries,
numerous empires)
• Technologies (automobile & telephone
new; no electronic communications)
• Business and finance primarily national
• Miniscule “civil society sector”
• No concept of global climate change,
pollution health impacts
• No concern about biodiversity, deforestation
• No image of Earth from space
Looking Ahead 100 Years…
How can we learn to change
the way we live in order to:
• Meet basic needs for food, water,
shelter, and energy of
9 billion people
Shift from 20th century capitalism to
21st century sustainable enterprise
Achieve a factor 10
(or greater) economy
Shift from linear take-make-waste
production cycle to closed-loop, cradleto-cradle
Achieve a less violent, more peaceful
• Stabilize the climate by reducing
GHG emissions globally by more
than 60%
• Reduce proportion of the world’s
population living on $2 US per day
or less (currently nearly half - 3
Education for Sustainable
Development (ESD) is Education
for the 21st Century
• is experiential, inquiry-based, place
based, and action-oriented
• teaches students to think in systems
• explains inter-relationships between
ecosystems and social systems
(including the economy, culture etc)
• inspires concern for fellow humans
and for the biosphere (which makes all
life possible)
• strengthens capacity to think
and act for the future and not
only for the present
Traditional Education
ESD Education
• For Employment
• For Responsible Citizenship
• Information Transfer
• Information mining and analysis;
skill development; values
• Passive
• Active
• Textbook
• Authentic
• Within the classroom
• Outside the classroom in the
Connecting the Dots:7 Strategies for ESD
Why ESD is Crucial
• Education for sustainable development is
born out of a very simple idea: reaching
sustainability will require more than legal
frameworks, financial resources and green
technologies, it also needs us to change the
way we think – change that can best be
obtained through education.
– Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO,
Tomorrow Today (Paris:UNESCO, 2010)
How to “Change The Way
We Think”
• ESD throughout K-12 formal
education and post-secondary
• Non-formal ESD in all sectors
(especially business and
• Informal ESD (including advertising,
internet, social networks) to create a
“culture of sustainability”
Educating? Or Learning?
• Not all education results in learning
• Much learning occurs outside (formal)
education. (What have we learned from the
global financial crisis??)
• Increasing role of internet, instant
– 3000 books will be published today!
– 31 billion Google searches are performed each day
[10-fold increase since 2006]
– “Shift Happens”
• “Social Learning” (and networking)
– 45,000 Facebook Updates every 2 minutes!
• Life-long learning
[but vast ignorance remains]
Global Educational Challenges
• Nearly a billion people (mainly women) are illiterate
• 75 million school age children (mainly girls) lack access to
primary education
– In Latin America average educational attainment is Grade 4
– In parts of Africa it is measured in months (hence MDG of
“Education for All”)
• The world’s 70 million teachers must be engaged
UN Decade for ESD 2005-2014
4 major thrusts of UN Decade for ESD
1. Public awareness and understanding (informal ESD)
2. Access to quality basic education (formal ESD)
3. Reorienting existing education (formal ESD)
4. Training programs for all sectors (non-formal ESD)
The Bonn Declaration
(mid-point of the UN Decade, April 2, 2009)
“We have the knowledge, technology and the
skills available to turn the situation around.
We now need to mobilise our potential to
make use of all opportunities for improving
action and change.”
Definitions of Sustainable
Development (SD)
• Meeting the needs of the present generation
without compromising the ability of future
to meet their own needs
– Brundtland Commission, 1987
• “Creating opportunities, now and in the future”
Paul Rowland, Executive Director, AASHE
• “Doing things better – not doing without.”
– David Sukuki
My favorite definitions
• “Conversations about the future”
– Shift from “What has posterity done for me
lately” to “What kind of legacy do we want to
leave for our children and their grandchildren?”
• “Connecting the dots.”
– Overcoming the barriers of “silos, stovepipes and
– Connecting the social, environmental and
economic dimensions
– Collaborating with other stakeholders
(governments, NGO’s, business, citizens)
Can education lead us out (e-ducere) of
the present crisis?
