Pedagogical Methods for Integrating Sustainable Development in Education

One of the most exciting projects that I am involved in right now is the development of a training course for teachers: Pedagogical Methods for Integrating Sustainable Development in Education.

In this very tangible and practical course, the participants learn a set of concrete tools and methods for integrating sustainable development in education. The focus is on practical implementation in the classroom, on intended learning outcomes and on assessment methods. We also discuss how to achieve a progression of the topic of sustainable development through an education programme.

The methods demonstrated and tested during the course are based on modern pedagogical principles such as online/distance learning and blended learning, flipped classroom techniques, active learning and educational games. The course focuses on teaching tools for integrating sustainable development at the course and programme level.

The next round of the course will be in Stockholm, Sweden within the framework of a collaboration with Snowflake Education, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute and the Royal Institute of Technology. It will be open though for participants from any higher education institution.

Course leaders will be myself (PhD) and Emma Strömberg (PhD, Docent), plus specially invited guest workshop leaders. All trainers have lots of experience both from teaching sustainable development and integrating sustainability into education programmes and courses themselves, and from coaching other teachers and programme directors in education for sustainable development.

The material in the course draws from the particular challenges that relate to teaching sustainable development as the subject. This is indeed a difficult task, and something that many teachers struggle with. From a general point of view, we consider three building blocks that each has to be given careful attention:

Teaching basic knowledge and facts: some historical background such as the Brundtland commission and the UN conferences from Stockholm (1972) and Rio de Janeiro (1992) to more recent climate conferences eg. Paris (2015); the triple bottom line and the three pillars of sustainability; basics around the Sustainable Development Goals from Agenda 2030; and some terms and abbreviations that we recognise students should definitely know about, eg. LCA, CSR, CO2e etc.

Systems thinking: the world consists of dynamic systems and it is only when students recognise the basics of how systems work that we can truly dig into discussing potential solutions to global issues. It is an extremely strong and important step on the students ladder of understanding, when they realise that they should go beyond linear thinking: that A leads to B, which leads to C that in turn makes D happen – but realising that when D actually affects back on A there is a feedback loop forming! And that feedback loops can be reinforcing development making it happen much faster than first anticipated – or dampening it, making it tremendously slow. This is where we introduce terms such as resilience, system collapses, tipping points, threshold effects, the tragedy of the commons, and perhaps some game theory such as the prisoner’s dilemma.

Normative aspects and perspectives: sustainable development is a subject that is intrinsically driven by normative conceptions, values and opinions, differing stakeholder perspectives, and conflicts of interest. This is also an intrinsic part of any society and addressing societal issues such as sustainability related issues must include a deep discussion about conflicting views. We advocate teaching respect: to respect views that conflict with your own. We address that differences between individuals and organisations is something that we can draw strength from.

Addressing these three building blocks in a classroom is not straightforward. However, it is tremendously important.

During the course, we provide real world examples from our own experience and the participants will also have the opportunity to work hands-on with teaching activities – both in simulated situations and in live events. There will be a lot of individual feedback given to all participants.

What’s next to come is that we are probably going to give one or two exclusive rounds of the course this year at universities that have requested us to deliver it in their premises for their teachers. We are also looking into variants of the course, among those probably an online version as well.

Keep an eye open for updates here on the blog – or even better: of you want to have the latest news about the development of the course directly to your email inbox, sign up for my newsletter (see form to the top right).

Snowflake Education – a comprehensive tool for trainers in sustainability!

The Snowflake Education Online Toolkit for educators is intended for an easy and straightforward integration of the topic of Sustainable Development into any classroom course.


I will host a workshop seminar demonstrating the toolkit at the EESD16 conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development in Bruges, Belgium. The workshop will take place on Tuesday 6 September 2016 at 9 am. If you are registered for the conference you are welcome to register for the workshop here!

The toolkit is a web based platform that enables teachers to easily integrate a sustainability subsection into their subject courses. The toolkit includes a set of different classroom and off-classroom activities such as online lectures, homework assignments, coursework readings, computerised exams, and teacher instructions on how to give game seminars.

See more info here

Celebrate Earth Day!


