Education for sustainable development (ESD) in different subject areas

This guide exists to introduce educators, teachers, trainers and tutors to the links between their subject area and sustainable development – to help you explore appropriate content you could bring to your teaching and learning practice.

Within each subject area you might find: 

  • Prompts and suggestions of sustainability topics that relate to your subject area 
  • Case studies and real-life accounts of how educators have brought ESD into their professional practice (taken from our research
  • Signposts to high quality resources (where we know these exist) and organisations who specialise in sustainability and your subject area and/or relevant vocations. 
  • Ideas taken from IFATE’s sustainability framework that demonstrate what sustainable practice looks like in different occupations. 

Of course, this is not a definitive nor exhausted list – it’s intended to provide inspiration and ideas. This resource is intended to grow and develop – we’re committed to keeping it up-to-date as we develop and discover new information and resources. If you have your own examples, case studies or resources you’d like us to include in future, either from subject areas listed or additional ones, please contact us.

Alongside the subject specific content below, here are some universal tips about bringing ESD into your teaching and learning practice: 

  • It’s important to remember that ESD isn’t purely about environmental behaviours – recycling and energy efficiency for example. Of course, these are important but ESD should develop learners’ knowledge, skills, behaviours and agency that enable them to contribute positively to sustainability solutions in their lives and work. 
  • A collaborative and cohesive approach to learner engagement with sustainability is needed. Practitioners should work in partnership and collaboration with others to bring ESD comprehensively into their learner’s experience. Adding short mention of sustainability in one lesson is not going to develop the knowledge, skills, behaviour or agency learners need. 
  • Ideally ESD should be delivered as part of their core subject specialism, rather than as a parallel stand-alone content. This enables learners to understand how their subject or vocational area contributes to both sustainability challenges but also solutions in a way that is relevant to them. 
  • ESD should be solutions and action focussed – simply raising awareness of the sustainability challenges we face could lead to disengagement or eco-anxiety.  
  • Develop a culture of enquiry. You’re not expected to know everything about sustainable development. Facilitate discussions (with your learners, colleagues, and others you work with) and you may learn from them as much as they do from you. 

Want to know more about ESD and why it’s important?

Check out our ESD webpage or

our thought pieces.

Want research and insights to support your ESD work?

View our research reports.  

Want other ESD resources to complement this guide?

View our resources page.

young woman in cookery lesson stood over a toaster

Examples of embedded sustainability in further education

Accounting and finance

Case studies and examples:

  • “I use real-world data and models showing the extent of the changes that need to be made in order to minimize global temperature change.”
  • A full case study of the work Richard Carter, lecturer in accounting, finance and sustainability at West Suffolk College has undertaken is available here.

Content could include:

  • Sustainable business models 
  • Sustainable finance and investment 
  • Organisational sustainability reporting 
  • Sustainability in supply chains 
  • Organisational risk and sustainability
  • Corporate social responsibility.

An example of sustainability in relevant occupations
(taken from IFATE’s sustainability framework): 

  • “A finance professional could widen their exposure to green investments and diversify the range of products they offer to clients. By doing so, they will be supporting the green economy a USP for marketing purposes, also they can take a risk-based approach to improving the resilience of their investment portfolio for clients.” 

Agriculture

Content could include:

  • Sustainable farming and land use
  • Maintaining and encouraging wildlife
  • Sustainable resource management
  • Storage and application of farm chemicals
  • Soil, water, and air protection
  • Minimisation of waste in the supply chain

Animal care

Content could include:

  • Sustainability agendas of zoos and local reserves
  • Wildlife and habitat conservation 
  • Sustainable business practices for animal management organisations 

Art and design

Case studies and examples:

  • “In our art department, sustainability is part of the curriculum requirement, so students have projects linked to sustainability, social issues, reuse/recycle etc.”
  • “SEND learners and I built an earth globe and collected plastics off the beach to create the base incorporating maths, materials… as well as art.”
  • “I am an Art and Design teacher and use recycled paper, sketch books and other equipment in class and use online resources to maintain sustainability in class. Therefore, with this style of learning students are more aware of the environmental sustainability.”
  • “Students creating reactionary work to plastics in oceans and creating awareness.”
  • “I have encouraged use of Julie’s Bicycle in working with an arts organisation.”
  • A full case study of the work Claire Burgoyne, course coordinator in Art and Design at Hereford College of Arts is available here.

