Trends in ESD delivery: how five FE providers are leading the way

In this blog, Charlotte Bonner, National Head of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), reviews our series of five ESD case studies, drawn from the ETF’s latest report on Leadership for ESD in the Further Education (FE) Curriculum. Charlotte compares the commonalities between providers leading on ESD delivery and offers practical examples to support other educators with their own ESD strategies.

Over the past few months, the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) has shared a series of five case studies of teaching institutions that are leading the way with their ESD strategies and practice.

Charlotte Bonner

These case studies have been drawn from our report, Leadership for ESD in the Further Education Curriculum, which gathered in-depth research on sustainability content in curricular and successful examples of effective ESD practice. No matter the subject or level of learner, these case studies show there are opportunities to bring sustainability to the forefront of our education system and become intrinsic to the teaching of both young and adult learners.

The ETF is working to equip the Further Education (FE) and Training sector to rise to meet key national and global challenges. This includes sharing effective practice that can inspire and influence other educators to embed ESD into their teaching. In this series, we hand-picked five FE and Training providers that are leading the way with their unique approaches to ESD: Redbridge Institute, Burnley College, MichaelJohn Training School, West Suffolk College and Wiltshire Institute. From these providers, it’s clear that ESD isn’t just about bringing the concepts of sustainability into the classroom as content. It’s about using different pedagogical and assessment approaches to contextualise sustainability for learners in a way that’s relevant to their subject matter and develop their skills, behaviours and agency. 

These five organisations show a diversity of thought in their varying approaches to embedding ESD into their strategies. They offer practical examples that can be used by other providers and educators, and whilst the activities range vastly, from sustainable hairdressing to apple-pressing projects, there are commonalities between these ESD activities that can be highlighted.


It is apparent that supportive leadership is essential for the successful delivery of ESD. Providers with a senior management team or a governance board who have strategic goals for sustainability and ESD actively promote the uptake of high-quality, impactful practice with clear deliverables, objectives and accountability.

Site visits and external visitors

Another commonality between the providers leading in ESD was their use of site visits and external speakers. By engaging employers and civic and community organisations, providers are offering learners real-life experiences and expert knowledge.

At Redbridge Institute, sustainable development runs as a core theme throughout the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programme. The use of ESD activities has been central to helping learners develop their language skills, enabling them to engage effectively with local authorities, councils and their communities.

One of their popular projects involves inviting guest speakers who work in waste management companies, including officers from the local borough council, to present and interact with the learners. The guests use visual presentations to help the learners understand waste and energy management and how to apply this practically in their lives.

Empowering learners

It is vital not to forget the power of the learner voice. Young people are calling for more education on climate change, with research by Zurich Insurance showing more than 2.5 million 7-17-year-olds want increased teaching on the issue in school. A core feature of quality ESD is that it develops learners’ agency and their change-making skills. Across the case studies, we have seen providers empower and equip learners to be future leaders and champions for sustainability in a variety of creative ways.

At MichaelJohn Training School (MJTS), learners are given fake money and scenarios to see the impact of their energy usage if they owned their own salon. As their feedback attests, these learners are surprised at how such a small action as swapping to sustainable products or turning off more lights can impact on both the environment and their finances. MJTS is actively developing their learners’ skills as hairdressers and barbers, as well as developing ethical leaders who strive to create sustainable businesses, both financially and environmentally.

Engaging the local community

The leaders of ESD are not just thinking about how to promote sustainability within their own organisations, but how to link sustainability to social mobility and community improvement. These educators are thinking bigger, such as Redbridge Institute’s learners, who are practising their language skills by campaigning to their local councils for improved recycling and waste disposal facilities.

Another creative way of connecting the wider community with its local learners is using social media to share local green initiatives. As Wiltshire College has witnessed, by promoting their Apple Project online, they’ve received an overwhelming response from local businesses donating unwanted fruit to their cause. The project has expanded in terms of the scope of its produce, and much of the produce is sold directly, but also through supportive local markets and shops, and the local low-waste shop in Trowbridge centre.

Real-life scenarios and case studies

We have already seen the impact of using real-life scenarios to help learners understand the impact of sustainability at MichaelJohn Training School. Using scenarios to help learners visualise their impact is a simple yet effective way in reinforcing any ESD activity.

This is further demonstrated at West Suffolk College, where the use of real-life case studies plays an integral part in their Association of Accounting Technicians curriculum. Their lecturer, Richard Carter, uses corporate scandal case studies to demonstrate the real reputational, financial and legal risks that businesses face in a more environmentally-conscious world. These thought-provoking scenarios help learners to probe perceptions and preconceptions about how sustainability and ethics work within business and financial settings.

Creative projects

Sustainable solutions often come hand-in-hand with creativity. Of the five examples, we have seen a range of imaginative sustainability projects, activities and businesses. This is expertly demonstrated by the ESOL learners at Redbridge Institute who have helped create a community gardening plot, including a greenhouse made from recycled plastic bottles. The garden acts as a stimulus for creative writing, inspired by environmental themes, where learners can combine the development of language, self-confidence and knowledge within a creative and green environment.

How the ETF is helping to shape ESD

The competence and capacity of the FE and Training sector has never been more imperative, nor have education professionals been more influential. The ETF is building capacity for the sector by embedding sustainability within our Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and Society for Education and Training (SET) offers. We provide leadership and support to help everyone understand how sustainability relates to their role and how to take meaningful practical action.  

The challenge of creating a more sustainable future can feel overwhelmingly multi-faceted. Yet, as these five examples show, the smallest project or class activity can help shape a learner’s knowledge, attitudes and skills for life.

If your institution has a story to share on how you are implementing ESD, we’d love to hear from you and share so other educators can benefit. Please email:

We have published an ESD subject specialism guide to help you consider appropriate content to share in your teaching.

Read the full report Leadership for ESD in the Further Education Curriculum report here.

Read all case studies in this series:

For more information on ESD at the ETF, please visit our ESD web pages.