Today, April 22nd, is Earth Day – this day has been designated to celebrate Planet Earth, our own spaceship on which we live, work and spend our leisure time. It is a day to reflect a little extra on how we treat our common environment.

This day is a great opportunity to explicitly express the need for sustainability thinking, in education in particular. It is a yearly reminder that the environmental issues don’t go away. And it is suiting that the Paris Agreement from December 2015 is scheduled to be signed by the United States, China, and some 120 other countries today.

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated worldwide on April 22. It was first celebrated in 1970, and is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network. Events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection and the day is celebrated in more than 193 countries each year.

What is ESD?

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ESD stands for “Education for Sustainable Development” and is one of the foremost tools identified by, among others, the United Nations to efficiently contribute to the transition from a clearly unsustainable global development to a sustainable future. The UN has identified that in order  to  enable  current  generations  to  meet  their needs  while  allowing  future  generations  to  meet  their  own, with  a  balanced  and  integrated  approach  regarding  the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, ESD is not only desirable but a necessity.

Agenda 21 (in 1992) was the first international document that identified education as an essential tool for achieving sustainable development. Since the United Nations adopted the eight international Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, practical implementation of practices for achieving a sustainable development has been one of the priority areas of the UN. Following up on the MDGs, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted in 2015 and in parallel with those the UN works hard to gather the nations of the world to negotiate on actions against climate change in the annual Conference of Parties (COPs), the latest being COP 21 in Paris, December 2015.

In December 2002, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to dedicate the years of 2005-2014 the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD). Following this, UNESCO was designated to lead the implementation of the decade for ESD.

ESD has become a movement around the world, many accomplishments being applied through the UN/UNESCO activities and still many more in independent initiatives. Teachers and students in schools and universities around the globe perform tirelessly the concrete work needed for a new generation to become well equipped to take the next great leap of humanity.

At the core of ESD are skills such as interdisciplinary thinking, systems thinking, environmental and social awareness, cooperation, negotiation and constructive dialogue. A sympathetic view towards different stakeholder perspectives and opinions opposite to your own is of key importance for learning many of those skills.

If you want to follow what happens in the world of ESD, please sign up to receive the ESD updates newsletter (see the box at the right column). And if you want to implement education for sustainable development yourself, consider ordering your own set of DILEMMA board games.

Tomorrow is Earth Hour!

Will you celebrate this event for the environment – and how? Watch this video from the World Wildlife Found (WWF) – it’s a great announcement in favour of the occasion.

Each year around this time, media is bombarded by positive and negative voices regarding the phenomenon of Earth Hour. Some people claim that turning the light off one hour in the evening actually makes some difference. Others suggest that the impact is minuscule and therefore that the whole event is pointless. Others still, point out some concrete adverse effects: for example, what people actually tend to do when they turn the lights off is to light candles instead and having a cosy evening – candles that are generally made from petroleum products and thus emitting a lot more carbon dioxide for the amount of light they provide in relation to what electrical lights would had provided…

On the other hand, others claim, Earth Hour is not about saving emissions that specific evening but about increasing awareness about climate change and the exhausting of precious limited resources. The first group may then claim that electricity is the motor of prosperity and turning the lights off is the opposite of what we should do; rather we should turn the lights on to show sympathy with all those that still lack the benefit of abundant domestic electricity.

In the university classroom, current events and recent news are powerful in drawing the students’ interest. I have used Earth Hour for several years as a great news event to start a discussion on different views and perspectives. In the discussion, the opening question could be something like:

“Is Earth Hour a really great idea, or just a meaningless media stunt?”

Stated this way, the opening question is extremely polarised. This makes it easy for people to engage and put forward rather simple arguments. However, as the discussion continuous – and admittedly with some teacher moderation – we eventually land in the conclusion that this event may be regarded a quite good media stunt. Somewhere in between the original positions, it seems.

This question is great for demonstrating that diametrically opposing views often exist that may both very well be rational and correct – even though they are mutually exclusive. This is because sustainable development is a subject that to a large degree is based on values. Depending on your values you probably end up in different opinions. Which is not to say that other opinions than your own are wrong – they may be very right as well, in their own way.

