A New Approach to Education for Sustainable Development

A New Approach to Education for Sustainable Development

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By Norberto I. Schinitman

Following a relevant idea emanating from UNESCO, about the need for new approaches for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), this work proposes the introduction of a new approach, consisting of the incorporation, association and permeation of the Health disciplines Environmental (SA) and Health Education (EPS) in Education for Sustainable Development (EDS) and, at the same time, to the conformation, with these disciplines, of a general educational approach of reference and integration of health and ambient. For this, fundamental aspects and concepts of SA, EPS and EDS were explored.

“New approaches are needed for Environmental Education (…) - Hall Rose, O; Bridgewater, P.

"Our environment affects our health" - US-NIH

Main acronyms used in this document:

DS = Sustainable or Sustainable Development.
EA = Environmental Education.
ESD = Education for Sustainable Development.
EPS = Health Education.
EPV = Education for Viability.
SA = Environmental Health.
SH = Human Health.

This work attempts to give a concrete response to the demand for new approaches to Education for Sustainable or Sustainable Development (ESD) (a), disseminated by UNESCO experts. This answer consists of the proposition of a new approach conducive to improving health and raising the quality of life of people.

Consequently, the orientation, the foundations and the elaboration of a new approach (b) for ESD are discussed, based on an ordering of the basic information available, to generate new ideas, restructure them and use them as an argument for the construction of the new one. proposed approach.


In a special dossier, concerning environmental education as a support for Sustainable Development, published in 2003, experts representing UNESCO exposed the need to generate new approaches to Environmental Education, which link environmental sustainability with human well-being and that are related to the natural, social and human sciences, among others of great relevance. That requirement was expressed like this:

"New approaches are needed for Environmental Education and public awareness [and] (...) if sustainable development is to be achieved, it is essential to provide citizens with an education that helps them to be well informed, engaged and prepared to act" . [01]

As it is extremely important as a reference in the context of this work, it must be taken into account that, as stated by the aforementioned experts:

“It is axiomatic that every principle, objective, content or approach that applies to education for sustainable development is also applicable to environmental education. Therefore, (…) the only thing that differentiates both types of education is the denomination. " [02]

In simple terms, ESD is understood and valued as a dynamic and participatory process, which uses education as a tool to achieve sustainability. Likewise, from the very important statement above, it can be inferred that EDS and EA can be considered as analogous and homologous and the acronyms EDS and EA as interchangeable synonyms. So now EDS = EA.

As a relevant precedent for the new approach, let us remember that the idea that an "Education for Sustainable or Sustainable Development (ESD)" was imperatively necessary, that is, a new prospective educational approach that proposes, encourages and advocates sustainability and Development Sustainable, emerged from the 1992 "Rio Summit". In that same meeting, the expansion, reorientation and reaffirmation of conventional Environmental Education (EA) was also promoted.

About the notion of Sustainable Development, it is worth highlighting a very up-to-date conceptualization of the Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20), scheduled for June 2012, stating that:

“(…) Concept of sustainable development is like a bridge. Its objective is to bring together, not only the three domains -economic, social and environmental-, but also developed and developing countries, governments, companies, civil society, scientific knowledge, public policies, the city and the countryside. , and the generations of the present and the future. An awareness has also been raised that environment and development are not two separate programs, but two sides of the same agenda. Development is the midwife of sustainability, just as sustainability is the life support system for development. ” [03]

Currently, it is envisaged that ESD, in general, should contain and link multiple and diverse approaches, themes and issues related to Sustainable Development (SD) and also to Viability Education (VLE) and, at the same time, be found open and receptive to new contributory approaches both to the protection and conservation of the environment and to SD. Furthermore, according to UNESCO, ESD is currently the most widely disseminated non-disciplinary educational field in the world, and is recognized as one of the most powerful means for individuals and societies to move towards SD.

Thematic rationale for the new approach

According to the “Rio Declaration” (1992), in convergence with the concepts set out above, it is incontrovertible that human beings and their health are essentially related to the achievement of SD, given that:

"(...) human beings are at the center of concerns related to sustainable development" [04]

Then, based on the ideas mentioned above, the feasibility, importance and convenience of ESD working as a global, multi-thematic, interdisciplinary and inclusive educational context or plot is deduced, destined to fulfill a fundamental function in social development, human and environmental and, consequently, to contribute to making SD and the Viable or Durable Future a reality.

