Teaching sustainability: new global initiative

Higher education is a vital resource for knowledge and a sophisticated national policy in resolving numerous challenges. A decisive step towards active SDGs implementation through science, research and progressive teaching has been taken recently showing prospective steps in increasing the role of “teaching sustainability”. The European Commission and the EU member states shall take more active part in the initiative.

The notion and concept of sustainable development have become a hot issue in socio-economic development firmly entering the states’ political vocabularies.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, have given a new impetus to global and national efforts to achieve sustainable growth.

On “Sustainable Europe by 203” in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/publications/reflection-paper-towards-sustainable-europe-2030_en;

New initiative

Being at the mainstream in national and regional policies, the SDGs have become an integral part in the educational policies as well. A noteworthy even took place recently: a new initiative was adopted to create a specific “SDGs-education network” as a step in the right direction to activate universities at increasing their contribution towards SDGs implementatio. By sharing good practice through the new network, European and global universities will strengthen the educators’ impetus into SDGs practical implementation for sustainable development and the national growth.

The initiative was inaugurated by the three global education groups: the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the Agence universitaire de la Francophone and the International Association of Universities agreed on a network to increase the contribution of universities to the SDGs implementation. That means that already more than 2,000 different universities globally are already in the network!

Academic professionals see the network “Higher Education Sustainability Initiative, HESI” as an important step in global cooperation around the “teaching SDGs” idea. The three educational organisations representing the Anglo-Saxon, Francophone and international universities’ association are seeking to consolidate higher education’s role in implementing SDGs, in creating new sustainable knowledge and innovation, in developing a generations of new leaders and skilled professionals who will implement SDGs ideas and concepts for the benefit of progressive socio-economic development in countries around the world.

More on the HESI and Dr. Joanna Newman, secretary general of the Association of Commonwealth Universities opinion in:


Back to basics…

It is vital from the beginning to underline that the new network will support university efforts to directly engage in the SDG agenda – for example, through integrating sustainable development into education policies, sharing SDG learning content and materials as well as developing SDG-focused research. We shall decide specifically the set of issues to be performed in order “to keep on track” for achieving the SDGs by 2030 through encouraging a universal approach in general and interdisciplinary SDGs reaching, education and research.

I am particularly glad about the HESI, as finally –since the SDGs was agreed on at the end of 2015 – the idea of “teaching SDGs” has been taken seriously by the global education facilities. As a member of both the global and Northern European SDSN groups, I was “pushing forward” the “teaching SDGs” project, however without much avail; at last we have an “umbrella-organisation” that will, hopefully, start doing something positive.

Some recent publications in our magazine on SDGs and education issues in the following web-links: – Supporting sustainability: EU’s financial innovation. February 2019. In:


– European dimension in education: perspectives for Latvia. March 2019. In: http://www.baltic-course.com/eng/modern_eu/?doc=147940&ins_print ;

– Education and science in the Baltics’ future. March 2019. In: http://www.baltic-course.com/eng/editors_note/?doc=20413&ins_print;

– Tackling Latvian economy and sustainability: OECD’s assessment. June 2019. In:


– SDGs in the EU: monitoring progress. July 2019. In: http://www.baltic-course.com/eng/editors_note/?doc=20637&ins_print.

Initiative’s challenges: pros and cons

Including sustainability and circular economy issues into the states’ education and training policies can play a decisive role in helping every state to implement SDGs’ agendas: that could be the main drive and outcome of the HESI’s activity. However, only the time can tell how these activities would really help the states’ decision-makers in a noble task to implement SDGs!

On the positive side there are such tasks for national governance as: – introducing SDGs into the national socio-economic planning structures, – developing new specializations on sustainability in the universities, – creating “model” curricular on SDGs on all level of education, etc.

There are two sides in the SDG educational facilities: theoretical and practical; the former is of providing additional SDG knowledge and cross-sectoral synergy, the latter is of practical steps in introducing SDGs in national sectoral growth, e.g. in energy and construction, in transport and tourism.

Numerous international organisation are already active in the SDGs implementation, e.g. the UM bodies and OECD, to name a few. Thus, the OECD provides a practical guidance for the so-called national “policy coherence for sustainable development”, which includes the following main “instruments” for decision-makers in the education policies: a) improving understanding of interactions and synergies among SDGs and national growth models; b) strengthening public/private institutional mechanisms in the SDGs integrative implementation, and c) monitoring and assessing progress in SDGs policy’ coherence.

More in the OECD online policy toolkit:


EU efforts: economic models for educational reforms
Education is high on the EU’s political agenda; the Commission is cooperating with the states towards building a European Education Area by 2025, which is about enhancing learning, cooperation and excellence. It is also about opening up opportunities for all, strengthening values and enabling young people to develop a European identity.