Content could include:

  • Use of sustainable materials
  • Using art and design to engage public in sustainability challenges and solutions
  • Responsible waste practices

Biology

Case studies and examples: 

  • “I teach science so embed sustainability into many curriculum areas, but I try to push outside of the usual focus of climate change etc. We have looked at food poverty and the global demand of corn.”

Content could include:

  • Human impacts on natural habitats, species and systems and how these can be sustained
  • How natural eco-systems can inform design 
  • The role of environmental education 

Business

Case studies and examples:

  • “[I include sustainability] in the proposals of developing new business ideas with students as a vision or in the values of the businesses.”

Content could include:

  • Sustainable business models
  • Organisational approaches to sustainability
  • Responsible, inclusive, and sustainable marketing
  • Sustainability kitemarks and accreditation schemes
  • Learners working with local businesses to develop sustainability action plans
  • Guest speakers from local businesses with a sustainability-related purpose and/or strong sustainability performance

Examples of sustainability in relevant occupations
(taken from IFATE’s sustainability framework):

  • “Maintaining a business support function gives the employee an opportunity to innovate by considering new suppliers of energy and new ways of managing energy in the organisation for example, an apprentice in an SME may research and suggest the business move to a green energy supplier. They may also consider if areas do need to be permanently lit or introduce control sensors to avoid unnecessary use…

    They may research and recommend an accredited retrofit assessment to identify the best actions to reduce the building carbon footprint. They may provide or design a travel decision tool to other employees to direct people to the most sustainable methods of transport or consider changing their approach to carpool or hire vehicles to focus on electric vehicles…

    In a sales or other travelling roles, an employee could take personal responsibility for considering their carbon impact on the organisation and propose alternatives such as use of digital communications or use of public transport as a first choice. In a leadership role they could recommend these approaches at an organisational level.”

Catering

Case studies and examples:

  • “Sustainability is fundamental in our knowledge of farming and where and how our food gets to us.”

Content could include:

  • Sustainable diets – carbon intensity, food miles, seasonality, growing methods, health etc.
  • Sustainability in supply chains and sourcing
  • Sustainable packaging
  • Minimisation of food waste and responsible waste practices
  • Energy efficient technologies
    Responsible, inclusive, and sustainable marketing

Examples of sustainability in relevant occupations
(taken from IFATE’s sustainability framework): 

  • “In a food and drink environment, an employee may consider ways to reduce food waste, protective packaging and single use hygiene items. They could consider this by looking at the initial costs of disposal and the lifetime costs of dealing with that waste beyond the organisation compared to an alternative sustainable approach… 
  • In the hospitality sector, a chef de partie may consider more energy efficient technologies to support their work and how that has a positive effect on the costs of energy use within their organisation. They may also, look at sourcing ingredients locally to reduce the carbon footprint of these items. A restaurant employee may choose to recommend installation of electric vehicle (EV) charging points as a new business opportunity to welcome new customers and which could generate profit by billing customers for charging their vehicles.” 

Signposts to external resources and organisations: 

Chemistry

Content could include:

  • Global challenges that chemistry has the potential to solve 
  • Environmental impacts of industrial chemistry 
  • Environmental legislation 
  • Principles of green chemistry 

Signposts to external resources: 

Construction

Case studies and examples: 

  • “Sustainability is one of the main themes in the construction apprenticeship standards therefore fundamental to my role” 
  • A full case study of the work of Chris Tunningley, assistant faculty director at Leeds College of Building is available here
  • A full case study of the work of Gareth Jones, curriculum manager construction, Solomon Whittaker, curriculum manager construction and Sarah Condren, staff development manager at Burnley College is available here. 

