Education for Sustainable Consumption, 2011

Schools as Agents of Change for
Education for Sustainable Consumption
Presented at the May 2011 UN
Commission on Sustainable
Development Conference (CSD-19)
United Nations, New York
Sue L. T. McGregor PhD Professor Canada
Invitation from PERL
This CSD-19 Side Event was organized by PERL, the
Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible
Why Sustainability?
Sustainability is from two words: sustain and able
Sustain is Latin sustinere, “to hold up or support from
Able is Old French ableté, "expert at handling something”
Sustainability refers to people becoming experts at
holding up or providing support for something
from below.
What needs to be sustained? ALL LIFE...
 Earth
and our ecosystem
 Non-human species
 All human generations (the young,
adults and our elders)
 Those living elsewhere
 Those not yet born (the Future)
Education for Sustainable Living
Education for sustainable living (all life) depends heavily upon
people being taught how to consume in a sustainable matter, in
such a way that their patterns of action in the marketplace
scaffold and support All LIFE, now and in the future.
This life support requires....
Education FOR Sustainable Consumption
Why Sustainable Consumption?
Because the way we consume today is harming, some say
destroying, the planet, other species and current and future
The way we consume is making it very hard to provide life
support for the above  because current consumption
patterns are undermining the support structures. Without this
support, everyone and everything becomes weakened and
vulnerable, exposed to profound risks, even extinction for
some species and geographic locales.
Photo: Ben Jones Discovery News
Why EDUCATION FOR sustainable
consumption (ESC)?
Just because everyone “is a consumer” does not mean they
know how to consume in a sustainable way (ensuring support
for life). They need to be educated about how their behaviour
affects others and themselves.
General consumer education tends to focus on how to
help people make decisions in the marketplace so their selfinterest is served from buying and owning things. If this is done
without a fellow-citizen, fellow-species, relationship-with-earth
and the future perspective, everything gets trampled and
flattened. A special consumer education is warranted –
How is ESC different from regular
consumer education?
Focused on economic and
financial growth and security
Consumer is major economic
Values of market pervade
society; people serve the
Concerned with efficiency,
scarcity and competition
Focused on consumer interest
and rights
Focused on human and social
development, potentials,
progression and security as
well as economics
People are consumers and
Economy and market serve the
people and society
Concerned with effectiveness
and efficacy
Focused on mutual interests and
on citizen/human responsibilities
to others and the planet while
What values does education for sustainable
consumption instil (in addition to ESC Attitudes,
Skills and Knowledge ‘ASK’)
Consumption patterns that would sustain earth and all
species (provide visible and invisible life support over
many generations, ensuring viability and vitality) require a
special kind of behaviour in the marketplace; indeed,
even before entering the marketplace.
This behaviour privileges a collection of
values, key because they unlock, and
keep unlocked, doorways and pathways to
Key values for sustainable living:
Respect and love
Peace and freedom
Tolerance, empathy and
Community and life
Moderation and sufficiency
Connections and
Intergenerational learning
Self-reflection and selfawareness
Equity and equality
Responsibility and
Ethics and morality
Public discourse for the
common good
Human creativity
Critical awareness
Change agency
Respect chaos and tension
Compare this to the conventional value
set for a market economy:
Scarcity (ration scarce economic resources to their
most efficient use)
Profit maximization
Wealth accumulation
Growth and expansion
Management and control
Business cycles
Progress (technological and economic)
Self-interest (nation's wealth is greatest when its citizens pursue their own selfinterest by consuming)
Rationale “man” (choices)
Certainty, order and control
Education is a Catalyst
Education is a powerful catalyst for a more sustainable life
and a just, secure society rich with potential and
 Catalyst is Greek katalyein, to loosen things up
Catalysts speed up the rate of an important event, help
make it happen.
