Developing the sustainability WOW factor

Posted on 23 February 2012

Education for sustainable development should be embedded in the learning experiences of all students both in the classroom and in the campus environment.

Professor Simon Haslett

As the University of Wales enters an historic transformation with the University of Wales: Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan University, the unique opportunity arises to ensure that all our students graduate with the sustainability ‘WOW’ – Wales One World – factor.

Wales, as one of very few nations to have included sustainability in its constitution, has a legal duty to promote sustainable development in all its activities; this agenda is driven by a number of policy documents, the most recent being One Wales One Planet (2009), and builds upon the 2005 UK Framework One Future, Different Paths.

Within the education sector, sustainability is a global priority issue, with a focus provided by the United Nations’ (UN) Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, running until 2014. In Wales, global citizenship is considered of equal importance, leading to the publication of an Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship (ESDGC) Strategy for Action in 2006, guiding the development of our university courses and campuses. In 2010, Wales became a UN Regional Centre of Expertise for ESDGC.

The University has sustainable development as a central organising principle for its activities, promoting the Welsh sustainability message to thousands of students at home and abroad - students whose future behaviour and decisions could make a difference to sustainability and wellbeing globally. Given this political and educational context, Wales’s graduates should possess significant sustainability attributes – they should all have the ‘WOW’ factor. The pace of the momentum will continue within the transformed University, helping to take the national commitment to sustainable development to the world stage.

However, the ambition for sustainability holds challenges and higher education has made a relatively slow start. Hot on the heels of the Durban Climate Conference in December 2011, when initial agreements on the process for establishing legally binding carbon cuts were negotiated, the Climate Change Commission for Wales in January published its first annual report.

This noted the judgements made by the student-run People and Planet Green League on UK institutions’ environmental management and performance, which ranked Welsh universities as between 20th and 134th in the UK, demonstrating a huge variance between results. Disappointingly, only a few Welsh universities contributed to the People and Planet ‘Go Green Week’ in February.

Although impressed by university research and development on climate change in Wales, the Commission stressed the need for developing more partnerships with business to deliver practical solutions for a low carbon economy.

Initiatives to address these kinds of issues are emerging within the transforming University, including the recent launch of INSPIRE – the Institute for Sustainable Practice, Innovation and Resource Effectiveness. Led by Jane Davidson (former Minister for Environment and Sustainability in the Welsh Government), INSPIRE will develop a 'One Planet Curriculum', in which sustainable development is embedded, and will provide opportunities to participate in social enterprises - all designed to increase students' employability and understanding of the world. INSPIRE will also engage with a wide range of organisations to develop sustainable practice across all sectors in Wales and further afield.

Despite the current significant changes in Welsh Higher Education, issues such as sustainable development must not be allowed to fall from the radar; indeed, their profile should be raised. The emergence of a transformed University, with its ambitions for embedding sustainability in the curriculum, will ensure that future graduates at home and abroad will have the ‘WOW’ factor and contribute to meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Professor Simon Haslett is Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Wales. His new co-edited book Pedagogy of Climate Change was published by the Higher Education Academy in 2011.

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