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Institut für transkulturelle Gesundheitswissenschaften

Education for Sustainability

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From a changing climate to a change of heart


An evaluation of a holistic approach to Education for


Project Management: Dipl.-Psych. Jana Lemke & Prof. Dr. Dr. phil. Harald Walach


Whenever we read the newspaper or flick through news channels, we are presented with multiple global challenges such as climate change, financial instability and world hunger. It becomes quite clear then, that future generations will have to deal with increasing complexity, stresses, uncertainty and unsustainability. Understanding this web of complex and interconnected problems becomes
more and more difficult as consumption is no longer directly related to nature as the basis of life.

Being confronted with today’s complexity can feel overwhelming so that we often lapse into limiting our attention to the requirements of business as usual. This is partly why we find it so challenging to ask ourselves how we as individuals, families and communities can find the skill, courage and integrity to respond creatively to these challenging times. Research identified cultural values as one of the driving forces of our motivation to engage with these “bigger-than-self-problems”. This is why a major objective of the UN Decade for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) is to incorporate values inherent to sustainability into formal education.

Project Description

Our interdisciplinary research project focuses on the monitoring and evaluation of a holistically-oriented program for Education for Sustainability. The program addresses 16 to 18-year old students and is implemented into the formal educational curriculum as a 9-day field trip. The program builds on elements of the experiences and knowledge of an international team of youth workers, outdoor
educators and academics interested in innovative forms of learning. We examine the impact of this participative and experiential approach on young people’s lives over the course of 6 months. A focal point is the program’s influence on the inner representation of self, others and nature, its interrelations and relationship to behavior change.

The results of this research will be used as a basis for extracting meaningful components of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). The program will be examined in regard to its ability to sensitize young people efficiently to the complexity and consequences of human activities and to bring about behavioral changes, where possible and necessary. Therefore the evaluation will provide information
on the program’s usefulness as a practice model for ESD activities that can be applied in the formal educational system. Our research project will ensure progress in the ESD field, encourage the distribution of successful educational programs and deepen our understanding of psychological factors underlying personal transformation. That way the insight gained into relationships between relevant psychological factors can be directly connected with a tangible program and does not remain purely theoretical. We aim to bridge the existing gap between theory and practice and therefore hold this cutting edge research as an integral part of our holistic approach.

Butterfly Effect in Schools Program


Recommended Reading

Brendtro, L., Brokenleg, M. & Van Bockern, S. (1990). Reclaiming youth at risk: Our hope for the future. Bloomington, IN: International Education Service.

Crompton, T. (2010). Common cause: The case for working with our cultural values. World Wildlife Fund Strategies for Change Project, available at [accessed 13December 2011].

Louv, R. (2008). Last child in the woods. Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Sterling, S. (2010). Living in the earth: Towards an education for our time. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 4, 213-218.

Winter, D. & Koger, S. (2004). The psychology of environmental problems. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.