Content could include: 

  • Sustainability challenges created by construction  
  • Life cycle analysis of construction materials 
  • Sustainability in supply chains and sourcing 
  • Environmental impact assessments, planning and relevant legislation 
  • Sustainability kitemarks, accreditation schemes and standards
  • Guest speakers from local construction firms with a sustainability-related purpose and/or strong sustainability performance. 
  • Site visits to local projects with strong sustainability features 

Examples of sustainability in relevant occupations
(taken from IFATE’s sustainability framework): 

  • “A construction occupation may require a designer to understand the impact of the insulating materials they are using to build homes and their resilience to ‘heatwave’ conditions, resulting in more sustainable housing construction…  
  • An architect can consider if green areas could be planned within the development such that wildlife (flowers, shrubs, trees, animals, and insects) will be able to flourish, even within an office or industrial setting. A building services design technician could consider if a planned development allows for nesting boxes, animal road crossings or other facilities that will encourage biodiversity. Are the plant species planned for use in green spaces appropriate to the climate, area and existing wildlife?”

Dentistry

Content could include:

  • Sustainable healthcare principles
  • Sustainability challenges created by dentistry particularly with regard to amalgam and mercury use
  • Sustainable resource

Content could include: 

  • Sustainable healthcare principles 
  • Sustainability challenges created by dentistry particularly with regard to amalgam and mercury use 
  • Sustainable resource management 
  • Organisational approaches to sustainability 
  • Sustainable diets – carbon intensity, food miles, seasonality, growing methods, health 

Signposts to external resources: 

Design and Technology

Content could include:

  • Sustainability issues within manufacturing industries
  • Waste disposal
  • Life cycle analysis of products

Education and early years

Case studies and examples:  

  • “I include social, political and economic factors influencing curriculum design.” 
  • “When teaching current legislation that affects the role and responsibilities on a teacher in education and training, we explore adhering to and understanding your duty of care.” 
  • “We are teaching ESD in the Early years to our learners. We are using Schemaplay and working with a University to include this as a unit in their degree level qualifications for staff in the early years.”
  • “I teach childcare and early years therefore we discuss right to education, long life learning, Inclusion and etc.” 
  • “As an outdoor education teacher there are always opportunities to look at our impact on the world around us from the small (discussions about leaving litter) to higher level (trainee instructions at degree level thinking about how they will incorporate sustainability in their teaching).” 
  • “I have used the UN SD goals in teacher training education as a means by which teachers can plan lessons to introduce such themes into their lessons.” 
  • “Promotion of the sustainability goals contextualised to how these can be embedded into the scheme of work of a trainee teacher.” 
  • “After studying sustainability as part of my PGCAP, I removed all flip charts from the class and used reusable ones as well as including sustainability on all of our marketing for teacher training.”
  • “I ask trainee teachers to consider ways that they can include sustainability in their teaching and provide a framework to consider their response from political representation through resource conservation to environment, finance and lifestyle choices.” 
  • A full case study of the work of Kirstin Sawyer, Head of School Education and Professional Studies at Bradford College is available here

Content could include: 

Economics

Content could include:

  • Doughnut economics and other sustainable economic models
  • Sustainable consumption and consumerism
  • Behavioural science
  • Making economics accessible

Engineering

Case studies and examples:  

  • “I became a #TeachSDGs ambassador and completed research into embedding sustainability in Level 3 physical science and engineering” 

Content could include: 

  • Human impacts on natural habitats, species, and systems and how these can be sustained 
  • Renewable energy systems 
  • Life cycle analysis  
  • Sustainability in supply chains and sourcing 
  • Environmental impact assessments, planning and relevant legislation 
  • Hazard management and climate change adaptation 
  • Sustainability kitemarks, accreditation schemes and standards. 
  • Guest speakers from local engineering firms with a sustainability-related purpose and/or strong sustainability performance. 
  • Site visits to local projects with strong sustainability features

English and ESOL

Case studies and examples:  

  • “Sustainability is a choice of discussion topic for English speaking and listening practice” 
  • “I use images and text regarding climate change within the GCSE English Language delivery” 
  • “I took Entry 2 ESOL students to a college talk about a local woman’s litter picking campaign. Followed it up with reading lessons about local environmental issues and recycling.” 
  • “I teach English, setting projects involving research and production of work about plastic pollution / recycling / climate change.” 
  • A full case study of the work of Joni Cunningham, principal, Nasreen Akhtar, project manager for English Every Day, and Sarah Crème, project manager for ESOL at Redbridge Institute of Adult Learning is available here

Resources:  

  • A collection of resources for ESOL practitioners for a wide range of learners and lesson types that has been developed and tested by ESOL practitioners is available here.

