Education for sustainable development (ESD): The turn away from 'environment' in environmental education?

Helen Kopnina*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

272 Citations (Scopus)


This article explores the implications of the shift of environmental education (EE) towards education for sustainable development (ESD) in the context of environmental ethics. While plural perspectives on ESD are encouraged both by practitioners and researchers of EE, there is also a danger that such pluralism may sustain dominant political ideologies and consolidated corporate power that obscure environmental concerns. Encouraging plural interpretations of ESD may in fact lead ecologically ill-informed teachers and students acculturated by the dominant neo-liberal ideology to underprivilege ecocentric perspective. It is argued that ESD, with its focus on human welfare, equality, rights and fair distribution of resources is a radical departure from the aim of EE set out by the Belgrade Charter as well as a distinct turn towards anthropocentrically biased education. This article has two aims: to demonstrate the importance of environmental ethics for EE in general and ESD in particular and to argue in favour of a return to instrumentalism, based on the twinned assumptions that the environmental problems are severe and that education of ecologically minded students could help their resolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)699-717
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironmental Education Research
Issue number5
Early online date21 Feb 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes


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