The vital notion of Viability or Durability is promoted by a UN Program, which prescribes that:

“(…) If we want the Earth to meet the needs of human beings (…), then human society must be transformed (…) We must (…) work to build a“ viable future ”(…) [and] ensure that the notion of “durability” is the basis of our way of living, of leading our nations (…) and of interacting at a global level ”[05]

It is also very important to pay attention, in order to shape the context in which the new approach is based, to the conceptual relationship of inherence (c) between the environment, sustainability, as the core idea of ​​SD and health. In this sense, the UNESCO “Thessaloniki Declaration”, to which the WHO has adhered, links sustainability with health, stating that:

“(…) The notion of sustainability includes issues not only of the environment, but also of (…) population, health, food security (…) human rights and peace”. [06]

Concomitantly, there is a conceptual relationship of inherence and, for McKeown, a strong link between SH, SD and education; therefore, it is worth considering that:

"Undoubtedly, education and sustainability are inextricably linked." [07]

In addition, it is very important to recognize that, according to WHO:

“(…) The conditions and requirements for health are: (…) education (…) [and] a stable ecosystem… Any improvement in health must necessarily be based on these prerequisites (…)” [08]

Also, to assess in depth the relationship between ESD and HO, following the core idea of ​​the Director Emerita of the WHO, Dr. G. H. Brundtland; It is of great interest to reflect on the fact that:

“We must place people and human health at the center of sustainable development (…)” [09]

Likewise, as UNESCO asserts, to achieve a desirable sustainable, healthy, productive and harmonious way of life with nature:

“Education should instill (…) the value of good health (…) promote positive attitudes towards environmental development and conservation (…) [and] (…) lead to an appreciation of the need for a healthy environment”. [10]

In relation to the above, the complex concept of SD constitutes today a global reference and a great essential goal, which could be achieved through an arduous process of transformation, difficult, complicated, holistic and interdisciplinary, leading to the current indiscriminate consumer society, unsustainable and unviable to a deep reflection, review and substantial change of options and values, which promotes SD, by virtue of the fact that, as Macedo explains:

“(…) Sustainability is the most necessary unifying central idea for humanity at this time (…)” [11]

as well as, in accordance with the above and according to a fundamental assertion of UNESCO:

“Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is not a particular program or project, but an umbrella for many forms of education that already exist and new ones that have not yet been created (…) ESD promotes efforts to rethink programs and education systems that currently support sustainable societies. ” [12]

Thus, the ESD could encompass certain facets of DS, SA and EPS and their relationships and interactions, and form a new educational-environmental-health approach, thus contributing to the fact that, in accordance with biblical wisdom and as recommended by the Constitution of OMS is fulfilled, in a healthy environment, the all-important expectation that:

"The enjoyment of the highest degree of health that can be achieved is one of the fundamental rights of every human being (...)" [13]

Development and formulation of the new approach to ESD

The new approach proposed here was defined and formulated on the basis of the results of the actions described below, which were carried out following a brilliant thought by A. Einstein, who teaches us that:

"Everything should be made as simple as possible (...)"

Initially, a compilation and subsumption of definitions or similar formulations was made, coming from suitable sources, referring to Sustainability, DS, EDS, EPS, EPV, SA and other related disciplines.

On the basis of the collected definitions, the main descriptors, distinctive notes, relevant aspects and influence relationships (d) detected with other disciplines or scientific areas were subsumed and collected.

Considering the collected material, the modes and possibilities of associative, holistic, transversal, interdisciplinary and integrated treatment, framed in ESD, of topics traditionally included in SA and EPS were examined.

Finally, the descriptors, distinctive notes and elements recognized in the previous stages were studied, as well as their influence relationships detected with other disciplines and, on that basis, a new approach was defined, in accordance with the aforementioned UNESCO requirement, for the EDS (in its formal, non-formal and informal modes). More specifically, the new approach was developed on the basis of a recasting and concatenation of concepts and foundations, among which those mentioned, in compact form, in the following table deserve to be highlighted.

Converging concepts and foundations on which the proposed new approach is based

to. The observation that a review of the current literature on EDS shows that there are no frequent or abundant references related to the incorporation, association and permeation of SA and EPS in EDS, nor with a joint, associative approach of the same.

b. The conviction that ESD, the most widely disseminated non-disciplinary educational field in the world, can act as a global, inclusive and unifying educational context or fabric, destined to fulfill a fundamental role in social, human and environmental development and to contribute to make Sustainable Development a reality.

c. The foundations and conception of Education for Viability or Durability (EPV), promoted by the UN, which enriches, complements and perfects ESD.

d. Adherence and support to a remarkable idea emanating from UNESCO, which sets an important environmental educational precedent, making explicit and promoting the need for new approaches to ESD.

and. Concern for the future of humanity, particularly about the following vital question: “Are we going to live in harmony with our Earth and its species, or (…) continue with our debauchery (…) destructive? Are we going to (…) live together (…) or (…) to cause our own extinction, as we have already begun to do (…)? ”. [14]

F. The agreement with an illustrious aphorism of N. Mandela, regarding that: "Education is the most powerful weapon (...) to change the world." [fifteen]


The disciplines SA -which is mainly interested in the effects of environmental factors and conditions on Human, animal and plant Health and also in the consequences of anthropic activities on the environment- and EPS -which is oriented to favor a style of healthy living through the promotion of responsible attitudes and habits towards one's own health, group health and that of the environment - encompass multiple notions, ideas, elements and arguments. They, which in many cases overlap, are of common interest, contribute to Sustainable Development since they promote Human Health and can be approached from each of these disciplines with different approaches. Regarding the SA and the EPS, it is observed that between them there is a remarkable congruence and an important associative network both of responsibilities, attributions and coincidences between the descriptors and distinctive notes. Likewise, there is a coherence between the influence relationships (links between notions that express fixed conceptual associations between entities or things and their properties), inferred from the descriptors mentioned with other scientific areas, in their application and management, educational and scientific aspects. .

