Deconstructing Sustainability Literacy: The Cornerstone of Education for Sustainability? The Role of Values

By Paul Edward Murray, Nigel Brown and Sheran Murray.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Sustainability literacy is a concept that underpins a model of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) being developed by the newly created UK Centre for Sustainable Futures, which commenced full operations in autumn 2005, following an award totalling £4.5 million from the UK government. The vision of this pan-discipline organisation is to ensure students in Higher Education become ‘sustainability literate’ by acquiring “the knowledge, skills, and values, which will assist them in living and working sustainably” (Dyer & Selby 2004). The centre has adopted a definition where a sustainability literate person is viewed as someone who combines an understanding of the need for change with appropriate knowledge and skills, and is able to recognise and reward sustainable actions in others. Sustainability literacy is seen by its proponents as important for employability, effective professionalism, economic performance and social wellbeing.
The term sustainability literacy is often viewed in the context of the relevant knowledge and skills sets needed to create sustainability literate graduates. However, this analysis may underplay the significant role of an individual’s personal values and beliefs in influencing the motivation to behave sustainably. Without a sense of personal ownership/connection to sustainability issues, those hard-won knowledge and skill sets may not be fully brought to bear, either in the workplace or in private life. The potential of applied psychology approaches such as Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) is explored in relation to helping individuals elicit their values and beliefs relating to their ‘worldview’ (attitude to self, family, friends, colleagues and wider/global communities). One NLP technique to help individuals reflect deeply on situations and relationships, and that has yielded promising results, is called ‘Perceptual Positions’. This approach has been adapted and piloted for use in individual and group workshops to help participants access personal beliefs and values in relation to sustainability.

Keywords: Sustainability Literacy, Sustainability Knowledge, Sustainability Skills, Values and beliefs

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 2, Issue 7, pp.83-92. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.456MB).

Paul Edward Murray

Involved with environment/sustainability for over 15 years; first as qualified Chartered Surveyor in private business (set up "consultant's environmental initiative in 1990 to promote environmental issues with clients. Entered Higher Education in 1992 to develop suite of internationally unique building/construction degrees themed on environment and sustainability. These courses now independently recognised as amongst the best in UK. Founding Head of Environmental Building between 1996 and 2002. Director of successful government funded £350K teaching and learning development project between 2001 and 2004, helping lecturers across England develop their teaching techniques. Awarded National Teaching Fellowship award in 2004 by UK Higher Education Academy after nominnation by my university. Am using the award of £50K to research and promote sustainability amongst professions and in education, focusing on developing values and attitudes to unfderpin core sustainability skills.In 2005, was founding member of Centre for Sustainable Futures, a £4.5 million centre of excellence dedicated to developing education for sustainability under directorship of Professor David Selby.

Nigel Brown

University of Glamorgan, UK

Senior lecturer in the Accounting, Finance and Information Management Department of Glamorgan Business School at the University of Glamorgan. A Chartered Accountant and qualified NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) Master Practitioner and Certified Trainer. Extensive research published on the relevance of meta programmes to accounting and business education. Winner of the 2001 British Accounting Association’s Special Interest Group On Accounting Education annual conference prize for the best emerging paper. Awarded the 2003 British Accounting Association’s Special Interest Group On Accounting Education Annual Prize for the best journal paper published in volume 12 of Accounting Education: An International Journal. Director of a research project, funded by Glamorgan Business School from 2003 to 2006, to develop a new questionnaire: the Metacognitive Pattern Indicator. Questionnaire was pilot-tested on 800 students in 2004/2005 and refined version tested on over 1,000 students in 2006/2007.

Sheran Murray

Project advisor, University of Plymouth, UK

Sheran is an experienced counsellor and careers professional who has been working with the University of Plymouth on the development of the values training activities that are the basis of this paper. She researched widely in the filed of education for sustainability and has used her experience in training and vocational assessment to devise a number of effective exercises to promote deep thinking about sustainability issues.


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