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Education for sustainable development in higher education institutions: an approach for effective interdisciplinarity

Elliott Mokski (Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA)
Walter Leal Filho (Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Hamburg, Germany and Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK)
Simone Sehnem (Department of Management, University of Southern Santa Catarina (UNISUL), Florianópolis, Brazil and Department of Management, Universidade do Oeste de Santa Catarina, Chapecó, Brazil)
José Baltazar Salgueirinho Osório de Andrade Guerra (Centre for Sustainable Development/Research Group on Energy Efficiency and Sustainability (GREENS), University of Southern Santa Catarina (UNISUL), Florianópolis, Brazil and Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance, (CEENRG), University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 10 August 2022

Issue publication date: 5 January 2023




This paper aims to develop an improved and harmonized approach to interdisciplinarity in education for sustainable development (ESD)within higher education institutions (HEIs), focusing on maximizing the mobilization of students from all academic disciplines. An attempt is made to reconcile varying strategies for the implementation of interdisciplinary ESD content in HEIs, studying the relative merit and benefit of those strategies and crafting a new approach to combining them, where possible.


This work relies on a robust review and analysis of existing literature proposals on the implementation of ESD in HEIs to elaborate an integrated approach to interdisciplinarity. Specifically, a scoping literature review is applied, analyzing the existing approaches to ESD in HEIs as well as the challenges observed in their implementation. Using this theoretical framework, this paper evaluates the compatibility and efficiency of the approaches currently implemented. Based on this analysis, an integrative approach is outlined, building upon and combining existing proposals.


Building on existing literature, this study identifies two main trends for interdisciplinarity in ESD in HEIs: integration into existing disciplinary curricula and new, stand-alone ESD curricula. This paper suggests adopting the two approaches simultaneously, to reach students from all academic disciplines, especially those with minimal exposure to ESD through their own discipline. Furthermore, this paper stresses that these dual curricula strategies should be combined with further interdisciplinary research initiatives as well as extensive leveraging of technology and e-learning.


This study bridges the gap between diverging visions for ESD in HEIs, harmonizing strategies from the literature to outline a new, multilateral strategy. Furthermore, it extensively studies the need for increased engagement into ESD of students from underrepresented disciplines, including the humanities. This engagement has been little addressed in the literature, rendering the proposed approach original insofar as it outlines the ways to improve current approaches to ESD in HEIs.



This study was conducted by the Centre for Sustainable Development (Greens), from the University of Southern Santa Catarina (Unisul) and Ânima Institute – AI, in the context of the project BRIDGE - Building Resilience in a Dynamic Global Economy: Complexity across scales in the Brazilian Food-Water-Energy Nexus; funded by the Newton Fund, Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa e Inovação do Estado de Santa Catarina (FAPESC), Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível superior (CAPES), National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and the Research Councils United Kingdom (RCUK).


Mokski, E., Leal Filho, W., Sehnem, S. and Andrade Guerra, J.B.S.O.d. (2023), "Education for sustainable development in higher education institutions: an approach for effective interdisciplinarity", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 96-117.



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