What Does The Research Say About Education for Sustainability

Education for Sustainability has multiple, positive effects on student achievement, school culture, community vitality, and ecological integrity.

“When a school has employed this approach for several years, implemented in day-to-day actions of school community members, a well-planned curriculum and explicit instruction, Education for Sustainability not only improves learning outcomes but also, students’ sense of place within their community is an indispensible foundation for other learning…as is their understanding that their relationship with their community is both reciprocal and valuable….”

(Becker-Klein et al, 2008; Duffin, 2006; AED, 2007; Sobel, 2008; Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2010; Ofsted, 2009; Gayford, 2009; Barrat-Hacking et al, 2010; PEER Associates, 2010).

Impact on Students

  • improves student learning and standards achievement

  • enhances attitudes toward learning

  • significantly decreases students’ feeling that they cannot succeed

  • produces better behavior and attendance

  • is consistent with human’s natural style to learn holistically

  • attends to the needs of the whole child

  • provides a safe and secure space in which children can take risks and develop skills of active participation

  • encourages students to make connections between themselves and the systems of which they are a part

  • produces statistically significant increases in the strength of students’ attitudes about civic engagement

  • develops in students a greater awareness of community, and a greater appreciation of the democratic process

Impact on Teachers

  • meaningful effects on teacher attitudes

  • both new and veteran teachers are able to achieve strong academic outcomes from their students

Impact on School & Community

  • whole school cultures and improved relationships between the school, parents and the community

  • models actions and attitudes that promote sustainable living

  • improves air quality, reduced waste, decreased energy use

  • contributes to children’s health by improving children’s food eating choices


  • Academy for Educational Development (2007). An evaluation of the Cloud Institute’s “Business and Entrepreneurship Education for the 21st Century” and Inventing the Future curricula. Washington: AED.

  • Barrat Hacking, E., Scott, B., and Lee, E. (2010). Evidence of impact of sustainable schools. Bath, U.K.: University of Bath, Center for Research in Education and the Environment. Downloaded April 16, 2010 from http://publications.teachernet.gov.uk

  • Duffin, M., Murphy, M., & Johnson, B. (2008). Quantifying a relationship between place-based learning and environmental quality: Final report. Woodstock, VT: NPS Conservation Study Institute in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency and Shelburne Farms. 

  • Duffin, M., & PEER Associates (2007). Why use place-based education? Four answers that emerge from the findings of PEEC, the Place-based Education Evaluation Collaborative, (Presentation version). Retrieved on May 10, 2011 from http://www.peecworks.org/PEEC/PEEC_Reports/S01248363-0124838

  • Sobel, D. (2008). Nature and children: design principles for educators. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers

  • Ofsted, The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (2009) Education for Sustainable Development: Improving Schools - Improving Lives. Manchester, UK. Crown http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/education-for-sustainable-development-improving-schools-improving-lives  

  • Gayford Christopher (2009) Learning for Sustainability: from the pupils’ perspective. Godalming, Surrey: World Wide Fund for Nature http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/wwf_report_final_web.pdf