Educating for Sustainability
Achieving a sustainable future requires that individuals adopt sustainable behaviors, which are often learned and cemented at a young age. Yet, traditional education efforts have been inadequate in fostering transformative change, in part because many programs focus on fact-heavy, teacher-centered techniques while neglecting the practices that behavioral and sustainability scholars highlight as central to creating change.
To address this gap, the pre-sent research integrates three critical yet mostly disparate bodies of research— educational pedagogy, behavior change, and sustainability competencies. This interdisciplinary approach to education was implemented and evaluated with a small group of students during an intensive summer program and year-long case study. The curriculum focused on food and waste behaviors and utilized experiential, real-world, problem-based methods in order to increase competence in sustainability and promote pro-environmental actions. The impact of the program was assessed through surveys, interviews, videos, and participant observations.
The data showed that significant changes in knowledge and behaviors were achieved, while suggesting that social knowledge in terms of food is more resistant to change as compared to that of waste. Throughout the year, students maintained significant behavior changes in terms of their waste decisions; however, sustainable food behaviors were more resistant to long-term change due to the students’ social and cultural environment. This article will detail the education program and assessment techniques while highlighting each student’s unique characteristics, barriers to change, and motivations for action.
Educational interventions are a promising way to shift individual behaviors towards Sustainability. Yet as this research confirms, the standard fare of education, declarative knowledge, does not work. This study statistically analyzes the impact of an intervention designed and implemented in Mexico using the Educating for Sustainability (EfS) framework which focuses on imparting procedural and subjective knowledge about waste through innovative pedagogy. Using data from three different rounds of surveys we were able to confirm:
1. The importance of subjective and procedural knowledge for Sustainable behavior in a new context.
2. The effectiveness of the EfS framework.
3. The importance of changing subjective knowledge for changing behavior.
Yet, while the impact was significant in the short term, one year later most if not all of those gains had evaporated. Interventions targeted at subjective knowledge will work, but more research is needed on how to make behavior change for durable sustainability.