Supporting Education for Sustainable Development


Sustainable Development

DCU’s Strategy 2023-2028 includes ‘sustainability’ as one of the four main drivers. It states that sustainable development will “become embedded in the DCU psyche.”

So, what exactly is sustainable development? The most commonly used definition comes from the Brundtland Report (1987):

“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

There is a broad recognition that this development should include three core elements: the economic; the social; and the environmental. These should always be considered together, and ought to work together,  to improve the wellbeing of people, communities and the planet.

There are a number of convenient ways to think about sustainable development, such as the three Es (equity, environment, economy) or the five Ps (people, planet, prosperity, peace, partnership).

While there is some disagreement about the exact definition; for example, it is increasingly suggested that economic growth is incompatible with sustainability, it’s important that the focus remains on how the major social problems facing humanity can be tackled within natural systems which do not have a limitless capacity.


The Sustainable Development Goals 

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, biodiversity loss, peace and justice. 

There are 17 Goals in total, with each one having a number of targets and measurable indicators.

The SDGs are a part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This was agreed by 193 countries in 2015 and is a pledge to eradicate poverty, find sustainable development solutions and protect human rights. Ireland had a special role to play in reaching this agreement as Ireland’s permanent representative to the United Nations, David O’Donoghue, co-facilitated the negotiations.


Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals

The SDGs replaced the Millennium Development Goals which were an earlier attempt to address the main drivers of poverty and deprivation; however, while the MDGs made significant progress, the SDGs are a recognition of the urgency with which all nations need to address a broad range of social, economic and environmental issues, both within and between countries.



An important aspect of the SDGs is that they belong to everyone and everyone should have the opportunity to engage with them and effect change. DCU is committed to giving all our students this opportunity: to learn about the Goals, envision a better future and take action.


Education for Sustainable Development

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is about process and outcome. It is a recognition that curricula and subject-specific content should increasingly include material that supports sustainable development. However, ESD is about much more than content. It involves how material is taught as well as what material is taught.

Yes, there are new skills needed to meet the challenges we face. There will be new and emerging jobs, as well as necessary upskilling in existing professions. It is also important to consider a just transition for individuals in jobs affected by new realities and demands. 

But more than that, ESD ought to empower learners to make critically informed decisions and take action on a range of social, economic and environmental issues. Furthermore, this should be done with an appreciation of social and global justice and a respect for cultural diversity.

ESD embraces transformative learning and critical pedagogy. It encourages learners to look at the world from a critical perspective, envision alternative futures and create pathways to achieve them. It must be about more than facts; ESD should challenge students to reflect on their outlooks and values and take action on the issues they care about.

Universities have always responded to the evolving needs of society and the economy. Given the rapid pace of change we are currently seeing and the emerging risks facing young people, DCU knows it is time for all educators to reflect on their practice. ESD content, approaches and competencies will increasingly be integrated into courses and modules within all Faculties and Schools. The SDGs are a good way to get started with this as they are a great conversation starter, allow students to see the connections between their subject area and sustainability issues, and can inspire action.

Finally, DCU knows that ESD should be seen and presented as a pathway to hope in the context of increasing anxiety about the future. Students may not be responsible for the wicked problems in the world around them but they should feel inspired and be equipped with the right skills and competencies to use their agency and create a more fair, just, equitable and sustainable future, regardless of what they are studying. 


For staff at DCU

If you would like to hear more about ESD or would like to begin the process of integrating ESD content and competencies into your practice, please contact DCU’s Education for Sustainable Development Officer, Barry Peak (