Education for Sustainable Consumption (ESC)

UNEP's initiatives in the area of education for sustainable consumption (ESC) respond to the need for new cultural and educational models that can foster a new generation of citizens who integrate sustainability in their personal and professional decisions. The shared goal of these various initiatives is to provide innovative tools to communicate and learn about ESC. The target audience in the field of ESC is national and local authorities, business organizations, teachers, vocational schools and trainers who need to communicate about various aspects of ESC and want to engage in innovative learning methodologies to better respond to the challenges of sustainable development.

Sustainable consumption is an integral element of sustainable development and an issue of paramount importance, increasingly recognized by the international community. The challenges that the world faces such as financial crises, climate change, resource shortages, and poverty, will only be solved with the full participation of educated and motivated citizens. In this context, Education for Sustainable Consumption (ESC) is essential for learning how to make lifestyle choices in the market, consume better and more responsibly and effect changes by seeking creative new solutions and engaging in policy debates.

“Education for Sustainable Consumption (ESC) aims at providing knowledge, values and skills to enable individuals and social groups to become actors of change towards more sustainable consumption behaviours. The objective is to ensure that the basic needs of the global community are met, quality of life for all is improved, inefficient use of resources and environmental degradation are avoided. ESC is therefore about providing citizens with the appropriate information and knowledge on the environmental and social impacts of their daily choices, as well as workable solutions and alternatives. ESC integrates fundamental rights and freedoms including consumers’ rights, and aims at empowering citizens for them to participate in the public debate and economy in an informed and ethical way.” Here and Now, Education for Sustainable Consumption - Recommendations and Guidelines (UNEP, 2011). This publication is also available in Spanish and Chinese.

The importance of education in facilitating a shift towards sustainable development and in promoting sustainable consumption patterns has been internationally reaffirmed in the United Nations’ decision to launch a UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UN DESD, 2005-2014). ESC is a key issue, and an integral part of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), addressed through the Marrakech Process on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP), a global multi-stakeholder platform that supports SCP implementation at the regional and national level.

The Marrakech Task Force on Education for Sustainable Consumption, led by Italy, has been working to promote the advancement of ESC, and more particularly throughout formal learning processes, considering appropriate links to non-formal and informal education. Together with UNEP and key partners, such as UNESCO and the Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living (PERL), the Task Force developed a series of generic recommendations and guidelines for ESC - targeted at policy-makers and educators - presented in UNEP's Here and Now, Education for Sustainable Consumption - Recommendations and Guidelines.

Despite increasing international recognition, mainstreaming ESC in formal education curricula as well as in informal education remains a challenge as ESC is generally not yet considered a priority. More efforts are needed to open the setting of an experience-based model for institutional strengthening of ESC through policy-making and implementation at a national level.

UNEP, in close cooperation with Italy (the Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea) and other key partners, is implementing a pilot project on Institutional Strengthening of ESC to support the mainstreaming of ESC and lifestyles in formal education curricula as well as in informal education at the national and local levels in Chile, Indonesia and Tanzania.

Click here for the concept note for more information about the pilot project (2011-2013).