Core Competencies for Sustainability Education Programs

Friday, April 26, 2019

11:00 am PT |12:00 pm MT | 1:00 pm CT | 2:00 pm ET

Presenters: Rod Parnell (Northern Arizona University & National Council for Science and the Environment) and Peter Walker (Chatham University - Eden Hall Campus & National Council for Science and the Environment)

Discussant: Katja Brundiers (Arizona State University & National Council for Science and the Environment)

This webinar is sponsored by the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) and the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT). This webinar is part of a series supporting teaching with InTeGrate principles, using InTeGrate-developed and curated materials as tools.

The registration deadline has passed.


Every year, new sustainability degree programs are launched at colleges and universities across the USA, joining a global trend of sustainability degree programs. This effort raises important questions for the field of sustainability in higher education related to quality and standards, processes of program development and administration, and communicating the skills, attitudes, and abilities sustainability graduates would have to potential employers. In early 2018, the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) launched a process on "core competencies in sustainability degree programs" through NCSE's Community of Practice on key competencies. The goal of this initiative, through an expert-based Delphi-Study and additional professional meetings, is to reach a nation-wide a "Consensus Statement" on sustainability competencies.

In this webinar, we first describe the significance of core competencies to academic programs, especially those in rapidly developing fields. We define what we mean by core competencies, learning outcomes and frameworks. We report on the current state of research on key competencies in sustainability and highlight the most utilized core competency systems. We present NCSE preliminary data gathered through a Delphi-Study and workshops at professional meetings that focused on program-level learning outcomes related to key competencies in sustainability. The session concludes with discussing the consensus building process and next steps in the evolution of core competencies in sustainability.


By the end of this webinar, participants will:

  • Share a basic vocabulary and understanding of concepts related to competency, core competencies, program level learning outcomes
  • Understand how core competencies can be of use and implementing and improving academic sustainability programs, and in communicating program goals to audiences
  • Learn how to participate in a nationwide effort to create a consensus statement on core competencies and sustainability


Time - 11:00 am PT |12:00 pm MT | 1:00 pm CT | 2:00 pm ET
- 1 hour
- Online web presentation via Zoom meeting software with questions and discussion. Go to the webinar technology page for information on using Zoom. Detailed instructions for joining the webinar will be emailed to registered participants one day prior to the webinar.
Preparation - There is no advance preparation required for this webinar. We encourage participants to view the websites of the organizations mentioned in the workshop summary.

The registration deadline has passed.

Please email Mitchell Awalt ( if you have any questions about this event.


Rod Parnell, PhD, Coordinator of Academic Sustainability and Professor, School of Earth & Sustainability, Northern Arizona University and Senior Fellow, National Council for Science and the Environment

Peter Walker, PhD, Dean, Falk School of Sustainability and Environment, Chatham University, Eden Hall Campus and Board Member, National Council for Science and the Environment


Katja Brundiers, PhD, Assistant Research Professor, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University and Co-chair, NCSE Sustainability Education Consensus Statement and Core Competencies Community of Practice


Core Competencies for Sustainability Education Programs Presentatin Slides (Acrobat (PDF) 20.1MB Apr25 19)

  1. Welcome and introductory remarks – Mitchell Awalt, SERC
  2. Introduction of speakers - David Blockstein, AESS
  3. How could developing core competencies aid the young profession of Sustainability?
  4. What are core competencies?
  5. Core competencies in Sustainability/Education for sustainable development (ESD)
  6. How can we use a community of practice to build consensus around core competencies?
  7. What we have done to-date and ongoing work: the NCSE processes and results
  8. On-going challenges
  9. Possible plans for implementing core competencies once we have them
  10. Discussion and questions – moderated by David Blockstein, AESS
  11. Opportunities for further interaction - Mitchell Awalt, SERC
  12. Webinar Evaluation

Resources and References

Click to view or download the webinar screencast (MP4 Video 387.7MB Apr26 19)

  • Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors (ACEDD) (2014). Environment & Sustainability Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Statement Project. Accessible at:
    • This report summarizes the process and results of a nation-wide effort to reach a consensus on basic program level outcomes for undergraduate and graduate environmental and sustainability programs across Australia.
  • Barth, M. (2015). Implementing Sustainability in Higher Education. Learning in an age of transformation. Routledge, New York, USA.
    • This is a broad and deep examination of how a focus on specific competencies and content knowledge results in the development of professional skills to address sustainability challenges.
  • Brundiers, K., & Wiek, A. (2017). Beyond Interpersonal Competence: Teaching and Learning Professional Skills in Sustainability. Education Sciences, 7(1), 18.
    • This paper relates professional skills drawn from the literature to existing sustainability interpersonal competencies.
  • Drayson, R., Bone, E. Agombar, J., & S. Kemp. 2015. Student attitudes towards, and skills for, sustainable development accessed 02-10-19
    • This is a survey of over 9000 undergraduate students across the UK on their attitudes about learning objectives in sustainability
  • Garcia, M.R., Junyent, M. & M. Fondolleda (2017). How to assess professional competencies in Education for Sustainability?: An approach from a perspective of complexity, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 18(5), pp.772-797.
    • This is a qualitative research study of the effectiveness of using professional competencies to implement education for sustainability.
  • Hesselbarth, C., & Schaltegger, S. (2014). Educating change agents for sustainability - Learnings from the first sustainability management master of business administration. Journal of Cleaner Production, 62(April 2015), 24–36.
    • This article draws lessons from teaching activities in entrepreneurial business degree programs to use in sustainability education.
  • Krasny, M.E., Lundholm, C., Plummer, R., 2010. Environmental education, resilience, and learning: Reflection and moving forward. Environmental Education Research, 16, 665–672.
    • This introduction to a special issue on social – ecological resilience education looks at the interaction between resilience in social – ecological systems, learning theory, and
  • Lang, D., Wiek, A., Bergmann, M., Stauffacher, M., Martens, P., Moll, P., et al. (2012). Transdisciplinary research in sustainability science: practice, principles, and challenges. Sustainability Science, 7(0), 25–43.
    • This paper examines existing research to discuss key components and principles of transdisciplinary sustainability research involving community and professional stakeholders.
  • Lozano, R., Merrill, M., Sammalisto, K., Ceulemans, K., & Lozano, F. (2017). Connecting Competences and Pedagogical Approaches for Sustainable Development in Higher Education: A Literature Review and Framework Proposal. Sustainability, 9(11), 1889.
    • This paper connects a group of core sustainability competencies to a set of pedagogical approaches in order to better understand the linkages between learning activities in sustainability.
  • Marcus, J., Coops, N. C., Ellis, S., & Robinson, J. (2015). Embedding sustainability learning pathways across the university. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 16, 7–13.
  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Indicators for Monitoring Undergraduate STEM Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
    • This is the consensus report of the committee on developing indicators for undergraduate STEM education. It focuses on addressing the goals of increasing the number of STEM students and the diversity of the student body.
  • National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP) (2008). College Learning for the New Global Century. Washington D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
    • The reports at this site document the conclusions on high-impact educational practices for education in the 21st century by the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP).
  • Rieckmann, M.; Hericks, N. (2016). Competence-Based Education and Its Contributions to Quality Enhancement in Higher Education International Consortium for Educational; International Consortium for Educational Development (ICED) and HELTASA Joint Conference 2016: Cape Town, South Africa, 2016.
    • This is a presentation from a conference of the international Consortium for educational development. It discusses the value of competence-based education in enhancing the quality of higher education.
  • Shephard, K., Rieckmann, M., & Barth, M. (2018). Seeking sustainability competence and capability in the ESD and HESD literature: an international philosophical hermeneutic analysis. Environmental Education Research, 1-16.
    • This discussion paper reviews a great deal of literature in education for sustainable development to better understand differences in interpretation of sustainable concepts by individuals in various academic and national settings, and the difficulties they cause in advancing sustainability education.
  • Sterling, S., Glasser, H., Rieckmann, M., & Warwick, P. (2017). "More than scaling up": a critical and practical inquiry into operationalizing sustainability competencies. In P. B. Corcoran, J. P. Weakland, & A. E. J. Wals (Eds.), Envisioning futures for environmental and sustainability education (pp. 153–168). Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.
  • UNESCO – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2011). UNESCO and Education: "Everyone has the right to education." Paris.
    • This chapter is a critical review of work to date on sustainability competencies and an investigation of possible innovative and transformative strategies and pedagogy is to improve sustainability education.
  • United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Steering Committee on Education for Sustainable Development (2012). Learning for the future: Competences in Education for Sustainable Development, Publication number: 1LVDO1202
  • UNESCO – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2015): Rethinking Education. Towards a global common good?
    • This report provides a detailed framework for an list of competencies for education for sustainable development generated by the UNECE steering committee on education.
  • Voogt, J. & N. Pareja Roblin (2012). A comparative analysis of international frameworks for 21st century competences: Implications for national curriculum policies, Journal of Curriculum Studies, Vol. 44(3), pp. 299–321.
    • This review identifies and compares a number of international frameworks for 21st-century education competencies.
  • Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., & Redman, C. L. (2011). Key competencies in sustainability: a reference framework for academic program development. Sustainability Science, 6(2), 203–218.
    • This widely referenced paper used in the development of several sustainability programs is a detailed review of key learning outcomes or fundamental competencies in sustainability education.