Hair and beauty

Case studies and examples:  

  • “Our Curriculum is delivered embedding sustainability regarding environmental with waste, chemicals, pollution, economics and profit utilisation.” 
  • A full case study of the work of Lesley McCormack, managing director; Gabriella McCormack, education director; Craig Anthony, executive education manager and Kingston Bell, general training manager at Michaeljohn Training School, Manchester is available here

Content could include: 

  • Sustainability in supply chains and sourcing 
  • Sustainable resource management 
  • Minimisation of waste and responsible waste practices 
  • Organisational approaches to sustainability 
  • Behavioural science and sustainable client behaviours
  • Responsible, inclusive, and sustainable marketing 

An example of sustainability in relevant occupations
(taken from IFATE’s sustainability framework): 

  • “In a hairdressing salon, an employee may consider using products that are more environmentally friendly or purchased with a view to refill rather than disposing of multiple product containers. This may encourage a new marketing approach to focus on organic as a unique selling point (USP). An employee may [also] consider the costs of using energy inefficient tools such as hairdryers and straighteners. They could look at alternatives by considering the cost of getting new tools against the energy savings, technological gains and potential positive USP for the organisation. There may be an opportunity to recommend adding solar or other microgeneration solutions to provide energy for the salon.” 

Signposts to external resources:

Health and social care

Case studies and examples: 

  • “We debate the future of the NHS and challenges of aging population.” 

Content could include: 

  • Global public health issues and health inequalities 
  • Links between environmental and personal wellbeing
  • Sustainable healthcare systems 
  • Sustainable resource management 
  • Behavioural science and community engagement 

An example of sustainability in relevant occupations
(taken from IFATE’s sustainability framework): 

  • “In the care sector, a care provider may consider how they can use sustainable resources in the homes that they visit and make best use of non-renewable sources of energy. For example, boiling a kettle with only the amount of water needed for hot drinks, ensuring that electrical equipment is used effectively to reduce energy use and ensuring that they make every journey count when visiting or escorting clients.” 

Signposts to external resources: 

History

Case studies and examples: 

  • “We discuss links between British colonial history and the root causes of sustainability and social justice challenges.” 

Content could include: 

  • Sustainability goals considered from historical, modern, and future perspectives
  • Background and motivation behind major economic, social, and environmental interventions 
  • The challenges of global governance 
  • The consequences of industrialisation and the impact of imperialism 

ICT and digital

Case studies and examples: 

  • “[We have] digital poverty discussions.” 
  • “As an IT tutor we are working hard to reduce paper consumption.” 
  • “We explore how to responsibly dispose of obsolete hardware.” 
  • “Discussion over the mining of cryptocurrencies.” 
  • “I try to encourage learners to think about the source of the energy their digital devices use.” 

Content could include: 

  • Global challenges that ICT has the potential to solve 
  • Sustainable consumption 
  • Life cycle analysis  
  • Sustainability in supply chains and sourcing
  • Smart energy, buildings, and the internet of things 
  • Optimised and adaptive networks

Law

Content could include:

  • Environmental law and the concepts of ecocide
  • Environmental, social, economic, and cultural injustice
  • Environmental policy in the UK and international agreements

Manufacturing

Content could include: 

  • Sustainable resource management 
  • Minimisation of waste and responsible waste practices 
  • Organisational approaches to sustainability 

An example of sustainability in relevant occupations
(taken from IFATE’s sustainability framework): 

  • “Working in a manufacturing environment, an employee may be expected to reflect on the layout of the production line and consider if machinery needs to be left on standby or idling, where processes may be able to be run alongside to reduce repetitive tasks or activities increasing sustainability which in many cases might also be saving costs. Lean principles may work well to align with sustainability goals.” 

Signposts to external resources: 

Maths

Case studies and examples: 

  • “SEND learners and I built an earth globe and collected plastics off the beach to create the base incorporating maths, … distance and graphs as well as art.” 
  • “As a GCSE maths teacher, I use for example, data on renewable energy and costs of ethical products versus general manufacturing as contexts for students to perform calculations or make data comparisons.” 
  • “Large numbers in Maths and statistics includes national debt, area of forest loss, average earnings and charitable donations to Children in Need, with some stats each year from the Children in Need website.” 
  • “Using data about climate change in a maths lesson.” 
  • “Devising a survey to ascertain how many earths my students are living on and calculating their carbon footprint.” 

Media studies

Content could include: 

  • Responsible journalism and media production
  • Using media to engage public in sustainability challenges and solutions
  • Organisational approaches to sustainability
  • Sustainability kitemarks, accreditation schemes and standards.
  • Power of film and media in influencing public perceptions

Public services

Content could include:

  • Global public health issues and health inequalities
  • Links between environmental and personal wellbeing
  • Sustainable resource management
  • Behavioural science and community engagement
  • The legal and regulatory framework which supports sustainability

Physics

Content could include:

  • Renewable energy systems
  • Efficiency in energy stores and transfers
  • Understanding physical processes of climate change/geophysics

Plumbing and heating

Content could include:

  • Renewable energy and heating systems – installation and maintenance
  • Responsible water consumption
  • Insulation and energy efficiency
  • Behavioural science and sustainable client behaviours

Politics

Content could include:

  • International collaboration on sustainability goals and climate action
  • Understanding the role of pressure groups and social movements in shaping the policy process
  • Impacts of climate change on security and migration
  • Sustainability from the perspective of different ideologies

Psychology

Content could include:

  • Behavioural science and pro-sustainability behaviour change
  • Developing and establishing a culture of sustainability
  • Human connections with nature
  • Links between environmental, societal, and personal wellbeing

Sociology

Content could include:

  • Population and the sustainability
  • Developing pro-sustainable collective behaviour and cultural norms
  • Social movements and sustainability
  • Ethical considerations of sustainable development

Sport

Content could include:

  • Using sport to engage public in sustainability challenges and solutions
  • Sustainability in the design and management of sports recreation and leisure facilities
  • Organisational approaches to sustainability
  • Responsible, inclusive, and sustainable marketing.

Signposts to external resources: 

Textiles and fashion

Case studies and examples: 

  • “As a fashion buying and merchandiser lecturer I have spoken to my students about the impact of Covid-19 on sustainable fashion and the supply chain.” 

Content could include: 

  • Sustainability in supply chains and sourcing 
  • Responsible, inclusive, and sustainable marketing 
  • Using fashion to engage public in sustainability challenges and solutions  
  • Life cycle analysis 
  • Responsible waste practices 
  • Sustainable consumption 
  • Fast fashion 

An example of sustainability in relevant occupations
(taken from IFATE’s sustainability framework): 

  • “A textile designer may need to look at the labour conditions where their raw materials come from in the supply chain such as fabrics and dyes to see if they use child labour or unsafe working standards overseas to inform a more sustainable design or product choice.”

Travel and tourism

Case studies and examples: 

  • “I teach responsible tourism, and sometimes including sustainability issues in my tutorials.” 
  • A full case study of the work Jennifer Fasad, lecturer in travel and tourism at NESCOT has undertaken is available available here

Content could include: 

  • Positive and negative economic, social, and environmental impacts of tourism
  • Sustainable travel policy and planning 
  • Sustainable transport 
  • The opportunities and challenges of carbon offsetting 
  • Specialist eco-tourism 
  • Sustainability kitemarks, accreditation schemes and standards
  • Guest speakers from local businesses with a sustainability-related purpose and/or strong sustainability performance.