Education for Sustainable Development

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. Our Partnering for the Planet website provides climate science facts and actions, to help educate and raise awareness 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.

In 2021 the University agreed a proposal to further embed sustainable development in our curriculum. The Steering Group set up to oversee this work reports to our main Teaching and Learning committee and is sponsored by one of our Pro-Vice-Chancellors (Education and Student Experience), Professor Peter Miskell. The Steering Group is working toward 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, Reading Climate Action Network and Zooniverse).   Building on this success, in the next academic year we will launch a new RED Sustainable Action Award dedicated to encouraging learning, action and advocacy for sustainability, open to all students and with an expanded portfolio of projects to participate in.

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.

The Curriculum Framework was revised in the Summer 2021 and includes a statement on ESD as part of the Graduate Attribute “Global and future-facing outlook”. The updated attribute indicates that our graduates should be equipped with the skills to “positively contribute to addressing sustainability issues within the context of their discipline, their personal lives, professions and communities.”

Additionally, the revised Curriculum Framework expands Principle 4: Sustainability to include a statement that “programmes integrate education for sustainable development appropriate to the discipline, which is achieved by embedding opportunities and empowering students to engage with environmental, social and economic challenges within their programme and beyond.”

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), chaired by a senior academic, Dr Stuart Black. 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.”

In developing our framework for ESD across the University we are working towards;

  • Ensuring that ESD is the business of all subjects at the University but experienced in a way that is authentic to the discipline. This can be done by underpinning approaches to ESD with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Examples of best practice in delivering ESD

  • 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.
  • The Institute of Education have set out a vision that all their initial teacher trainees should be able to access training that empowers them to effectively incorporate climate education within their teaching across all levels and subjects as part of their National Climate Education Action Plan. Their students will learn about what is happening with the climate and how to help children to learn about climate and sustainability, climate justice and the impact of changes to our environment and climate, as well as how to translate that knowledge and theory into purposeful action.

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 introduced a range of training sessions to support this recently introduced principle, these included a session called ‘Establishing Education for Sustainable Development’ and another called ‘Mainstreaming Sustainability Teaching’. 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. Schools are being asked to review their programmes and undertake a ‘Programme Visioning’ exercise which will encourage them to consider how ESD is manifested in their programmes.

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.

In September 2022 our T&L Festival will feature Professor Zoe Robinson from Keele University giving a keynote address on Response & Responsibility: Creating a sustainable future through higher education. The Festival will also provide opportunities to discuss ideas closely linked to sustainable development in a series of breakout sessions and workshops.

Additional Funding for ESD Projects

The University has recently awarded its latest round of Teaching and Learning Enhancement Project funding. The University Teaching & Learning Enhancement Projects (TLEP) scheme offers 'start-up' funding of up to £2,500 to encourage and enable staff involved in teaching or supporting teaching and learning to experiment and develop practice. We are delighted that three of this year’s winners are projects related to sustainable development.

  • Jo Anna Reed Johnson from our Institute of Education has received funding for a Bee Meadow Project, creating an evolving living laboratory for the Institute of Education.
  • Hong Yang, Nasreen Majid, Jo Anna Reed Johnson and Richard Nunes from the School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Sciences, the Henley Business School and the Institute of Education have received funding to explore the further use of University campuses as living labs for Education for Sustainable Development.
  • Nasreen Majid, Jo Anna Reed Johnson, Sarah Marston and Andrew Happle from the Institute of Education received funding for their project on Co-constructing and evaluating the climate and sustainability education national framework across programmes at the Institute of Education.

The findings from these activities will inform and support the wider adoption of ESD across the University’s teaching and learning activities.

ESD for the Real World - Students Applying Their Knowledge

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.

We have embedded sustainability into a number of projects within our Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP). The following are examples of recent UROP projects with a sustainable focus.

