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Embedding Sustainability in Teaching

Students' choice of university is increasingly influenced by how institutions address sustainability challenges. Research from Students Organising for Sustainability UK (SOS-UK) in 2021/22 showed 92% of Leeds respondents felt that places of study should actively incorporate and promote sustainable development.

The University of Leeds has a strong heritage in delivering Education for Sustainable Development, which is evidenced across curriculum areas ranging from civil engineering and business to fashion.

The Sustainable Curriculum programme is key to delivering the 'providing a sustainable curriculum' principle of our Climate Plan. The aim at the University of Leeds is to become a leading institution for learning and teaching in sustainability and climate change, to reflect and support our world-leading research portfolio.

This is important in ensuring our education offer is relevant and equips our students with the knowledge, skills and capabilities they will need to progress in their careers and to make an impactful contribution to their communities.

A framework for delivering ESD

In the context of education, sustainability means creating value for society by taking responsibility for our economic, cultural, social and environmental impacts, whilst drawing on the diverse expertise of our students, staff and partners to collaborate in finding sustainable solutions to global challenges.

We use the Quality Assurance Agency’s Education for Sustainable Development Framework definition, ‘the process of creating curriculum structures and subject-relevant content to support and enact sustainable development’.

The Sustainable Curriculum programme is integrated with, and delivered through, the University's Curriculum Redefined Programme. Sustainability is one of the themes captured within the Curriculum Redefined framework, as a sustainability theme and Sustainability How Might We Guide. It is also threaded through numerous other themes where these connect with UN SDGs for example, Ethics, Belonging, Decolonisation, Open Educational Resources (OER).

Through Curriculum Redefined, Sustainable Curriculum provides support, training and resources for educators such as workshops, How Might We Guides, and representation within Educator Space events. In addition, we have established the Leeds University Network for Sustainability in Higher Education (LUNSHE), to foster a supportive community around ESD.

To support the development of a scholarly community around sustainable education, a LITE Fellowship  is in place. This is designed to provide a mechanism for expanding knowledge and testing and evaluating pedagogical impact. It uses an action research approach, building up material for case studies and sharing learning across the community.

Sustainable Curriculum in action

The Sustainable Curriculum Sharepoint hub (in development) will contain case studies, a growing library of scholarly resources, and information on both internal and external owned Education for Sustainable Development content and guidance. In the meantime you can access these resources via the Sustainable Curriculum team directly. Recent initiatives within the programme include:

Leeds University Network for Sustainability in HE (LUNSHE)

The Leeds University Network for Sustainability in HE (LUNSHE) has been developed to provide a community for educators at the University to learn, discover and share best practice in embedding sustainability in the curriculum. Meetings take place monthly during term time and are open to all interested staff.

The Leeds Skills Matrix

Employers are increasingly seeing environmental and climate literacy as critical in addressing the challenges they face around inter-related social, economic and environmental challenges. This is impacting future employment roles and societal needs.

The Sustainable Curriculum programme has contributed to the development of the Leeds Skills Matrix (internal link only) and provided a list of sustainability skills and definitions. This model supports staff in exploring the skills value of degree programmes and how sustainability skills sit within this.

The Leeds Skills Matrix is part of the Careers Service led Surfacing Skills Project.

Embedding sustainability in modules

Work is underway to map sustainability in the existing curriculum, including through projects led by Student Sustainability Architects. This approach is designed to identify where there sustainability is already present, and where there are opportunities to further embed sustainability into existing and new modules.

Examples of embedding sustainability in the curriculum include:

  • The School of Medicine have integrated sustainability into their Population Health module through developing a course on Planetary Health.
  • Leeds University Business School (LUBS) students have integrated sustainability into the Commercial & Professional Skills Module.
  • The School of Chemical & Process Engineering have integrated sustainability into the year one design projects undertaken by students

Sustainability in student projects and dissertations

All students have the opportunity to study sustainability within their projects and dissertations, and the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a wide ranging context for student sustainability research. Our list of research project ideas provides inspiration for students considering their dissertation or major project topics. We also run a student dissertation survey designed to understand the range of sustainability linked dissertations undertaken at the University.

The Leeds Living Lab programme can support students to undertake research which uses our campus and community as a test bed. One example of this is Gabi Kiryluk's climate themed interactive digital final year project which was installed on campus during Climate Week 2023.

Students can also gain experience in presenting their research at the annual Student Sustainability Research Conference.

Sustainability in student placements

Student placements offer the opportunity both to develop student sustainability and professional skills, and to benefit the organisations they work within. Placement opportunities can be internal within the Univeristy, for example the Sustainability service internship programme, or at external organisations such as the student placement at Open Source Arts during which a University of Leeds student developed their net zero carbon roadmap.

External accreditation

Increasingly sustainability and equality, inclusion and diversity are represented within the criterion used by the external accrediting bodies we work with.

Leeds University Business School (LUBS) have demonstrated their commitment to embedding sustainability as signatories of Principles of Responsible Management and responding to requirements from the Association to Advance Collegiate Business Schools and other accrediting bodies.

Subject Benchmark Statements

The Quality Assurance Agency work with subject specialists to prepare subject specific benchmark statements that outline, 'what graduates might reasonably be expected to know, do and understand at the end of their studies'.

These are being revised to reflect wider social goals of equality, diversity and inclusivity; Education for Sustainable Development; requirements of disabled students; and enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Sustainability Induction

We have a set of Sustainability Induction units in Minerva for staff and students: our Introduction to Sustainability, this takes approximately 1 hour and will introduce learners to sustainability definitions, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the global challenges they represent. For a more in depth exploration of sustainability issues and information on how the university is responding we also offer our Sustainability in Practice unit and a separate unit specifically on our Environmental Management System. All are non-credit bearing and available as self-led learning material.

How to get involved

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

We use the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework to guide our activity. Our work on the Leeds sustainable curriculum is linked to all of the SDGs.

Find out more about our impact on the SDGs.