What Is Education for Sustainable Living?

Through education for sustainable living, students gain knowledge, skills, and values to address the environmental and social challenges of the coming decades.

They learn to think ecologically, understand the interconnectedness of human and natural systems, and develop the capacity to apply this understanding so that human communities and natural ecosystems may thrive.

At the same time, sustainability as understood by the Center for Ecoliteracy is a far richer concept than simply meeting material needs, surviving, or trying to keep a degraded planet from getting worse.

A truly sustainable community is alive — fresh, vital, evolving, diverse, dynamic. It supports the health and quality of life of present and future generations while living within the limits of its social and natural systems. It recognizes the need for justice, and for physical, emotional, intellectual, cultural, and spiritual sustenance.

Fortunately, observes Center for Ecoliteracy cofounder Fritjof Capra,

We do not need to invent sustainable human communities. We can learn from societies that have lived sustainably for centuries. We can also model communities after nature's ecosystems, which are sustainable communities of plants, animals, and microorganisms.

Since the outstanding characteristic of the biosphere is its inherent ability to sustain life, a sustainable human community must be designed in such a manner that its technologies and social institutions honor, support, and cooperate with nature's inherent ability to sustain life.

Education for Sustainable Living

"All education is environmental education," as Center board member David W. Orr has written. "By what is included or excluded, students are taught that they are part of or apart from the natural world."

Schooling is everything the school does that leads to students' learning — whether that learning is intended or not. Students learn from classroom lectures. They also learn from what the school offers in the lunchroom, by how it uses resources and manages waste, by who is included in decisions, by how the school relates to the surrounding community.

The Center for Ecoliteracy has identified four broad areas — food, the campus, community, and teaching and learning — which are explored in depth in its book, Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability. Each of these areas offers multiple avenues for educators, students, parents, and citizens wanting to engage in the transformative work of schooling for sustainability. 

Michael K. Stone - Excerpt from Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability
Michael K. Stone

An excerpt from the introductory chapter of the CEL book Smart by Nature.

Daniel Goleman - Ecological Intelligence
Daniel Goleman

Ecological intelligence allows us to comprehend systems in all their complexity, as well as the interplay between the natural and man-made worlds.

Zenobia Barlow - Testimony on Environmental Ed to Congressional Subcommittee
Zenobia Barlow

There is a vital need to teach students how to create sustainable societies that harmonize human needs with those of the natural world.

Read More

Type Titlesort icon Description
Blog Green: Deep, Wide, and High

To be green is to be true to who we are, at the core.

Blog How to Usher in a New Decade of Environmental Action

The simple, even old-fashioned word that is increasingly coming up.

Blog Passing Down Ecoliteracy to the Next Generation

Our Etsy blog of handmade projects and activities

Essay Testimony on Environmental Education to Congressional Subcommittee

There is a vital need to teach students how to create sustainable societies that harmonize human needs with those of the natural world.

Essay The Five New Pillars of Education

President Obama identifies the foundations of his vision for American education.

Blog The Public Appeal of Sustainability Education

Is schooling for sustainability an elitist movement? Hardly. 

Essay Toward a Beauty-centric Education

We must address the relationship between sustainability and beauty to give emotional honesty to our ecological work.

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