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Educating for sustainability is needed

By Sofia Santos
President, K-Evolution

The Role of Education in Promoting Green Economy and Green Societies

The Problem with the Planet

Today we live in an age where human intervention on the planet’s resources reached an unprecedented scale. Considering that the tolerance and resilience of many planetary boundaries have already been exceeded, we are faced with the urgent need to reposition ourselves through right practices for sustainability.

Sustainability implies change: changes in the current paradigm of society, in the way we explore the resources and in the strategies used to solve current problems. Sustainability implies a new approach to the concept of global awareness and individual responsibility.

The transformation through sustainability implies an understanding of the processes and options as well as an assessment of how these relate to human values, emerging technologies and the development of a new economic paradigm.

The response to the major environmental challenges lies not only in the physical and natural sciences, but must rather involve all scientific areas and encompass the social, environmental, political, institutional and economic that characterize the extent and mainstreaming, which is really what sustainability is.

Therefore, we consider that sustainability also implies new challenges to the Education sector. Education has an important and essential role in the transition from the current paradigm to a new paradigm linked to an integrated, interdisciplinary and holistic view of the Earth System.

The Problem with Managers

It is essential that the education system is able to provide students with the new economic and management models that include environmental, ethical and social values in the creation of business models and business opportunities. Today, environmental issues do not belong exclusively to the “threats” side of a company, but instead they are gaining momentum on the “opportunities” side. Society is already changing. We have movements, such as the Bcorp and Capitalism with Conscience, which are the visible result of such changes. We also have theories such as Humanistic Management, Stakeholder Engagement, Legitimacy Theory, Ecological Economics and Sustainable Finance, which should be taught in every Business School. In fact, all economists and managers should have conceptual knowledge about sustainable development, green economy, economic value of ecosystems services and climate change. If business decision makers to not know about the impact that environmental risks can have on their business, why should they care? And we know that we need to implement some kind of equilibrium of the planet in the use of natural resources, since without this equilibrium, we will see an increase in natural disasters and in conflicts between communities. It is also important that young students learn about the possibility of making profit while making good; and that responsible investors are increasingly interested in investing their money in companies that provide social and environmental returns to society and are not exclusively focused on short-term profit maximization.

The Role of Education

The generalised global concern about sustainability and the green economy can only be transformed into concrete actions implemented by a large proportion of the population, if such topics are included in the education system. Without education, sustainability and the green economy will be just wishful thinking.

The role of education as a catalyst to build skills needed to face interconnected global challenges has gained increasing recognition, leading to the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (EDS) in 2005 and to the Global Action Programme (GAP) on EDS in 2013.

In 2014, UNESCO published a roadmap for implementing the GAP in Education for Sustainable Education, which identifies as dimensions for EDS: i) The Learning content, which aims to integrate critical issues such as climate change, biodiversity, disaster risk reduction (DRR) and sustainable consumption and production into the curriculum; ii) Pedagogy and learning environments, designing teaching and learning in an interactive, learner-centred way that enables exploratory, action-oriented and transformative learning; iii) Learning outcomes, stimulating learning and promoting core competencies, such as critical and systemic thinking, collaborative decision-making and taking responsibility for present and future generations; and iv) Societal transformation: Empowering learners of any age, in any education setting, to transform themselves and the society they live in.

In the topic “Societal transformation”, UNESCO Roadmap pays special attention to the need for enabling a transition to greener economies and societies by equipping learners with skills for ‘green jobs’ and motivating people to adopt sustainable lifestyles, as well as empowering people to be ‘global citizens’, who engage and assume active roles, both locally and globally, to face and to resolve global challenges and ultimately to become proactive contributors to creating a more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable world (UNESCO, 2014).

We need to equip students with green skills, we need motivate the youth to adopt sustainable lifestyles and we need to empower the young generation to be ‘global citizens’. We need to do this in Portugal and all over the world! And that is what K-Evolution aims to do: to empower people to believe that their personal humanistic values can create wealth for them and for the community.

The Portuguese Natural Capital

Portugal, by being incorporated in the Mediterranean basin and in the Iberian Peninsula in particular, represents an outstanding “hotspot” of biological diversity with a long history of integration between natural ecosystems and human activity (Pascual et al., 2011 in Albuquerque and Redford, 2015). This richness should be incorporated in the business environment, so that natural capital and the value of ecosystem services could be embedded in public policy decisions and in business strategies. We are still far from that.

In a research developed by Albuquerque and Redford (2015) which aimed to understand the connections between sustainability and entrepreneurship in Portugal, it was found that innovative Small and Medium Companies are already picking up the relevance that green products and green economy can have in their business growth in the future. Nevertheless these Portuguese innovative SMEs also state that there is a generalized lack of knowledge about the possibilities to create green and social businesses. At same time, they stated that the main support they would like to have in order to expand their green product supply would be to have access to financial incentives that could help them to develop new products, services and new production processes. They also state that the main skills needed to expand their green product supply are: ability to think about the future, capacity to think strategically and good interpersonal skills. These are skills we learn in primary and secondary school and that we develop during university time. Therefore, schools and universities must join environment with management and economics and develop courses and projects where these two areas of thought can learn with each other, interact and build up together.

In order to contribute to these Education challenges, K-Evolution created the “Sustainability Academy”, whose mission it is to train various stakeholders with scientific, practical and humanistic knowledge via training, workshops and courses offered by experts with academic and business experience. With the “Sustainability Academy”, we also want to promote creativity and the sense of cooperation between people.

Therefore we provide training on:

  1. Environment and Green Economy (Introduction to Green Economy; Implications of Climate Change in Organizations – Risks and Opportunities; Rural Property – Valuation based on ecosystem services; Green Economy Opportunities in Portugal in 2020; Create a business plan for ecotourism; and Environmental impacts of business and the law of environmental responsibility);
  2. Sustainability in Micro and Small Enterprises (Strategies and sustainability reports; and Strategic Planning: future scenarios and strategy);
  3. Social Innovation (Entrepreneurship by values; Social enterprises and the measurement of the positive effects on society; Ecological and Social Return on Investment; Philanthropy, Sponsorship and Social Innovation; Financing of Social Innovation; and Social Entrepreneurship Funds);
  4. Sustainable Finance (The ethical principles of banking; Environmental and social risks of projects; Responsible investment funds; and Role of banks in sustainable development);
  5. Citizenship (Money with environmental and social awareness; Essentials of Economics; The Essentials of Biology; and Sustainable and Ethical Consumption); and
  6. Education for Sustainability (specific courses for teachers and specific dynamics for students).

We hope that by doing this we are able to contribute towards:

  • Transforming kind young people into great conscientious decision makers
  • Empowering good professionals to become global citizens

About K-Evolution


K-Evolution (“K” means Knowledge) is a Portuguese Non-Governmental Organization for Development, established in May 2013, which aims to promote citizenship, sustainability and entrepreneurship via education using emancipatory teaching methods. By doing so K-Evolution expects to contribute towards sustainable businesses, ethical leadership and civic participation.

K-Evolution (KE) promotes humanistic, intercultural and creative knowledge, in such a way as to
contribute to a new vision of the role of each one in the promotion of
sustainable development and a fairer society.

The conceptual model of KE is based on the assumption that promoting the education of sustainability, entrepreneurship and citizenship, will promote civic participation, create sustainable business and encourage ethical leaders.

K-Evolution Model


KE aims to be a reference entity in Portugal and in Portuguese speaking countries, for the production of knowledge on issues such as citizenship, ethics, entrepreneurship, corporate responsibility, sustainability, environmental engineering and green economy and thereby contributes to the growth of a global green society.

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