• A sustainable future requires transformed leadership
throughout society
– Public sector
– Private sector
– Voluntary sector/civil society
• All aspects of education are implicated
– Formal education (from Pre-K to Post Doctoral)
– Non-formal education (ie training and professional
development in workplaces)
– Informal education (public “awareness” affected by media,
the internet, and social networking)
The Special Role of Post-secondary
“Humanity is residing in a ship of sorts, this planet
earth, which has sprung a huge leak.... One
would think that academia would be one of the
most perceptive passengers on this ship…. But by
and large all we hear is silence from this
James L. Elder, 1998
ESD: General Education for Post
secondary students
• “no [college or] university student should be
permitted to graduate [today] without having
completed a general course on sustainable
Klaus Wiegandt, Editor’s Introduction to Jill Jager et al, Our Planet: How
Much More Can Earth Take? (2008) pp. xi-xii.
Why Colleges and Universities are
Community outreach
Leadership training:
“The vast majority of today’s leaders attended institutions of
higher learning (IHEs) and the leaders of tomorrow will also.
IHEs educate or ‘train’ many of the professionals in our
societies. Because these professionals work in or manage
people who work in every economic sector both private and
public, it is important that higher education incorporate
sustainability into all of its programs.”
What is
sustainability leadership?
“The model of sustainability leadership does not
assume that any single individual has the
answers or "knows the way".
“Instead, the model assumes that ordinary,
everyday people—some in formal positions of
power, others not—seek to expand their
understanding of the challenges they see and
share with others and develop a shared view of
a viable pathway to create the future they
The Importance of Vision
• “Some see the world as it is and ask
why. I see a world that has never been,
and ask, Why not?”
– Robert Kennedy (quoting G. B. Shaw)
• “If you don’t know where you’re going,
you may never get there.”
Yogi Berra
• "The future is not something we enter.
The future is something we create."
– Leonard I. Sweet, Author/Futurist
“The human being is the only animal that
thinks about the future.”
– “Until a chimp weeps at the thought of growing old
alone, or smiles as it contemplates its summer
vacation, or turns down a Fudgsicle because it
already looks too fat in shorts, I will stand by my
version of The Sentence. We think about the
future in a way that no other animal can, does, or
ever has, and that simple, ubiquitous, ordinary act
is a defining feature of our humanity.”
Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, p. 4
“We use our eyes to look into space and our
imaginations to look into time.”
• To see is to experience the world as it is, to
remember is to experience the world as it was, but
to imagine – ah to imagine is to experience the world
as it isn’t and never has been, but as it might be.
• The greatest achievement of the human brain is its
ability to imagine objects and episodes that do not
exist in the realm of the real, and it is this ability that
allows us to think about the future.”
Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, pp. 5, 26
CEGEPs and Sustainability
• CEGEPs influence (nearly) all Quebec youth
– knowledge
– understanding
– Commitment/engagement
– career choice
• “CEGEP Vert” has at least 50 certified colleges
– 22 at “Excellence” level
– Greening Operations plus infusing sustainability
ideas into curriculum and research
What more can be done??
The Triple Implications of ESD
• Change what we teach (curriculum)
• Change the way we teach (pedagogy)
• Change the way we run our institutions
(whole institution approach)
“Twilight of the Lecture”?
• “…[L]ectures are a way of transferring the
instructor’s lecture notes to students
notebooks without passing through the brains
of either.”
• “[Lectures] create the illusion of teaching for
teachers, and the illusion of learning for
What’s the good news?
“We are on the verge of a cultural shift… the
moment when human culture … recognizes our place
in the global ecosystem and our responsibility for all
other life on Earth.
EarthCat (based on Earth Charter Principles)
ESD and Societal Sustainability:
Whither Canada?
If we are on the verge of a cultural shift, why
does the federal government seem to be moving
– NRTEE eliminated
– Stats Can shrunken
– Attacks on environmental groups as enemies of the
– “emasculating” Fisheries Act
– Firing scientists
– Prisons and fighter jets top spending priorities
ESD, Responsible Citizenship, and the
“Quebec Spring”?
• [a good topic for discussion]
Should we be Optimists??
• “A pessimist is an informed optimist.”
– Russian proverb
• [but despair is a very poor motivator]
• “ ’Hope’ is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”
– David Orr, lecture at York University 2008
The Aboriginal Thanksgiving Address
Finally, we acknowledge one another, female and male. We give greetings and
thanks that we have this opportunity to spend some time together.
