Member of SCNAT

saguf is a professional association that has been committed to the promotion of environmental and sustainability research in Switzerland. It is committed to inter- and transdisciplinary, practice- and solution-oriented research.more

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Education for Sustainable Development

Objectives and focus

The Working Group (WG) Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) aims to contribute to the implementation of UNESCO’s “Global Action Programme on ESD” (GAP). The GAP aims to implement ESD in all areas of learning, including institutional learning. The purpose of ESD is ultimately to contribute to closing the “knowledge-action gap”: For example: we know that climate change exists, but we can’t (or don’t) actually do anything about it.

The ESD WG focuses on the implementation of ESD in higher education institutions, in particular on introducing transformative learning. Transformative learning (TL) leads to a change in our attitudes and in the values that determine our actions, thoughts and feelings. It enables us to creatively address seemingly insurmountable dilemmas, both individually and collectively. This is how we move from knowledge to action.

In the ESD WG, we work as “reflective practitioners” on the following questions:

What competences do students need to develop to contribute constructively to sustainable development and social transformation?

How can these competences be fostered at higher education institutions? (didactics, curriculum development, further training of lecturers, learning spaces, assessment processes...)

How can we support a process of institutional learning and transformation through which higher education institutions can overcome sectoral barriers wherever these barriers make it impossible for research, teaching and “third mission” to focus on sustainability?

Our aim is to generate theoretically sound and practicable contributions based on a constructivist-systemic understanding (of education), and to provide impulses for enriching the ESD debate in Switzerland and Europe. We work in different constellations using an inter- and transdisciplinary approach.

Current concerns

How can “safe enough spaces” be created to deal constructively with the substantial emotional challenges associated with transformative learning? (see for ex. ITD 2021 and Singer-Brodowski et al. 2022).

How can we design assessment processes as transformative learning processes?

By early 2023, we aim to offer those who are responsible for implementing ESD in various areas of their higher institutions a collection of short and practice-oriented principles and best practices for implementing ESD with TL.

Chair: Ruth Förster (dr. ruth förster training & beratung; e-mail:

Members: Petra Biberhofer (FWF Austrian Science Fund, Austria), Sofia Getzin (HEKS, Switzerland), Clemens Mader (RCE Zurich & Empa St. Gallen), Marlene Mader (TdLab, ETH Zurich), Helene Sironi (Silviva & SironiWeiss - Umwelt.Bildung.Entwicklung), Sandra Wilhelm (anders kompetent GmbH, RCE Zurich), Anne Zimmermann (CDE, University of Bern & Extended circle: Ueli Nagel (RCE Zurich).

Please find current publications in the bar on the right.

Further publications

  • Wilhelm, S., Förster, R., Zimmermann, A.B. 2019. Implementing competence orientation: towards constructively aligned education for sustainable development in university-level teaching-and-learning. Sustainability 11/7, 1891;
  • Förster, R., Zimmermann, A. B. & Mader, C. 2019. Transformative teaching in higher education for sustainable development: Facing the challenges. GAIA - Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 28, 324-326.
  • Balsiger, J., Förster, R., Mader, C., Nagel, U., Sironi, H., Wilhelm, S. & Zimmermann, A. B. 2017. Transformative Learning and Education for Sustainable Development. GAIA - Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 26, 357-359.
  • Kläy, A. 2012. Nachhaltige Entwicklung an Schweizer Hochschulen: Zeit für Tritt- statt Stolpersteine. GAIA 21/4: 321-323. (pdf)
  • Stauffacher, M., Zingerli, C., Fry, P., Pohl, C., Krütli, P. 2012. Science meets practice: A Winter School offers new perspectives. GAIA 21/2: 145-147. (pdf)
  • Stauffacher, M., Kyburz-Graber, R., Spiess, H., Kägi, E., Roux, M., Nagel, U. 2010. Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung. Der Beitrag der Fachhochschulen und Pädagogischen Hochschulen. GAIA, 19/1: 72-74. (pdf)
  • Roux, M. 2009. Nachhaltige Entwicklung an Schweizer Fachhochschulen. GAIA 18/2: 175 (pdf)
  • Carabias-Hütter, V., Ulrich, M. 2008. Nachhaltige Entwicklung erfassen – KLARTEXT spielen. GAIA 17/2: 247-250. (pdf)