Ecological Ethics as the Foundation for Transformative Sustainability Education


Ecological ethics is an essential integrating theme that serves as the foundation for a curriculum of transformative sustainability learning and environmental education.


That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.
— Aldo Leopold



It is essential that we ground our teaching in the ethic of sustainability. A strong foundation in ecological ethics will help our students develop the values, attitudes and perspectives necessary for creating environmental, social and economic sustainability, thereby contributing to a healthy planet for themselves and their children, and a future for the human species.

The foundation of the green curriculum at every grade level and in every subject and course must be ecological ethics: giving students grounding in empathy, compassion, fairness, respect, justice, sustainability — the Golden Rule of social equity applied intergenerationally and to everyone everywhere in the world today....

Caring about all the children, of all species, for all time
(with thanks to William McDonough).

There’s no sense pretending that education can be values-free. It can't. We teach values either overtly or through the "hidden" curriculum — those unexamined values of society’s status quo that shape the education system.

As David Orr says in his essay What Is Education For? (1991), all education is environmental education. "By what is included or excluded, we teach students that they are part of or apart from the natural world." By extension, if we fail to teach and model ethics (especially the ethic of sustainability), we are showing our students that ethics has no importance in their lives or in the world — and that Nature and ecology are not important.

Environmental and sustainability education can no longer simply be about learning that we have to change, but developing the courage, compassion and moral conviction to make the necessary changes and sacrifices. It’s not just learning what we have to do, but doing it.


Inscribe this single word on your heart: Compassion. Whenever you are confused, keep heading in the direction that leads toward deepening your love and care for all living beings, including yourself, and you will never stray far from the path to fulfillment.
– Sam Keen



Click to read about some "ecological ethicists"...


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