Horizon 2020 as the EU’s research and innovation program for 2014-2020 has tremendous financial resources -about € 80 billion – designed to implement the European innovative activities among other Europe-2020 flagship initiatives. Horizon 2020 aims to establish in the EU member states the globally-leading/knowledge-based economies, producing world-class science and innovation to ensure the states’ global competitiveness. Some of these financial resources shall be used for implementing SDGs too.

More in: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/summary/chapter/research_innovation/2701.html?root=2701

Sustainable EU policy towards 2030 suggests that the member states should undertake decisive measures in the sustainability transition, including education, science, technology, research, innovation, finance, taxation, responsible business conduct and new business models, corporate social responsibility and governance coherence at all levels.

European Commission’s reflection paper “Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030” (January 2019) shows the EU states’ progress in implementing SDGs and identifies perspective measures. The priority measures for states include: – developing a fully circular economy, – creating a sustainable food system, – making efforts to “greening energy” and construction sector as well as gearing all horizontal policy tools in the states: from education and digitisation to finance and taxation, towards the sustainable transition.

The EU’s approach shows that there is no economic sustainability without social sustainability; hence, additional efforts at ensuring sustainable transition in a “socially fair way” for the benefit of all and leaving no one behind.

The EU institutions have already embarked on a transition towards a low-carbon economy as a vital step in driving to the climate neutral, resource-efficient and circular growth. The EU has also put the SDGs at the heart of its external action and has aligned all development activities with the UN-2030 Agenda through its new European Consensus on Development: e.g. the EU international support is growing – over € 20 bn in 2017 alone was devoted to support developing countries in their efforts to tackle climate change.

Reference: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-19-701_en.htm.

More in the reflection paper in: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-19-701_en.htm;

more on EU consensus on development in: https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/policies/european-development-policy/european-consensus-development_en.

The EU has elaborated three possible scenarios to stimulate the member states’ actions in the SDGs implementation: 1. An overarching EU SDGs strategy guiding the actions of the EU institutions and those of the member states; 2. A continued mainstreaming of the SDGs in all relevant EU policies by the Commission, though not enforcing the member states’ actions; and 3. An enhanced focus on external action while consolidating current sustainability ambition at the EU and the states’ level.

Besides, the EU is closely following the SDGs implementation; the Report acknowledged that in “the area of education (SDG 4), the EU has already met two of its six benchmarks for 2020, and is close to meeting two other goals”.

Citation from: the EU-SDG-2019 Report at:



For the seventh time, the Commission published “Education and Training Monitor” (ETM-18), to show the evolution of the EU’s education and training systems. The ETM-18 measures the states’ progress on several EU-2020 education and training targets, including the treatment of education issues in the annual European Semester process and identifying the EU funding for education, training and skills in the EU’s next long-term budget.

The EU states have made sufficient progress towards reforming and modernising education systems in line with the EU-2020 targets.

Source: http://ec.europa.eu/education/policy/strategic-framework/et-monitor_en

There are the following important messages to the member states guidance from the EU institutions from the long-term European strategy: a) the national socio-economic planning shall be divided by 5, 10 and 15-years’ periods; b) the EU-2020 strategy has shown already three main directions in the states’ perspective growth patterns: first, a priority on research and innovation (so-called “smart growth”); second, stimulating high level of employment, modernising labour market with due respect for social protection (so-called “inclusive and high employment growth”); third, concentrating on competitive, resource efficient and sustainable economy directions (so-called “green growth”).

Global community has since the end of 2015 made valuable impetus in re-directing modern national priorities: e.g. the UN 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs and 169 associated targets) have already become an integral part in the EU states. Thus, theoretically, member states’ problems can be resolved by implementing global and European recommendations to follow most optimal and progressive growth paths. However, national governing bodies and scientific community have to make some nationally-adapted solutions stemming from both the global (the UN sustainable development goals, SDGs) and the European recommendations (the EU-2030 Agenda). Both are making the SDGs as part of the national political-economy’s framework, and assist in practical implementation of the European longer term vision for the member states’ sectoral policies.

There are about 1,8 million researchers working in thousands of European universities, research centers and leading manufacturing industries. By working together across borders, sectors and disciplines, the member states can push the boundaries of science towards developing practical applications that can make difference to people’s lives.

European and the member states’ rationale of political and financial commitment to future and emerging technologies consists of the following priorities: – developing a dynamic environment for research and innovation; – allowing ideas to progress smoothly from laboratories to market; – attracting and retaining world-class talent; and – making sure that Europe remains a global science leader.

Finally, sustainability is both a new and complicated issue for the national governance; alongside educating the public on all “ingredients” in the sustainability (circular economy, green growth and nature protection, to name a few) all states have to develop their national SDGs implementation plans and strategies. The latter was a strong message from the High-level political forum on sustainable development that took place in July.

More in OECD paper: http://www.oecd.org/governance/pcsd/Flyer_Governance%20for%20the%20SDGs%20DRAFT%20HLPF%20side%20event.pdf

No doubt, teaching sustainability will provide additional guidance, knowledge and tools for strengthening the states’ capacities in enhancing national policy coherence in the SDGs implementation.

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