This question was recently sent to the SHED-SHARE JISCMail:

“Dear all, I have a question about the language that our institutions use in relation to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). I see some institutions using Education for Sustainability (EfS) instead of ESD and would love to know if there is a reason that one phrase is used over the other?”

We thought we’d ask for a view on the question and Claude said:

“While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some key differences in their implications:

  • ESD tends to have a more narrow focus on environmental sustainability and was popularized after the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development from 2005-2014. It emphasizes educating students to live sustainably within our current economic and social systems.
  • EfS takes a broader, more transformational approach that questions the values, ethics, and structures underlying our societies. The goal is to reorient education to empower learners to reimagine and reconstruct societies towards more sustainable, equitable, and just futures.

So in summary, ESD works within existing systems while EfS challenges the status quo and aims to transform systems. Some institutions prefer EfS language as it signals a deeper commitment to systemic change in promoting sustainability. But there remains a lack of consensus, with many still using ESD as it is the older and more widely recognized term. The main point is that educational institutions are acknowledging the key role of education in creating sustainable societies, regardless of the exact terminology used.”


For some, this might be a contentious view, although most would likely agree with the last point, even if too much can sometimes made of it. 

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