Education for Sustainable Development

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Our commitment to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

As we head towards our centenary, we are not only reflecting on our past but looking towards the future. Ours is a global, shared future in which we equip our students with the skills and knowledge they need to help build a sustainable future for all.

Sustainability has become a cornerstone of our Strategic Plan and is one of the four principles informing our work.  Our Executive Board has agreed that, as one of our priorities, we will embed environmental sustainability across both our curriculum and staff training programmes. Recently, we agreed a proposal from one of our Pro-Vice-Chancellors for Education and Student Experience to further embed sustainable development in our curriculum. To this end, we have set up a Steering Group to oversee the work and agreed the following goals: 

  1.  That all graduates of the University will have a fundamental understanding of the concepts related to Sustainable Development
  2. That our students are enabled and empowered to become effective in positively contributing to sustainability problem-solving in their lives, professions, and communities 

Currently, all students have the opportunity to develop an understanding of the concepts related to Sustainable Development through access to key University-wide modules and co- or extra-curricular activities such as the RED Award (with many students choosing to take up volunteering opportunities with organisations like ZSL Instant Wild and Zooniverse).

Our current Teaching and Learning Strategy focuses on ‘educating for 21st century lives’ and the challenges that entails. Within this Strategy, sustainable development is implicit within our priorities to deliver excellence through the Curriculum Framework and its focus on developing global engagement and multicultural awareness as a graduate attribute, and the underpinning academic principles of diversity, inclusivity and global perspectives. In the next iteration of the Teaching and Learning Strategy and the Curriculum Framework (due to be agreed over summer 2021), the principles and concepts underlying education for sustainable development will become explicit goals and priorities. 

Providing a framework for ESD

The University Board for Teaching and Learning and Student Experience (UBTLSE) has a sub-committee: Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). The ambition to embed environmental sustainability across our curriculum and staff training programmes aligns with one of the objectives of our educational strategy “to strive for enhanced global environmental sustainability” and one of our graduate attributes of “global engagement and multicultural awareness.” 

All academic schools have Programme Expectations emerging from a Portfolio Review Pathway, which includes: "Programmes integrate education for sustainable development appropriate to the discipline. This is achieved by embedding opportunities and empowering students to engage with environmental, social and economic challenges within their programme and beyond". 

Some schools are already leading the way: 

  • In addition to key modules embedded in programmes on climate change and sustainability, the Department of Meteorology offer an optional module, MT1CC Science of Climate Change, aimed at all students, not just those studying the sciences. Students can learn directly from our worldwide experts about why the climate is changing, how we can avoid the most devastating consequences, and what we can do to adapt as the planet warms.  
  • The School of Archaeology, Geography and Environment Sciences provides students both within and outside of their School access to modules on environmental and social issues linked to climate. These include GV1EI Environmental Issues, GV2CSR Corporate Social Responsibility and GV3JLD Global Justice, Labour and Development. Within the School for Agriculture and Policy Development, the module AP1A28 – Global Sustainability, Challenges and Prospects introduces students to key ecological and eco-social challenges of our time with associated debate across several disciplines.

Supporting staff to deliver the ESD Agenda

Our Academic Development and Enhancement Team offers a wealth of training opportunities, many of which are linked to the principles of the Curriculum Framework, which includes a new principle: 

Programmes integrate education for sustainable development appropriate to the discipline. This is achieved by embedding opportunities and empowering students to engage with environmental, social and economic challenges within their programme and beyond. 

In 2021 we are working on a range of training sessions to support this recently introduced principle. The University is currently undergoing a Portfolio Review (as party of our Strategy Implementation Project), and our Academic Development and Enhancement Team will be working with schools to implement new Programme Expectations which will be underpinned by the principles in the revised Curriculum Framework.  

We also offer spaces for staff to discuss practices and concepts relating to the delivery of teaching and learning. Our Academic Development and Enhancement Team facilitates a number of Teaching and Learning fora for the sharing of ideas and best practice. Our School Directors of Teaching and Learning Lunches, Programme Director Community of Practice, and work with Programme Teams provide spaces for participant-led discussions about key topics of interest.  

