Whole-School Approaches to Sustainability: An International Review of Sustainable School Programs

Henderson, K and D. Tilbury

Executive summary

There are a number of nationwide, whole-school initiatives developing around the world that reflect a range of innovative approaches to sustainability. This study was commissioned to review some of these programs and document their experiences, achievements and lessons learnt. The research has been undertaken by Macquarie University and commissioned by the Department of the Environment and Heritage, Australian Government, over a 4 month period from March-June, 2004.

This research study documents several whole-school sustainability initiatives, such as Enviroschools, New Zealand; Green School Award, Sweden; Green School Project, China; FEE Eco-schools and ENSI. In addition, this study has been informed by other initiatives such as Learning through Landscapes, Learnscapes and Evergreen.

The review reflects upon the experiences and learning of these programs in an attempt to answer the questions: 

What does a sustainable school look like? 
Is there a formula for 'how' to run an effective and wide-reaching whole-school sustainability program? 
Is there evidence of effective methods to engage the community in these endeavours? 
How can a program be effective? 
The study attempts to address these questions as well as identify critical success factors for whole-school sustainability programs.

A Sustainable School is the focus of learning in the community. It involves all stakeholders in contributing to but also gaining from a partnership approach to Education for Sustainability. A number of key features which characterise a Sustainable School are identified.

This study found that there is a lack of evaluation and research findings to address questions regarding implementation and effectiveness conclusively. However, there is some evidence which points to a number of critical success factors for whole-school sustainability programs. These include: alignment with national government priorities; access to expertise in EE and/or EFS during program design and implementation; significant and continuous funding; alignment with EFS approaches; investment in professional development of program team as well as school partners; creating links with EE initiatives already in operation; establishment of multistakeholder partnerships.

This study has documented through research as well as anecdotal evidence that whole-school approaches to sustainability have an important contribution to make in shifting our communities towards sustainability. National policy and initiatives which support these approaches at the state and local level enhance involvement as well as quality of practice. A number of recommendations, relating to research, program frameworks and practice, are made in this report.

Pedagogical Area
  • education for sustainability
Delivery Area
  • school based
  • whole school change
Outcome Area
  • environmental knowledge, attitude and awareness
  • stewardship behavior
  • school change
Participant Area
  • student
  • educator
  • program
  • environment
Age Area
  • elementary (6-11 years old)
  • middle school (12-14 years old)
  • high school (14-18 years old)