Let’s Talk – Sustainability teaching and learning for “non-green” degrees

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The panel discussion focused on integrating sustainability into typically non-green degrees.  Jen O'Brien, academic lead for sustainability teaching and learning at the University of Manchester led the discussion. The panel included Dr. Vily Papageorgiou from the University of Surrey, Charlene Gallery from the University of Manchester, Dr. Catherine Heinemeyer from York St. John’s, and Fariha Agha, a public health student at Manchester. They discussed various perspectives on embedding sustainability in curricula and highlighted the importance of incorporating ecological and social activism into education. The session aimed to provide diverse insights into sustainable education practices. The discussion welcomed a broad international audience, reflecting global interest in the topic. Here is a summary from Pearson.

Let’s Talk – Sustainability teaching and learning for “non-green” degrees
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Why is sustainability important? 

Cath Heinemeyer expressed that the climate emergency has been a lifelong reality, affecting all aspects of life and work, highlighting the need for sustainable practices. Charlene Gallery shared her transition from the fashion industry to academia, discussing the environmental and human costs of fashion production and the urgent need for systemic change. Fariha Agha emphasised the pervasive impact of sustainability on health and social inequalities, advocating for collective responsibility across all sectors. Lastly, Vily Papageorgiou, stressed the importance of educating future generations and making ethical decisions to safeguard the planet. 


How to bring sustainability into teaching and learning? 

Cath explained that at York St. John University she and her colleagues conducted research on student expectations regarding climate and ecological crises. The research revealed that students already possessed a high level of understanding of these issues but felt overwhelmed by their complexity. They preferred project work that felt manageable, rather than tackling the daunting task of addressing the climate emergency. The students sought guidance from staff to explore local manifestations of these issues and how their individual disciplines could contribute to solutions. This led to the development of a "living lab" approach, where various disciplines addressed specific topics, such as air quality and the campus food system, through collaborative, interdisciplinary projects. 

Charlene Gallery discussed how her department, which focuses on the business management side of fashion rather than design, integrated sustainability into their program. They worked with industry to understand the challenges of sustainability and mapped their program to equip students with relevant skills. They focused on four pillars: environmental, social, economic, and cultural sustainability, alongside digital innovation, corporate social responsibility, and professional skills. This holistic approach involved diverse teaching methods and real-world projects, such as analysing supply chains and evaluating sustainable fashion practices, to prepare students to be disruptors in the industry. 

Vily Papageorgiou explained that the University of Surrey developed a curriculum design framework with five pillars, including sustainability, which she worked to integrate through workshops with programme teams. Collaborating with colleagues, she utilised resources and tools such as flashcards and prompt questions to facilitate the integration of sustainability into various disciplines. A large mapping activity and CPD workshops encouraged staff to co-create activities and assessments focused on sustainability. Furthermore, student partnership projects helped embed sustainability through research and co-creation. Vily also designed two new modules incorporating sustainability, emphasising future scenarios and systems thinking, and advocating for a holistic integration of sustainability in curriculum design. 


Was there any interesting or inspiring teaching around sustainability as a student? 

Fariha Agha shared her experience in a public health degree. She felt that applying sustainability practically to her discipline would be engaging. Agha highlighted the importance of framing sustainability in relatable terms, such as career prospects, to interest students who might not initially be inclined to engage. She stressed that making sustainability everyone's responsibility rather than an individual's burden could alleviate eco-anxiety. Fariha advocated for using positive, locally relevant examples and integrating student contributions to course development, thereby enriching the curriculum and fostering a sense of ownership and engagement among students. 


The challenges of getting the pitch right in sustainability 

The panel discussed the importance of involving students in climate adaptation efforts through a new living lab initiative, aimed at helping communities become resilient to climate change and addressing global injustices exacerbated by it. They observed that students often appear disinterested not due to apathy but due to a sense of futility, as they frequently hear only about the dire state of the climate. The panel also emphasised the need for honest, yet hopeful, framing of sustainability, starting from the acceptance of the current chaotic climate state and moving towards finding transformative potential and community resilience. They advocated for using local examples and practical projects to engage students meaningfully, suggesting that integrating such efforts into course modules could empower students and highlight their role in both local and global contexts. 


Partnership with students 

Cath discussed the importance of offering varied and inclusive opportunities for students to engage with sustainability, both within and outside of their modules. She emphasised creating a range of invitations for involvement, from assessed projects to broader initiatives like community gardening and student-led cafes. She highlighted the significance of democratic participation and acknowledged that it's important to provide different levels of engagement to accommodate varying interests and capacities. 


A top tip on starting sustainability teaching and learning agenda 

Vily stressed the importance of collaboration with colleagues and students across disciplines and industries, highlighting the value of partnerships in advancing sustainability efforts. Charlene echoed the sentiment, emphasising openness to new ideas and the recognition of collective action over individualism. Cath underscored the power of storytelling in sustainability education, suggesting that focusing on narratives rather than statistics can drive meaningful change within institutions. Finally, Fariha advised leveraging existing motivations and fostering collaboration to navigate challenges and drive sustainability initiatives forward, acknowledging that the responsibility doesn't solely rest on individuals' shoulders. 


Thoughts from participants 

The chat discussion covered various perspectives on integrating sustainability into education, with participants from multiple countries discussing the importance of sustainability. They emphasised the long-term benefits of sustainability. The conversation included suggestions on embedding sustainability across disciplines, with resources like the Royal Society's climate change video and the UNESCO competencies being highlighted. Participants also discussed strategies to foster sustainability in curricula, the need for policy support, and how to inspire students through local and global success stories. Many shared useful resources, including articles, games, and educational tools, while also expressing a desire to form networks for continued collaboration and support in promoting sustainability education. 


Some books which might support business and management courses 

If you would like to receive an electronic sample copy, please visit the links below and click on the “Request full copy” link or contact your local Pearson representative.     



The links participants shared during the session

Sources of information & guidance 
Subject specific  
Engaging students 
Resources for all subjects 

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