An Introduction to Sustainable Development

To begin with we’ll use the most widely quoted definition of Sustainable Development from the 1987 Brundtland Report.

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

It is all extremely vague but that can come to its advantage. Pressing issues regardless of the location or the problem can all be put under the umbrella of sustainable development. It allows the Global North to look at concerns like climate chance whilst allowing developing countries to focus their efforts on efforts of economic development.

Sustainable Development focuses on a wide range of issues that fall under the three pillars of sustainability; environment, society and the economy.

3 Pillars

This video will give you a brief historical background on Sustainable development and where we are now.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)


As mentioned in the video, countries across the world adopted the UN’s SDGs in 2015 when the Millennium Development Goals Ended. In an attempt to learn from the past the SDGs have adopted a much different approach to tackling the world’s issues. The previous goals were orientated in way where developed countries identified problems in the world with little consultation with developing nations. This resulted in targets ranging from being not ambitious enough to completely unfeasible. This resulted in lower income countries being left behind in their efforts to meet the targets. A lack of transparency and little citizen involvement were heavily criticised throughout. As a result, many of the 8 goals were not met. Taking criticism on board, the UN developed the new SDGs using a huge network of consultation on national and regional levels. These goals aim to empower local governments and people to be the drivers behind sustainable development wherever they are.


As you can see the new goals span a huge range of issues that are relevant to people from every corner of the planet. Each of the goals have been assigned targets and indicators to keep track of progress. Just like the millennium goals before them they are extremely ambitious with targets to eradicate extreme poverty completely and ensure that all children complete free, quality primary and secondary education. All that being said, the SDGs are just framework for governments and organisations to shape policy. They do not include a guide or any methodology to tackle the issues at hand. This is left to everyone and anyone, whether that is government policy makers or the general public. This is where the University comes into the picture with its unique role as an institution of both research and education. The University of Leicester was one of the first universities to sign up to the SDG Accord and make a commitment to delivering the goals.

This video gives some detail of the role the University can have.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

The University’s role is not limited to outward facing projects in both research and education. It’s most important job is to produce graduates that have skills and knowledge that not only allow them to succeed, but also enrich and sustain the world.

“Education for sustainable development is the process of equipping students with the knowledge and understanding, skills and attributes needed to work and live in a way that safeguards environmental, social and economic wellbeing, both in the present and for future generations.” (QAA & HEA, 2014)

This doesn’t mean that we should force every student to learn about Sustainable Development in full, just that it should be linked in to relevant points in their study. ESD is not about taking the spotlight away from their chosen subject but to link it to issues in the world today to give them a global outlook and the skills to create change.

As shown by the 17 SDGs, Sustainable Development covers a huge range of topics. We believe it can be fitted into all of the programmes that the University offers and as part of the recent curriculum transformation we audited all modules to find SDG related teaching. We found that over 70% of our students will come into contact with SDG related teaching in their time at the University of Leicester already. We want to increase this number to 100% as well as increasing the number of SDGs our students are interacting with.

As an educational institution we have an opportunity and should aspire to produce graduates with skills and knowledge that not only allow them to succeed, but also enrich and sustain the world. The promotion of skills like critical thinking, imagining future scenarios and making decisions in a collaborative way is also an important part of ESD.

Available in the library is “Sustainability Education: Perspectives and Practice Across Higher Education”. This book looks at a variety of disciplines and provides, theory, case studies and transferable skills that you may find useful.

Share this page: