Empowering the future: Low-cost solutions for investing in Sustainability Education

Our experts share six policy-driven solutions that can empower communities and learners to make informed decisions and take action towards a more sustainable future.


The theme for Earth Day 2023, "Invest in Our Planet," puts a spotlight on the urgent need for climate change and sustainability education to create a more sustainable world. But how? Budget constraints and other challenges may hinder schools and policymakers from investing in sustainability initiatives. Here, we explore some low-cost solutions for implementing climate change and sustainability education and discuss the role of policy in fostering such education.

Why education and climate change matter: The Role of Policy

Sustainability education is an interdisciplinary field focused on developing the knowledge, skills, and values required to live sustainably. It equips learners with the tools to understand the connections between the natural world and human society, critically assess the impact of actions on the environment and society, and make informed decisions that promote sustainability.

Policies that support and promote sustainability education are essential to ensure that climate change and sustainable development principles are integrated into education systems. These policies can help create a shared understanding of the importance of sustainability, set guidelines for incorporating sustainability concepts into curricula, and provide resources for teacher training and capacity building.

Challenges to investing in sustainability education include the lack of awareness, understanding, and skills to address sustainability and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) issues; budget constraints that impede investment in expensive initiatives; insufficient infrastructure and resources; and a lack of political will and support. Effective policies can help overcome these challenges by prioritising sustainability education, allocating resources, and fostering collaboration between schools, local communities, and government agencies.

Policy-Driven Approaches

To overcome the challenges faced in investing in sustainability education and effectively mitigate climate change, schools, policymakers, and governments can collaborate to implement the following low-cost, policy-driven solutions:

  1. Develop and adopt national sustainability education policies: Establish comprehensive policies that integrate sustainability and SDG literacy into existing curricula, teacher training programs, and educational resources. Collaborate with international organisations like UNESCO to ensure climate and environmental education are compulsory. For example, the RISE project, which aims to improve learning outcomes for children worldwide, highlights the importance of establishing sustainability in education to achieve SDG 4. By focusing on understanding the political economy of educational reform, RISE's research from seven countries emphasizes the need for practical, context-specific education systems that prioritise sustainability and SDG literacy to ensure long-term positive outcomes.
  2. Utilise open-source resources and hands-on learning: Encourage teachers to use freely available online resources to teach sustainability and SDG literacy, and support policies that include hands-on and experiential learning activities, such as gardening, composting, and recycling, in school curricula. Teachers can adopt participatory and creative approaches, contextualise curricula to local realities, and implement hands-on student and community-led projects. These may include introducing the concept of the 4 'Rs' (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Recover) at an early age, analysing supply chains and fair trade at the secondary level, and engaging in practical activities like reusing materials, recycling, and composting. 
  3. Strengthen foundational skills and green jobs training: Focus on building foundational skills in reading and arithmetic, and develop policies that support Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) programs for green jobs, bridging the gap between skills needed for the green economy and workforce demand. For example, Pratham Education Foundation’s ASER's 2022 survey on learning outcomes in India highlighted the need to focus on building basic reading and arithmetic skills. These skills are needed for climate and environmental interventions to be effective.
  4. Construct climate-resilient schools: Encourage public investments in building climate-resilient schools that use local materials, passive design, and renewable energy sources. After the earthquakes in 2015, the government of Nepal constructed schools that were resilient to climate impacts and could serve as safe shelters during natural disasters.
  5. Encourage student-led initiatives and community partnerships: Develop policies that promote student-led initiatives focused on sustainability and foster collaboration between schools, local businesses, non-profits, and government agencies to promote sustainability, real-world problem-solving, and decision-making. By collaborating on sustainable projects and sharing knowledge and resources, schools contribute to the global partnership and cooperation needed to achieve the SDGs, addressing challenges like the digital divide and trade tensions.
  6. Build community resilience through education: Ensure that families have more resources to invest in their children's education by providing mid-day meals or low school fees, helping them bounce back from shocks, and fostering partnerships between schools and local stakeholders to promote sustainability. Having a focus on good Early Childhood Development (ECD), including nutrition, helps families invest in education, leading to positive long-term impacts and fostering community resilience.

Key Takeaways

  1. Sustainability education is essential for creating a more sustainable world, and policies play a critical role in promoting and supporting this vital education.
  2. Challenges to investing in sustainability education, such as lack of awareness, budget constraints, and insufficient infrastructure, can be overcome with low-cost, policy-driven solutions.
  3. By integrating climate change mitigation strategies and sustainability education in schools, we can empower learners to make informed decisions and take action towards achieving the SDGs.
  4. Implementing solutions such as developing national sustainability education policies, utilising open-source resources, strengthening foundational skills, constructing climate-resilient schools, and fostering community partnerships can make a significant impact on sustainability education and SDG literacy.

What next?

The invitation to ‘invest in our planet’ serves as a powerful call to action for educators, policymakers, and governments to join forces in promoting sustainability education and SDG literacy. By focusing on low-cost, policy-driven solutions, we can overcome the challenges of investing in sustainability initiatives and make a lasting impact on the health of our planet and the well-being of future generations.

Photo by: Sarvdeep Singh Arora

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