Sustainable Development as Focus of Transformative Sustainability Education for Grades 11 and 12 (17-18 Year Olds)

Since the only alternative to sustainable development is UNsustainable development, senior students must graduate knowing the principles and processes of sustainable development.


The focus for the senior level (grades 11 and 12; ages 17 to 18) is sustainable development.

Many people, especially in North America, believe that sustainable development (SD) is an oxymoron. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately, this misconception has meant that multitudes of people have still never learned about SD — its history, goals, principles and processes. So our society continues to develop in unsustainable ways.

Our students must learn about SD in order to become competent practitioners of sustainability in their lives and in their jobs.


"The principles of sustainable development must find themselves in children's schooling. This means that education will have to change so that it addresses the environmental, social, economic and cultural problems that we face in the 21st century."
— Koïchiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director General



For senior students, the study of SD incorporates naturally into science, history, geography, economics and business courses through integration of the economic, environmental, and social equity aspects of every topic in each course (the key principle and new paradigm of sustainable development).

Teachers of the senior grades can be helping their students:

  • learn the history of the concept of sustainable development and its goals, principles and processes
    • the goal is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (from the Brundtland Commission's 1987 Our Common Future report to the United Nations)
    • Agenda 21 is the United Nations action plan for sustainable development
    • the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development lists several principles and recommends several processes for sustainable development
      • integration of environmental, social equity, and economic considerations
      • ethics-based ecological economics
      • full-cost accounting and internalization of environmental and social costs
      • intragenerational equity (compassion and responsibility for others in today's world)
      • intergenerational equity (compassion and responsibility for future generations, including giving today's youth a say in their destiny)
      • pollution prevention principle
      • polluter pays principle
      • precautionary principle
      • peace, development, and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible
      • women, youth and indigenous peoples have vital roles to play in sustainable development
      • multi-stakeholder roundtable approach to consultations, planning and decision making

  • learn about and come up with sustainability indicators

  • experiment with ways to conduct sustainability discussions in a harmonious fashion (for example, the Three Hats Strategy )

  • explore sustainable production and consumption (see Consume This - Buying That Matters) [pdf]

  • read, discuss and get excited about interesting sustainable development case studies (for example, Gaviotas in Colombia, Curitiba in Brazil, Interface Flooring in North America)

  • look at the business case for sustainable development

  • buddy up with younger students to teach them about sustainable development (students as young as Grade 3 can grasp the concept when it is presented as an ethic of fairness: Is it fair to Nature? Is it fair to all involved? Is it a fair price?) (See the photo on this page.)

  • come up with ways to make sustainable development attractive and compelling for others (its "story," greater purpose, sense of hope, success stories)

  • understand the 3 Rs at a deeper level (for example, by examining the relationship between buying less (or smaller) of higher quality to maintain quality of life while lowering greenhouse gas emissions and waste)

  • extend their concern for environmental issues to social and economic equity issues

  • learn about cradle to cradle (versus cradle to grave) lifecycle analysis and the Hannover Principles for sustainable design

  • begin to think like an ancestor (the Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee outlines the Iroquois Confederacy's concept of the seventh generation)

  • decide whether to take The Graduation Pledge

  • decide how to endorse, support and adopt the Earth Charter

Click here for Sustainability Slang — a poem of sorts that I wrote to show how little the principles of sustainable development have found their way into our language!


"One of the central lessons of the sustainability movement is that achieving ecologically sustainable societies and economies requires, above all, a deep cultural transformation. Such a transformation demands nothing less than a paradigmatic shift in education."
– Pamela Mang



If we don't educate our senior students about sustainable development and for sustainable development (learning about it ourselves along the way), it's possible they will never learn it.

If this generation of graduates doesn't make the transformation to sustainability, it might be too late.



Go from Sustainable Development (Grades 11/12) back to
Nature Bonding for Primary Grades


Return from Sustainable Development to Greening the Curriculum


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