We turn our minds to our ancestors and our Elders. You are the carriers of
knowledge, of our history. We acknowledge the adults among us. You represent
the bridge between the past and the future.
We also acknowledge our youth and children. It is to you that we will pass on the
responsibilities we now carry. Soon, you will take our place in facing the
challenges of life. Soon, you will carry the burden of your people.
Do not forget the ways of the past as you move toward the future.
Remember that we are to walk softly on our sacred Mother, the Earth, for we walk
on the faces of the unborn, those who have yet to rise and take up the challenges
of existence.
We must consider the effects our actions will have on their ability to live a good
Dr. David Bell, Chair
Learning for a Sustainable
[email protected]
Appendix: Additional Slides
of ESD
Strategic Initiatives
The more influence we have in society, the greater our
potential impact on the planet and the greater our
responsibility to behave sustainably…. Priority areas for
action include:
• advancing education for sustainable development,
including secondary and vocational education, and
building of skills to help ensure that all of society can
contribute to solutions that address today’s challenges
and capitalize on opportunities.
Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing. Report of the UN High-level
Panel on Global Sustainability, January 2012
Some Recent Sustainability Developments in
Canadian Universities
• Dalhousie: “College of Sustainability”
• Royal Roads: new DSocSci
• Trent new Master of Arts in Sustainability Studies
“Capital Theory”
Passing on to future generations equal or
• Financial/manufactured capital
• Social/human capital
• Natural capital
• Cultural capital
• (and don’t forget “passion capital”)
Sustainability: Underlying Values
• Caring/respect
for the Earth
• Caring/respect for Each Other
• Caring/respect for Future Generations
Thinking Smarter – finding
new ways of doing things
1. Make Economic Sense
2. Are good for People and
3. Good for the Environment
Being wiser – simple rules for
a small planet
1. Learn from nature (biomimickry)
2. Understand complex systems (everything is connected
to everything else)
3. Anticipate and prevent (move “upstream” in your
4. We have nowhere else to go (so be stewards of the
5. Act with humility and compassion
Working together – finding
new partners to move from
rhetoric to action
1. Governments
2. Businesses
3. Educational community
4. Media and Voluntary Organizations
5. The Public
Core Concepts of Sustainability
“Prospective” (futures-oriented, vision-led) Thinking
Intergenerational responsibility: “Conversations about the
Integrated Systems Thinking
“Connecting the dots” between environment, economy, society
and culture; and between local, regional, national and global
Governance/Decision Making/Intragenerational Equity
Inclusion, Dignity, Human rights, Horizontal decision making,
Stakeholder voices, Collaborative and participatory processes
Sustainability at York
Establishment of FES in 1968 (first faculty of its kind in the world)
Introduction of BES and PhD (1992)
Haub Chair in Schulich School of Business (1994)
Location for OLSP – LFS (O) – LSF (1995-)
UNESCO Chair in ESD (1997)
YCAS (1997) and then IRIS (2004)
Sustainable Enterprise Academy (1999) followed by SEdA (2005)
Presidential Task Force and signing of Talloires Declaration (2001)
Inclusion of Sustainability research area of strength (2002)
President’s Sustainability Council (2007)
Annual sustainability Reports (2009)
First Sustainability Coordinator appointed (2011)
Glendon Sustainability Website (2011)
“Homo Sapiens: The Last 130,000
years; the Next 200 years.”
- A book, a film, and a proposed university
course under development by Michael
Wadleigh (the producer of the biggest grossing
documentary ever made – Woodstock 1970.)
- Scientific evidence indicates that the current
development model has about 200 years left
in it
The Role of Business Education
“Fundamental change to American institutions and industries
has become unavoidable. Business schools have a unique
opportunity to contribute to this change … by enabling young
people to develop as responsible, ethical leaders who can
build a new model of business success in society. Their ideal
of business will look dramatically different from today's. It will
value solid, long-term benefits to humankind in addition to
shareholder profits, and it will represent a departure from
the fallen house of cards we have all helped to create, both
as business educators and practitioners, over the last several
James Danko, Dean of Business, Villanova University

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