Realising this, is a great leap in itself for many students.

The next step may then be to realise that consensus may actually not be a desirable goal. Rather, it is the differences that are brought in open light through a constructive and open debate that are the most valuable output of the discussion. Realising you opponent’s true intentions and values put you in a position to formulate a compromise that could have the potential of being accepted by all parties.

In classrooms activities, sometimes my students realise that it may be possible to find a solution to real life sustainability issues – complex and unpredictable as they often are – in a compromise that may not be considered perfect by any part but acceptable by most.

When that happens, I feel like I have succeeded in this student group!

The Dilemma board game used in classrooms

The board game Dilemma has been game tested for about a year and the first batch of boxes is now out there. It has already been delivered to several universities and is beginning to be used in classrooms around the world.

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The Dilemma board game, played by students at The Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm, Sweden) as part of a course in Sustainable Development.

EESD15: Engineering Education for Sustainable Development – Vancouver conference June 2015


EESD15 conference at UBC, Vancouver, June 9-12, 2015.

Four days in Vancouver went fast, teeming as they were with interesting talks, inspiring workshops, intriguing discussions and many tremendously stimulating meetings with people, all deeply engaged in engineering education for sustainable development.

From the conference I take all those meetings with my colleague university teachers from all around the world, with students, workshop leaders, and participating stakeholders of many kinds. To give just a few examples of the nearly 100 talks and workshops that were presented: Dr. Matty Janssen presented the work to organise a MOOC on sustainable development at Chalmers, Sweden; Dr. John Fitzpatrick at the University College Cork, Ireland, gave a very invigorating talk on experiences from introducing sustainability to the engineering curriculum and his view on the need to engage engineering students more with the economic and social dimensions of sustainability; Dr. Claes Fredriksson and Dr. Tatiana Vakhitova at Granta Desing held a half-day workshop on a 5-step methodology for teaching sustainability to engineers, supported with the CES EduPack software; Dr. Alan Young, a senior lecturer in graphic design at the AUT University, New Zealand, gave a quite contrasting talk on the importance of communication design – understood as the strategic process of creating the form, content and delivery of information, including marketing and advertising – within the engineering design process; Dr. Rien van Stigt at the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands, presented together with four of his students a computer game for demonstrating complexity and system dynamics, in this case relating to railway planning and construction. The three key note talks presented by Dr. Jim Cooney, McGill University; Dr. Cynthia Atman, University of Washington; and Dr. Karel Mulder, Delft University of Technology; were all very inspiring indeed and at least Dr. Atman’s talk will definitely have a lasting effect on my own practice in pedagogical research.


Key note presentation by Dr. Jim Cooney at the conference opening in the beautiful First Nations House of Learning building. (Photo by Annina Takala)

Many thanks to the presenters of those talks and all others! Also, many thanks to all delegates that were at our own talk and to those that participated in our workshop on the use of games in our teaching. The full text paper is now available online.

The EESD15 was the seventh international conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development, and it was recently held at University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers at the University of British Columbia for a rewarding and very well-organised conference; to my cooperation partners at the Centre for Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge for a great work together with our paper and workshop on education games; and to my colleagues at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm for giving me the opportunity to work with this project and presenting at the conference.

World Premiere: the latest edition of the board game Dilemma


They have arrived! There are boxes all over the office as the latest edition of the board game Dilemma is finally ready to be launched. Nearly one year of testing is now over, with several hundred test players to thank for their ruthless examination of every detail of the game. Three generations of prototype games, gradually more and more resembling the final edition, have been produced and run under scrutinising tests.

Dilemma is a board game developed for the classroom, workshops and other learning situations. It contains 100 quiz cards with questions relating to the subject of sustainable development, with clues to help players to find the right answer; and 36 dilemmas associated with sustainability issues. The game can advantageously be played on several occasions with the same student group. They will gradually learn the facts better and better, whereas dilemmas are changed every time they play meaning they are actually playing another game each time. Coupled with debriefings where students and teacher discuss dilemmas and reflect on the debates that the game initiates, this board game represents an extremely powerful and versatile teaching tool.

For inquiries, please make contact here.