Coincidentally, ESD can contribute to the achievement of a broader and more comprehensive education and training, in which the contexts themselves become learning environments and where people learn to interact with the environment, acquiring responsible behaviors and harmonious relationships for the environmental protection and conservation. The same occurs with traditional EE, which does not differ from ESD, since, according to UNESCO, any principle, objective, content or approach that applies to the first, is also applicable to the second. In addition, ESD has a wide field of application, responsibilities and powers to fulfill the function of context or holistic, inclusive and unifying fabric of various relevant matters of general interest related to the environment, health, education and other related matters.

Finally, the proposal for a new and broader conceptual approach to ESD, such as the one detailed at the end of this section, is feasible, convenient and consistent with the conceptions that emerged from UNESCO, this approach, the product of reflecting on the possibilities of an association , inclusion and permeation of concepts, procedures and basic attitudes of the SA and EPS disciplines in the paradigm of Sustainability and Viability and in ESD in all its modalities and thus, concurrently and progressively, in personal and community health and in the people's daily existence, to raise their quality of life.

In addition, the proposed new conceptual approach also contributes to an enrichment of the higher aims of general education.

As a result and final conclusion, the new approach proposed for ESD is defined and made explicit in the following formulation:

"Association, inclusion and permeation of Environmental Health and Health Education in the paradigm of Sustainability and Viability, and in the health and daily existence of people, to raise their quality of life."

Prof. Norberto I. Schinitman - Biochemist, Master in Environmental Education, Graduate in Teaching of Environmental Sciences, Diploma in Environmental Health, Environmental Auditor


(a) In the environmental thematic context, the terms sustainable or sustainable are used as interchangeable synonyms to refer to processes that can continue and maintain themselves over time.

(b) An approach is understood to be the action of directing attention or interest towards a matter or problem from certain previous assumptions, to try to solve it correctly.

(c) Link existing between two or more notions that express fixed conceptual associations between things and their properties.

(d) Relations between concepts in which an issue makes use of, or is influenced by, another issue.


When transcribing the electronic bibliography, in certain cases the justification and / or the hyphen had to be omitted to preserve, without distorting or truncating, avoiding confusion, the format of the web site addresses.

[01]. Hall Rose, O., Bridgewater, P. New approaches to environmental education are needed. [Online]. (2003). (Accessed June 06, 2011) Available at…

[02] Hall Rose, O., Bridgewater, P. PERSPECTIVES No. 127, Vol. XXXIII, No. 3, September 2003. 2003. (Accessed May 05, 2011) Available at /…

[03] EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT. Rio +20: towards a green economy and improved governance. 2011. (Consultation August 09, 2011) Available at:…

[04] United Nations. Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. [Online] 2009 [Consultation: 02.03.2011]. Available at:…

[05]. UNESCO. Morin, E. The seven necessary knowledge for the education of the future. (1999). [Accessed: April 05, 2011]. Available at…

[06] European Commission. EU-Western Balkans Summit - Thessaloniki Declaration. (Consultation May 03, 2011) Available at:…

[07] McKeown, R. Education for Sustainable Development Toolkit V. 2. 2002 [Accessed on: 02 March 2011]. Available at:

[08] World Health Organization. First International Conference on Health Promotion. Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion. (1986). [Accessed: May 16, 2011] Available at:…

[09] Brundtland, G. Health and Sustainable Development [Online]. 2002. [Consultation: March 02, 2011]. Available at:…

[10] UNESCO. Education for Sustainable Development Implementation Strategy. (2007). [Accessed on: April 05, 2011]. Available at…

[11] Macedo, B. The concept of sustainability. (2005). [Accessed on: June 17, 2011]. Available at:…

[12] UNESCO. Education for sustainable development [Online]. (2011). [Consultation June 06, 2011] Available at…

[13] World Health Organization. Basic documents. Constitution of WHO. [online]. 2006. [Accessed on: May 30, 2011]. Available at:…

[14] Pauli, Gunter. (2011) The blue economy. Barcelona: Tusquets.

[15] European University of Madrid. Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world. 2010. Available at…

Video: Evolution of the concept of sustainable development (July 2022).


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