We recently welcomed Dr Alison Grieg, Director of Education for Sustainability at Anglia Ruskin University, to lead a guided discussion about education for sustainable development at our National Teaching Fellow/Principal Fellow Community of Practice. This event has been a catalyst for wider discussions as the Fellows disseminate the ideas amongst their colleagues.  

Our Teaching and Learning Conference in 2019, ‘Globalfest’, was dedicated to exploring what internationalisation of the curriculum and student experience means in practice. The conference featured Dr David Killick as keynote speaker. This afforded opportunities to discuss concepts and ideas closely linked to sustainable development in breakout sessions.

ESD for the Real World

Environmental research is centre-stage at the University of Reading. Two-hundred academics and hundreds of postdoctoral researchers and  PhD students come together within our Environment research theme to explore, understand, and address the challenges of environmental changes, both natural and those shaped by humans. 

We are working to maximise the opportunities for collaboration between our students, staff and community partners to apply insightful and innovative research across our campuses and in our local area to meet the challenges that our world is facing.    

By using the University’s facilities and surrounds as a ‘Living Lab’, we provide opportunities for students to gain practical skills and direct experience in applying research, and help shape how we improve our environmental performance, use our resources efficiently, and work towards a thriving, sustainable university. Our undergraduate students are actively engaged in sustainability across our campuses. You can find out more about their work below:

Electricity consumption within our Library (May 2021)


The study was conducted by a quantity surveying student, overseen by Dr Emmanuel Essah. In this research, occupants’ patterns and behaviours were monitored using the footfall data provided. Findings from simulation results showed that there is an inverse relationship between occupancy and energy consumption, however the actual energy savings made were 13% after the refurbishment of the Library. (Credit - Zu Shen Koh)

Energy efficiency in Edith Morley tower (May 2020)


Our students actively engage in sustainability across the campus including a post-occupancy evaluation of energy-efficiency improvements in the Edith Morley tower. The study was conducted by a building surveying student, overseen by Dr Emmanuel Essahand identified that the building achieves good thermal comfort, which needs to be balanced with achieving good indoor air quality in the naturally ventilated building.  (Credit – Charmaine Lok Ching Wong) 

Grey Water at Greenlands campus (Summer 2021)


A renewable energy student, under the supervision of Dr Maria Vahdati, is reviewing the effectiveness of the University’s first grey water system, installed in 2018, in its new accommodation blocks at the Henley Business School, Greenlands campus. 

Sustainable takeaway food packaging (Summer 2021)


Summer 2021 – an environmental science student, under the supervision of Dr Steve Robinson, is considering the way that take-away food is sold from shops, cafés, and restaurants on campus, to understand what is the most environmentally sustainable packaging when considering the life cycle impacts and the practicalities of disposal methods for different packaging materials such as oil-based plastics, paper/cardboard, and plant-based plastics.

Evaluation of the Chancellors Building (May 2021)


The study was conducted by a quantity surveying student, overseen by Dr Emmanuel Essah. The findings from the research identified the design concepts an implementation that ensured the conservation of energy usage in this modular type building. Using simulation measures, other concepts were investigated to understand its potential implications. (Credit- James Frost) 

Carbon sequestration research (2021)


State-of-the-art carbon emission monitoring equipment has been installed at University of Reading's Thames Valley Science Park which will monitoring carbon uptake locally.  This will help the University and the Science Park to gain insight into the efficacy improved land management as a key climate change mitigation strategy. We will also monitor how biodiversity changes in response to the potential future addition and growth of native tree species. We are very keen for students to engage with the project and welcome student-led initiatives, especially species monitoring programmes for animals, plants, and fungi.

This initiative ties directly into two of the University’s six sustainability themes: Biodiversity and Green Infrastructure, and Carbon Management. As noted in the University’s Environmental Sustainability goals, we aim to “Reduce our carbon footprint by developing woodlands or other landscapes that sequester carbon...” and “Place sustainability and biodiversity at the heart of our community, including management of campuses and other landholdings.”  

If you require any further information about Education for Sustainable Development, please contact:

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