Teaching About Sustainability and Sustainable Development


Sustainability is the preservation of natural resources to maintain an ecological balance. The concept of sustainability was the foundation for the United Nations’s adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which contains the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in 2015. Sustainable development focuses on meeting the needs of the population without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, and the SDGs are a recognition by all nations of the world that ending poverty and other inequalities must be tackled while we also deal with climate change and environmental preservation. Teaching about both sustainability and sustainable development is important because it gives students the chance to take responsibility for their actions and contribute to the United Nations’s ultimate goal of a more sustainable future.


There are many resources available online for teaching students about sustainability and sustainable development. Our planet’s future depends on how we take action to sustain resources without creating greater long-term issues for future generations, so use these resources to show your students how important sustainability and sustainable development is!

Lesson Plans

  1. Lesson Plans for Teaching Sustainability: Teach For America provides lesson plan ideas for students in grades Pre-K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. While students in grade 2 will learn about why trees are important for people and where water goes when it “goes” away after a storm, students in grade 9 will learn about how pollution can be regulated to promote environmental justice!
  2. Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions – Teaching Resources: Arizona State University (ASU) offers teacher resources for grades 6-9 that cover a variety of topics, including food systems sustainability, quality of life and well-being, decision-making for sustainability, etc. Students may participate in activities, such as mini debates and 1-2-3 presentations, and lessons on defining sustainability measuring their ecological footprint.
  3. Sustainable Development Goals – Resources for Educators: The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) provides resources for educators directly related to each of the seventeen sustainable development goals. For example, for SDG-1, an explanation of why education is crucial to achieving no poverty is included and multimedia educational resources, ideas for classroom activities, and pedagogical resources are offered for early childhood care and education, primary education, and secondary education.
  4. Learning About Sustainable Development From An Early Age – Student Resources: The United Nations has a collection of student resources for learning about sustainable development. These resources include Thomas & Friends Life Lessons, Climate Action Superhero missions, the trivia game Freerice from WFP, and more. Educators who are looking to find a way for their students to learn about sustainability in a fun and engaging way should take a look!


  1. Teaching Sustainability: Vanderbilt University provides an article on teaching sustainability. The concepts focused on in this article include what sustainability is, tips for teaching sustainability, its interdisciplinary nature, teaching with place-based and project-based learning, and teaching with ecological footprints. For educators who are continuing to seek sustainability resources after finishing the article, there are Vanderbilt and local resources at the end of the article, including organizations and journals, books, blogs and podcasts, and more.
  2. Women and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): UN Women provides an article on women and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that provides a gender snapshot of the progress on the SDGs and gender equality in the 2030 agenda. In addition, there is a video near the end of the article that explains the facts about gender equality and the SDGs.
  3. Get the Sustainable Development Goals Back on Track: Springer Nature has published an editorial on getting the Sustainable Development Goals back on track. This article explains how at the current rate, most of the SDGs will not be met before going on to discuss how the 2030 agenda can get us back on track.
  4. There are many national and international news outlets that report current news on sustainability and sustainable development. The websites below can provide important information regarding these two issues:
    1. The New York Times – Sustainable Development
    2. Scientific American – Sustainability
    3. The Conversation – Articles on Sustainability
    4. The Guardian – Sustainable Development

Informational Sites

  1. youmatter offers informational articles on both sustainability and sustainable development. In the first resource, students will learn the definition, principles, and examples of sustainability. In the second resource, students will learn the definition, history, evolution, importance, and examples of sustainable development.
    1. Sustainability – What Is It? Definition, Principles and Examples
    2. Sustainable Development – What Is It? Definition, History, Evolution, Importance And Examples:
  1. Take Action for Sustainable Development Goals: The United Nations provides a collection of resources on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With this resource, students can read about or watch a video on the seventeen SDGs and also access additional materials, such as related news and videos, on any goal.
  2. Top 5 Examples of Sustainable Development: Because sustainable development can be defined in a few different ways, the Borgen Project offers explanations of five examples of sustainable development to help students further understand the subject. These examples include solar energy, wind energy, crop rotation, efficient water fixtures, and green space.
  3. Sustainable Development Goals: National Geographic provides an article on the Sustainable Development Goals. In the piece, each one of the SDGs is listed out and briefly explained. It also provides details on the SDGs, including how the SDGs were created by the UN, the similarities and differences between the SDGs and the MDGs, the progress (or lack thereof) that has been made on the goals, and how the UN suggests that individuals can contribute to the progress of the SDGs.


Teaching about sustainability and sustainable development is very important and has only become more so in recent years. Worldwide, our resources are being depleted and the issues of poverty, hunger, and gender equality are only growing. With the resources above, students will gain a deeper understanding of these two related topics and recognize the measures they can take to contribute to a more sustainable future.

Additional Resources

  1. EcoWatch – How to Teach Kids About Sustainability: EcoWatch offers information on how to teach kids about sustainability. The article provides tips for teaching both younger kids and more mature audiences about sustainable living before discussing several resources that can be used in the classroom.
  2. 15 Sustainability Activities and Ideas for the Classroom: Teach Starter provides fifteen sustainability activities and ideas for the classroom. Some examples include a rubbish bin sorting activity, a living things need energy presentation, and a mini-book on how we can help our planet.
  3. Going Green – 8 Activities to Teach Sustainability in Your Classroom: Project Learning Tree suggests eight activities that educators can use to students about sustainability. The activities fall into three categories: reduce, recycle, and reuse, save energy, and inspire sustainable attitudes.