2023 UROP Projects


Aerial view of Earley Gate'A Living Laboratory'

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, 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:

IEQ of the UoR library after refurbishment (March 2022)


This research addresses Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) through the use of in-situ measurements, modelling using simulation tools (i.e, Integrated Environmental Simulation – Virtual Environment (IES-VE) and CBE Thermal Comfort Tool). Thermography images were also taken in order to assess the airtightness and heat losses through the fabric of the refurbished building. The findings illustrate that the indoor environment was found to be generally acceptable when aligned to the CIBSE Guide A standards for temperature as well as CO2 concentration by ASHRAE 55 -2020 (2021). This is with exception of the 1st floor group study room and 4th floor study pod which is found to be thermally uncomfortable. Occupancy numbers have a direct impact on energy consumption as well as IEQ parameters.  (Credit - Jaclyn Tieng Yee Ling).  
IEQ of a modular building – Chancellors Building (March 2022)


Modular building is a quick, cost-saving and sustainable alternative to the conventional construction. Indoor environmental quality(IEQ) is receiving increased attention, as it is critical for the performance and health of occupants. However, the majority of current studies focus primarily on the IEQ of conventional buildings. This research investigates IEQ (i.e. thermal, visual, acoustic comfort and indoor air quality) based on the as-built and the numerical models of scenario variations of the Chancellors Building. Four scenarios were developed to improve both thermal comfort and illuminance levels in the building, the most appropriate of which would also help to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions. (Credit - Xi Sun)  
Lessons from refurbished buildings – Harry Pitt Building (March 2022)


Existing buildings that had been refurbished on the Whiteknights campus were studied to understand the University’s principles on refurbishments and propose possible ways of upgrading buildings for the modelling in this study. The case study building, Harry Pitt Building, was considered for refurbishment options based on the lessons learned and using simulated scenarios to propose outcomes. The challenge in this study was to find a balance in improving the energy performance in the subject building, while also managing to provide a thermally comfortable environment, and reduce the carbon footprint. (Credit - Tian Wei Tan).  
Potential of PV and the GSHP at Carrington Building & other UoR buildings (February 2022)


This research aimed to investigate the impact of solar panels (PV) and ground source heat pumps (GSHP) in an educational building in relation to energy consumption, carbon dioxide emissions and energy costs. Two subject buildings located at the Whiteknights Campus were selected as the investigative builds. The study was conducted through analysing monitored data and modelling and simulation of the building energy use, based on its technologies design. The results concluded that both technologies offer positive impacts on building efficiency performance, however, the payback period of the ground source heat pump is very long at 22 years. (Credit - Yuen Lok Ching, Sabrina) 
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.”  

Greywater and 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) 
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) 

Supporting Students - Sanctuary Scholarships

The University offers scholarships to eligible sanctuary seekers (people with refugee, humanitarian protected, or asylum seeker status) through our Sanctuary Scholarships scheme. The scheme has been running since 2018 and offers the following awards each year to eligible applicants:

  • 5 fee waivers each year that cover the tuition fees for our 11–week English Language programme (starting in June each year) – £4,565 in 2022
  • 4 bursary payments of £5,000+ each year of study for new applicants to undergraduate courses* with refugee or humanitarian protection status
  • 1 bursary payment of £10,000+ (pro rata–ed for part-time students) for new applicants to postgraduate taught courses with refugee or humanitarian protection status
  • 1 Scholarship of a fee waiver and a bursary payment of £14,200+ for each year of study for new applicants to undergraduate courses with asylum seeker status
  • 1 Scholarship of a fee waiver and a bursary payment of £14,200+ (pro rata–ed for part-time students) for new applicants to postgraduate taught courses with asylum seeker status
  • 10 Scholarships for 2022/3 entry of a full tuition fee waiver and a bursary payment of £5,000 (pro rata–ed for part-time students) for each year of study for new entrants to undergraduate courses* or postgraduate taught courses who have entered the UK under the Ukraine Family Scheme or the Ukraine Sponsorship (Homes for Ukraine) scheme. In addition, scholars under this route will be eligible for a full fee waiver which cover the tuition fees for our 11–week English Language programme (starting in June 2022) as well as reimbursement of the cost of a single English Language test, from our list of approved providers, up to the value of £185.


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

Page last updated 30/06/2022

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