Professor Stephen Sterling

Professor Stephen Sterling

Emeritus Professor

Educational Development (Library and Educational Development)



Dr Stephen Sterling is Emeritus Professor of Sustainability Education at the Centre for Sustainable Futures/Sustainable Earth Institute, University of Plymouth, UK. At Plymouth, he was Head of Sustainability Education for many years. Stephen has worked in environmental and sustainability education in the academic and NGO fields nationally and internationally for over four decades, including as a consultant and advisor on UNESCO’S Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) programmes. He has an international reputation as a thought leader in sustainability education and is extensively published in this area. His research interest is in ecological thinking, systemic change, and transformative learning at individual and institutional scales to help meet the challenge of accelerating the educational and learning response to the sustainability agenda and multiple global crises.

 He has been widely recognized for many years as one of the leading voices in sustainability education, and is in demand as an international keynote speaker. His first book (co-edited with John Huckle) was Education for Sustainability (Earthscan, 1996), and this was followed by the influential Schumacher Briefing Sustainable Education – Re-visioning learning and change (Green Books 2001), which remains a best seller. He also co-founded the first masters course in the UK on sustainability education (at London South Bank University), and led the WWF project on systems thinking Linking Thinking – new perspectives on thinking and learning for sustainability. His book 'The Sustainable University' (2013) is based partly on experience at Plymouth. 

His research interests lie in the interrelationships between ecological thinking, systemic change, and learning at individual and institutional scales to help meet the challenge of accelerating the educational response to the sustainability agenda. 

Winner of the VC Enterprise Awards for 'Outstanding Contribution' to the university, with regard to the sustainability agenda.


Phd in Education, Systems Thinking and Sustainability, University of Bath

Diploma in Advanced Educational Studies, University of Reading

Postgraduate Certificate in Education, University of London

BSc Econ (Hons) University of London

Background in teaching, international consultancy on education and sustainability, academic tutor at London South Bank University. Extensive publications record.

Professional membership

Distinguished Fellow of the Schumacher Institute
National Teaching Fellow, Higher Education Academy/Advance HE

Senior Fellow, International Association of Universities (IAU)

Roles on external bodies

Stepped down from former roles upon retirement



Research interests

See my website




Stephen Sterling publications 2007-12

Sterling, S (in press) The Future Fit Framework – An introductory guide to teaching and learning for sustainability in HE, The Higher Education Academy.    

D. Cotton, S. Sterling, (2012) ‘Introduction’ in D. Cotton, S. Sterling, V. Neal and J. Winter (Eds) (2012), Putting the ‘S’ into ED: Education for Sustainable Development in Educational Development, SEDA.
McEwen, L. J., Strachan, G., Sterling, S., Powell. J, and Kelly, J (submitted to Planet) ‘Weaving the future’: student and staff perceptions of interdisciplinary learning in ESD at taught postgraduate level’ GEES, Plymouth University.

Stephen Sterling: publications 2011
Sterling, S (2011) in Harding, S ‘Goodwin book’ ‘Towards anticipative education – learning by design’, Floris Books, Edinburgh.

Sterling, S (2011) ‘Transformative learning and sustainability: sketching the conceptual ground’, Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, Issue 5, 2010 -11, 17-33

Chalkley, B and Sterling, S (2011) ‘Hard Times in Higher Education: The Closure of Subject Centres and the Implications for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)’ Sustainability Special Issue on Sustainable Education. 3(4),666-677.

Sterling, S (2011) ‘Learning for resilience, or the resilient learner?: towards a necessary reconciliation in a paradigm of sustainable education’, in Krasny,M, Lundholm, C and Plummer, R, (eds) Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems: The Role of Learning and Education, Routledge

Stephen Sterling: publications 2008-10
Blake, J and Sterling, S (in press) ‘Tensions and transitions: effecting change towards sustainability at a mainstream university through staff living and learning at an alternative, civil society college’, Environmental Education Research.

Sterling S (2010) ‘What is learning for sustainable development?’ in Witthaus, M., McCandless,K, and Lambert, R., Tomorrow Today, Tudor Rose/UNESCO, Paris. pp32-33.

Sterling S (2010) ‘Living ‘in’ the Earth – towards an education for our times’, The Journal of Education for Sustainable Development. Vol 4 no 2, pp213-218.

Sterling, S (2010) ‘Learning for resilience, or the resilient learner?: towards a necessary reconciliation in a paradigm of sustainable education’, Environmental Education Research, Volume 16 issue 5. pp. 511 - 528

Sterling, S, Jones, P and Selby, D (eds) (2010) Sustainability Education: perspectives and practice across higher education, Earthscan, London.

Jones, P.,Selby,D.and Sterling, S. (2010) More than the sum of their parts? Interdisciplinarity and sustainability, in Sterling, S, Jones, P and Selby, D (2010) Sustainability Education: perspectives and practice across higher education, Earthscan, London.

Sterling, S (2009) ‘From A to B – towards a system alert to the signs of our times’, Universities That Count Annual Report, UTC, Bristol.

Sterling, S (2009) ‘Response-ability: supporting education for extra-ordinary times’ Earth newsletter, Environmental Association for Univerities and Colleges, April ’09.

Sterling, S, Blake J, and Kagawa, F (2009) Getting it together: Interdisciplinarity and Sustainability in the Higher Education Institution, Occasional Paper 3, Centre for Sustainable Futures, UoP.

Sterling, S (2009) ‘Towards ecological intelligence’ in Stibbe (2009) The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy – Skills for a changing world, Green Books, Dartington.

Sterling, S (2009) ‘Sustainable Education’ in Gray, D., Colucci-Gray, L. and Camino, E. (2009) Science, Society and Sustainability: Education and Empowerment for an Uncertain World, Routledge, New York and London.

Sterling, S (2009) Towards Sustainable Education, Environmental Scientist, 18 (1), pp. 19-21.

Sterling, S and Scott, W (eds), (2008) Special Issue on Education for Sustainable Development in HE Environmental Education Research (EER), vol 14, no 4.

Sterling, S and Witham, H (2008) ‘Pushing the boundaries: the work of the Higher Education Academy’s ESD Project’ Environmental Education Research vol 14, no 4, 399-412.

Sterling, S. and Scott, W. (2008) ‘Higher education and ESD in England: a critical commentary on recent intiatives’, Environmental Education Research vol 14, no 4, 386-398.

Stephen Sterling: publications 2007
Sterling, S and Gray-Donald, (eds), (2007) Special Issue on Sustainability and Education: Towards a Culture of Critical Commitment, International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development (IJISD), vol 2, issue 3/4.

Sterling, S (2007) ‘From the push of fear, to the pull of hope: learning by design’ , Special WEEC edition of the South African Journal of Environmental Education, Environmental Education Association of South Africa, vol 24, 30-34.

Scott, W. and Sterling, S. (2007). Cultural shift or accommodation? A snapshot of education for sustainable development in English higher education, in: Pipere, A. (Ed) Education and sustainable development: Problems, solutions and perspectives. Institute of Sustainable Development, Daugavpils University, Latvia, vol 2, 80-98.
Sterling, S (2007) ‘Riding the storm: towards a connective cultural consciousness’, in Wals, AEJ (ed), Social Learning toward a more Sustainable World: Principles, Perspectives, and Praxis, Waginengen Academic Publishers, Waginengen, NL. ISBN 978 90 8686 031 9
Scott, W. and Sterling, S. 2007. ‘England Report’ for First international meeting on Implementation of Education for Sustainable Development for Higher Education Institutes (IMESD) Amsterdam.



Reports & invited lectures