Sustainability in Teaching

Our goal is that every Aalto graduate could contribute to sustainability solutions. On this page you can find tips, tools and good practices for integrating sustainability into your teaching.
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Understanding sustainability

Sustainable development means human-led change towards a world, where humankind can survive and thrive within the ecological limits of our finite planet. Human well-being - now and in the future - depends on Earth's critical life-supporting systems, such as a stable climate, fertile soils and biodiversity. A sustainable future means sustaining a habitable planet while at the same time securing that humans meet their basic needs and have equal opportunities for a good life, e.g. through education, employment, equity and justice. 

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), as agreed jointly by the world's governments in 2015, are one manifestation of the global pursuit towards sustainability and a compilation of targets directing our actions towards achieving sustainability.  

Competencies and teaching methods for sustainability

Sustainability can be approached in teaching in many ways. A popular approach is to support students' competencies in problem-solving. In the case of sustainability challenges this requires abilities like understanding complex systems and system transitions, anticipation, values thinking, strategic thinking and interpersonal skills (e.g. Wiek et al 2011). 

Students' active role, especially experiential learning where students learn by doing and reflecting, supports the learning of these competencies. 

Identifying meaningful ways to integrate sustainability into your teaching

As a teacher, you have varying starting points for integrating sustainability in teaching depending among others on your subject field, the course and its objectives, and your possibilities to develop the course. These range e.g. from setting sustainability as a context of an individual exercise to redesigning an entire course. All of these are valuable and add on students' knowledge and competencies on sustainability:

  1. Encountering sustainability: How to set sustainability as a context of an assignment, a task or a course?
  2. Building meaningful connections: How to find the field or course specific perspective to sustainability?
  3. Enabling systemic understanding of sustainability: How to help students to learn systems level thinking?

Below you can find one example of sustainability integration as meaningful connection building and possible methods that you could use. More cases and methods will be published during Spring 2022.

Case: Building meaningful connections to sustainability in Land management

Photo of Kirsikka Riekkinen
Kirsikka Riekkinen

Kirsikka Riekkinen works as assistant professor in Land Management, in School of Engineering.

“I have used this assignment in advanced master’s level course in Land management. The course consists of 6 teaching sessions. After each session, the students complete a writing task answering predefined open-ended questions. After the first teaching session and introducing the topics of the course, one of the questions relates to land management and sustainable development goals (SDGs) and SDG targets. The idea of the writing task is to find at least three goals to which land management tools can affect. The students do not need to be precise in the causalities or mechanisms but find overall connections.

I think that this is a very rewarding and eye-opening task to do, since all the SDGs can be linked to course topics to some extent. Some of the students really study the goals and targets and find interesting connections. Such an easy ‘warm-up’ task is also good for the students, since it may foster their self-efficacy as a student and may help them to see the relevance and meaningfulness of what they are studying. The task is graded, because our students typically wish that what they do influences their course grade. The grading requirements are communicated to the students beforehand.“

Teaching resources for integrating sustainability

Support for integrating sustainability

This page is a work in progress, developed in cooperation with Aalto teachers, especially with Sustainability in Teaching Aalto pedagogical course participants. 

Pedagogical training: Sustainability in Teaching 3 cr, elective course, spring 2023

Are you interested in developing sustainability in your own teaching and discuss the themes with your colleagues?

Read more

Our plan: Solutions for sustainability

We help to solve grand challenges.

Read more
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