March 28th, 2011

Educating for Sustainability: Competencies & Practices for Transformative Action

By Erin Frisk and Kelli Larson

Achieving a sustainable future requires that individuals adopt different values, attitudes, habits, and behaviors, which are often learned and cemented at a young age. Unfortunately, current educational efforts are inadequate for achieving transformative action.  Even programs whose primary goal is to promote responsible, pro-environmental behaviors have largely failed at creating change among students.  The lack of efficacy in sustainability-related educational programs is at least partly due to faulty assumptions about knowledge automatically leading to action, and by extension, the information-intensive methods that focus largely on declarative knowledge regarding how environmental systems work.  Meanwhile, social science literature clearly highlights the need to go beyond ecological and technical knowledge when educating for transformative action, since sustainable behaviors are motivated by much more than declarative information.  In order to effectively educate for sustainability, alternative forms of knowledge (i.e., procedural, effectiveness, and social knowledge) are essential, as is the consideration of various barriers and motivators for action.  The transition towards sustainability will require action and change that is guided by an understanding of the complexities that arise within an interconnected system, as well as the ability to collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds, while keeping an eye to the future. In formulating our approach to educating for sustainability, we incorporate perspectives from three somewhat disparate fields: (i) behavioral change research, (ii) sustainability scholarship, and (iii) educational pedagogy.  While drawing upon diverse knowledge domains, our primary purpose is to integrate behavior change research and sustainability competencies in developing effective educational approaches for transformative actions.

Full PDF:  FriskLarson2011

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