Human beings start learning with their first breath. Education is essential to acquire knowledge, the skills to survive, to develop one’s full potential and integrate successfully into today’s society.
Today 25% of the European Union’s population is in the 0-24 age bracket . Educational institutions are meant to inspire this age group throughout their childhood, teenage years and into early adulthood.
The concept of sustainability has evolved over the years – today, environmental and social aspects have become increasingly important, exemplified best by growing movements calling for better diversity and inclusion and work-life balance as well as movements such as me-too, BlackLivesMatter or Fridays for future. Many of these activities have been led by a young diverse generation through weekly demonstrations, heated debates and strikes. As a result, our society increasingly demands that companies and governments take responsibility in these areas .
Academia is fundamental to bridge the socio-economic divide of environmental and social sustainability competencies . Childcare centres, schools and universities must continuously train their educators and staff with essential new skills, encourage to undertake research, and apply their content to their own internal sustainability practices to lead by example. As a knowledge broker responsible for a well-functioning and healthy society, it is necessary for educational institutions to adhere to, convey and execute an aligned mission, adjust curricula, adapt learning methods and change organisational behaviour towards sustainability. Academia must respond to these emerging, global trends with efficient resource management, new education models, training programs and behaviour to develop integrated, responsible and future world citizens .
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. – Nelson Mandela
How can academia successfully enlighten its children, pupils, students, educators and staff to innovate, inspire and actively lead the transition to an equal and balanced society while staying within planetarian boundaries?
Align your Vision & Mission
Any business or organisation must develop a strategy aligned with its purpose, vision and mission. Whether it is an early childcare centre or a highly ranked university, it all starts with a strategy allowing for a healthy organisational culture including social justice, democracy and sustainability embedded in the approach. Old frameworks included only the financial aspect of growth. The new leadership requires also considering the well-being and diversity of its people including educators, administrators, building managers, students, and community members as well as the physical environment embracing internal and external sustainable practices contemplating the impact on the planet as well as the classic. All three factors, social, environmental and financial, maintain a healthy balance of sustainable progress. A sustainably aligned and managed educational institution can improve its trust, reputation and progress financially better over the years .
Almost 80% of young people report being aware of climate change and global warming.
Young people need to develop scientific skills, digital skills, financial literacy and sustainability competences to be ready for the green transition .
OECD, How can education systems advance the green transition? 
Embody your curriculum and research through your vision and values
The European Union’s ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to support the green transition of corporate organisations, enable constant scientific research, create new academic programmes, methodologies and curricula allowing to understand, engage and apply the new skills and learnings. This agenda treats social and environmental sustainability as a core value and pushes educational institutions to enhance their curricula and empowers students to become changemakers. Educators and researchers attracted by your school’s purpose and vision will integrate their sustainability research findings in their teaching, delivering the content with passion.
Academia offering new skills through its programs will remain at the forefront of megatrends. Innovative programs and curricula will attract attention and lead to more admissions and prospects.
Walk the talk – your internal sustainability practices
Sustainability requires a systems-based approach promoting collaboration across disciplines and departments, roles, and schools, to generate positive impact.
To apply what you teach, internal processes should align with your sustainability. Including members of faculty, educators, building maintenance, students and suppliers in this process, it will allow to overcome challenges more easily and transparently while not making it a sole leadership team’s responsibility.
Processes could include revising the following procedures :
- Install internal recycling systems (recycling systems for plastic, metals, glass, paper)
- Offer healthy food menus in your canteen and avoid food waste (buy local food, reduce meat, vegetarian-focused diet sourced from organic and local farmers, fewer food choices)
- Implement a mobility policy (promoting shared and public transport, bicycles, walking)
- Transition to low energy use appliances and green energies (computers, LED lights, heating without fossil fuels, solar panels)
- Develop policies for sharing goods and encourage a Five R’s Policy: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle
- Encourage children, pupils and students to participate in projects to value nature, foods and collaboration such as gardening, bread making, cooking, team sports, plastic clean-ups etc.
Sustainably managed institutions lead to innovative approaches allowing to save costs such as supplies, maintenance fees, energy as well as develop new business models. Lastly and more importantly, sustainable practices are life-sustaining and create value for all stakeholders in the community, not just the organisation itself.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Communication is the primary tool for inspiring change, sharing the vision, prompting new behaviours, and recognizing accomplishments.
For your stakeholders to understand the institution’s strategy behind all the activities around sustainability, transparent, consistent and concise communications through a variety of channels with a clear, authentic and consistent message. By including all stakeholders in your efforts, you encourage open conversations and highlight the benefit of your school’s actions. 
As a result, your organisation reinforces its trust by translating its values into credibility.
Academia plays a vital role in the change of behaviour of our society. Childcare centres, schools, universities and business schools maintain constant contact with society. By nature, educational institutions are influenced by social and environmental issues and put their knowledge into practice to achieve sustainability of human systems.
- Education remains at the service of humanity and represents one of the most important assets for equal rights, democracy and prosperity for our society.
- Society engages with academia that corresponds to its values, has reputation for its mission and is trustworthy.
- Sustainably managed knowledge brokers lead to innovative approaches allowing to save costs such as supplies, maintenance fees, energy as well as develop new business models.
 OECD Stat – Historical Population 2021
 The role of universities’ sustainability, teachers’ well-being, and attitudes toward e-learning during COVID-19, Melinda Timea Fülöp, Teodora Odett Breaz, Xiaofei He, Constantin Aurelian Ionescu, George Silviu Cordoş, Sorina Geanina Stanescu, July 2022
 LEAD-WISE – Sustainable change through education, Vincent Diringer, September 2022
 OECD, How can education systems advance the green transition?; Francesca Borgonovi, Ottavia Brussino, Helke Seitz and Sarah Wildi, September 2022
 The Centre for Green Schools, The whole school sustainability framework 2014 (PDF), Stephanie K. Barr, Jennifer E. Cross, & Brian H. Dunbar
 National Governance Association, Environmental sustainability. A whole school approach (PDF), June 2022
 Center for green schools
 Forbes, A brave new marker: Rising to the challenge of sustainability communications, Jessie Parker, 2021