Catalysts cause fundamental change; this CSD-19
Side Event is about schools as agents of change for
sustainable lifestyles through education for
sustainable consumption
Schools and Leadership for ESC
Schools can be profound agents of social change. Leadership
around schools (government agencies, administrators, teachers,
students, families and communities) can use several
fundamental tools:
 Make constitutional changes
 Make ESC a national priority, placing it on the policy agenda at
the highest level, then implementing it a program/departmental
 Ensure coordinated, systematic action from the various
ministries, government agencies and schools
 Initiate state/province-wide curricular innovations and
development (including leading-edge ESC pedagogy)
 Collaborate with key stakeholders
 Run public ESC campaigns
What does ESC “look like”? What is the best ESC
pedagogy to ensure consumer behaviour patterns that
respect and reflect sustainability (support life)?
Overarching purpose of ESC: bridge the
gaps between school and real life by
educating learners to be the next
generation of global citizens who are
responsible for each other and the earth
Key elements of ESC pedagogy (Greek
paidagogia, “to lead a child, education,
attendance on children”
Conventional pedagogy:
Sage-on-the -stage, teacher as expert,
student as empty vessel, waiting to
be filled up with teacher-given
ESC-Pedagogy is student-centered and
Teacher is the guide-on-the-stage, helping students direct
their own learning:
Approaches to teaching ESC in school
 Re-learning, even
 Active learning principles and strategies
 Inquiry-based learning (driven by the students)
 Concept maps and mind maps
 Project-based learning (experiential learning)
 Case studies (others and make up their own)
 Debates and discussion (argue and justify one’s position)
 Dialogue and study circles (reach consensus)
 Cooperative and collaborative learning principles
 Thematic teaching (includes controversial issues)
Approaches to teaching ESC in school,
 Field
trips into the community (community is a classroom
ripe with locally relevant learning)
 Bring the community into the school
 Service learning continuum
 Art, drama, music, games, literature, sports
 Future workshops and scenario building
 Showcasing successes and best practices
 Celebrations (instead of rewards)
 ‘Looking for Likely Alternatives’ learning tool (LOLA), to
counter the TINA syndrome (there is no alternative)
Curriculum architects can choose from
several strategies as they design ESC:
 Stand-alone
 Mainstreamed into existing
courses (infused)
 Cross-cutting, interrelated
themes (integration)
Stand alone ESC
A separate curriculum would be developed and the ESC
course would become part of the selection of courses
from which students choose to complete their graduation
May not be a mandatory course, meaning not everyone
benefits from the course content and learning activities
If taken only once, there is no chance for ongoing orientation
to consuming for sustainability
Infused ESC
An infused curricular approach to ESC strives to instil ideas in
students by gradually but firmly establishing ideas or attitudes
about sustainable living and consumption in their minds (like
steeping a cup of tea). Once infused, it is very difficult to
separate or disconnect.
Major tool is thematic teaching, infusing ESC themes into
courses, projects, afterschool activities, school clubs etc.
a risk that the agreed-to thematic content would be woven into
courses only at the discretion of individual instructors.
the degree to which individual instructors embrace and internalize
the ESC course content, themes and pedagogy will affect their
willingness and ability to infuse it into their teachings
Integrated ESC curricula
An integrated approach (to make whole) purposively
makes connections across all subjects. It creates
opportunities for all students to learn together until they
begin to see patterns emerge and connections are born
about what it means to be a “consumer for sustainable
living.” Teachers would co-create and co-deliver the
aforementioned ESC pedagogy.
By incorporating ideas about sustainable
consumption across the entire learning
experience, an integrated approach to ESC unites
learning “into a whole.” In the case of ESC for
sustainable living, an entire new person emerges
at the end - a global consumer citizen.
Challenges to this dream
Pervasiveness of the consumer culture in everyday life –
incredibly hard nut to crack
Natural resistance to change (viewing latter as a threat
instead of an opportunity)
Lack of political will (on many levels) to make ESC happen
Political will but no political wherewithal (power,
influence, leverage, resources)
Schools and communities/families not seen as partners in
students’ learning
Teachers not adequately trained in ESC pedagogy
School culture not predisposed to ESC
Cannot afford to wallow in the negativity
Appreciating that there are
deep challenges to sustainable,
responsible living in a
consumer society, today’s Side
Event was purposely designed
to showcase best practices –
this can work. It can happen.
Schools can be powerful
agents of change for a
sustainable future, deeply
shaped by consumers’
behaviour and especiallydesigned consumer education
that respects responsible living.

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