Education for sustainable development

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) sits at the heart of UWE Bristol’s institutional strategy and teaching and learning framework.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) sits at the heart of UWE Bristol’s institutional strategy and teaching and learning framework.

"Strategy 2030 commits the University to work with its students to explicitly address climate change and environmental challenges through teaching, learning and curriculum and to produce responsible global citizens. These commitments are core to our ESD work."

Georgina Gough, Professor of Education for Sustainable Development, UWE Bristol

Georgina Gough Professor of Education for Sustainable Development, UWE Bristol

Strategic context

UWE Bristol is committed to ensuring that its graduates are ready and able to realise their full potential; well equipped to make a positive contribution to society and their chosen field of work or further study; and primed to play their part in developing a sustainable global society and knowledge economy.

Strategy 2030 and action plans

Our Strategy 2030 sets out our commitment to produce graduates who are responsible global citizens and provides a framework for our education for sustainable development work. In particular, there are commitments to:

  • be a catalyst for social change
  • actively pursue research beacons including health and wellbeing and sustainability by design, enabled by creative and digital technologies
  • embed enterprise across the whole curriculum, ensuring our graduates have the attributes and attitudes to address local and global challenges
  • work across traditional disciplinary and organisational boundaries to create innovative solutions
  • be recognised for making a wider contribution to the wellbeing of people, places and the planet and for innovations that shape the health and sustainability of future communities.

Strategy 2030 sets out specific areas for action in UWE Bristol’s sustainable development work. UWE Bristol's Climate Action and Sustainability Strategy expands upon the commitments made in Strategy 2030, including further detail on our ESD ambitions.

We produce an annual ESD Action Plan which specifies the ways our ambitions will be pursued over the coming year, while the annual ESD Report provides details and evaluation of our achievements. The most recent ESD Action Plan can be found under Sustainability Documents. Reporting and evaluation are overseen by the Sustainability Board and the Learning, Teaching and Students Experience Committee.

Frameworks and guidance

Our Enhancement Framework for Academic Programmes and Practice covers the design, development, approval and review of programmes and teaching, learning and assessment practices. This Framework’s design principles incorporate being inclusive and global and enabling Graduate Attributes.

Our Graduate Attribute Framework ensures that our students develop a sense of global responsibility and a future-facing outlook during their time at UWE Bristol.

Our ESD work spans across all stages of curriculum design and delivery and is firmly embedded in our graduate attribute activities. An ESD Design Note for all staff supports implementation of our principles and frameworks. This document is guided by the QAA-HEA ESD Guidance and by UNESCO ESD work.

United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals

UWE Bristol's Strategy 2030 pledges our commitment to work to address the urgency of the challenges presented by the current climate and ecological emergencies and to strive to fulfil our role in the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since 2015, we have been working with SDGs as a lens through which to guide our curriculum development.

Staff resource and partnerships

Our staff

UWE Bristol's Pro Vice-Chancellor and Head of College Arts, Technology and Environment (CATE) Professor Elena Marco represents the University's most senior role with explicit responsibility for sustainability. This level of seniority demonstrates the University's commitment to ensuring that sustainability is core to our decision-making processes.

We have a dedicated Professor of Education for Sustainable Development, one of only three in the country, specifically to progress our engagement with ESD. Currently this is Georgina Gough (email: This post holder is responsible for coordinating UWE Bristol's cross institutional Knowledge Exchange for Sustainability Education (KESE) which has representation from every academic department in the University.

KESE reps are allocated on average 35 hours per year to support ESD activity in their department and opportunities to attend meetings events and away days that are offered to all staff. In 2018, the KESE group were awarded a Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE) by Advance HE.

To highlight the importance of sustainability within the curriculum, all new academic staff undertake academic induction which includes ESD. Many will complete our PG Certificate in Academic Professional Practice or PG Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. Both of these have compulsory ESD elements to them outlined in our ESD report (table of actions against objectives).

Monitoring the uptake of staff training and development for ESD with resources for continual improvement is viewed as a priority, led by our Professor of Education for Sustainable Development, Georgina Gough. This is done through the annual ESD report and SDG mapping work outlined in the UWE Bristol Sustainable Development Goals Programme Mapping and Education for Sustainable Development Annual Report 2021-22. In relation to CPD, we also have internal staff guidance (intranet only) and run multiple staff development events per year (many examples in ESD report referred to above).

In support of our Living Laboratory work, UWE Bristol's Sustainability Engagement Officer works to develop and coordinate practical and academic events and activities for staff and students, and to facilitate academic engagement with UWE Bristol's campuses and the Sustainability Services Team.

Partnership with The Students' Union at UWE

Our ESD work is also conducted in close partnership with The Students' Union at UWE and departmental student sustainability reps. See The Students' Union at UWE (SU) for details of the SU's sustainability commitments and actions. Our partnership with The Students' Union at UWE has been accredited to Responsible Futures (an ESD initiative of SOS-UK, the sustainability charity of the National Union of Students) since 2016 and most recently for the fourth time in May 2023. In 2022-23 we were one of two national Responsible Futures Host Partnerships. Our commitment to Responsible Futures is made and progress is overseen by the Sustainability Executive Committee.

External partnerships, commitments and initiatives

UWE Bristol is certified to the Environmental Management Standard ISO14001:2015 and is a signatory of the Talloires declaration, the United Nations' Higher Education Sustainability Initiative and the SDG Accord; is a member of the EAUC Alliance; the Bristol Green Capital Partnership and the Bristol SDG Alliance.

The University is an institutional member of the UK and Ireland Chapter of Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) and is currently establishing a South West and South Wales Local Network for PRME. WE report biannually through our Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) reports and our ESD report 2021-22 also serves as our SIP report.

We regularly offer the opportunity to staff and students to take part in the UNESCO supported Sustainability Literacy Test.

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