Professor Stephen Sterling

Professor Stephen Sterling

Emeritus Professor

Educational Development (Library and Educational Development)



Responsible for supporting curriculum development and pedagogic change and
a research programme related to exploring the implications of sustainabililty for higher education and Plymouth University in particular 

Stephen Sterling is Professor of Sustainability Education, Centre for Sustainable Futures (CSF) at Plymouth University, and an advisor to the UK Higher Education Academy on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), and has worked as a consultant in environmental and sustainability education in the academic and NGO fields nationally and internationally for many years. 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 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. His work at CSF involves leading the research team on sustainability education, and developing strategies to support curriculum change across the institution. His book (with David Selby and Paula Jones, 2010) Sustainability Education: Perspectives and Practice Across Higher Education was acclaimed by the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership (CPSL) as one of the 'Top 40 books of 2010'. His new book, published by Routledge in 2013 is 'The Sustainable University - Process and Prospects' . He was commissioned by UNESCO to write one the three papers informing the UN high-level World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development, November 2014.

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

Member of the Institution of Environmental Sciences (M I Env Sc)
Distinguished Fellow of the Schumacher Institute
Associate of the Higher Education Academy

Roles on external bodies

Visiting Professor, Centre for Research on Environment and Education, University of Bath

Visiting Research Fellow, CCCI, London South Bank University

Member, International Editorial Board Environmental Education Research

Advisor to the Higher Education Academy

External Examiner for the Open University.

Member of the UNESCO Expert Reference Group for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD)

Member, Socio-scientific Advisory Committee, World Environmental Education Congress

Member of editorial board of Envigogika – Czech environmental education journal

Referee for
Sustainability journal
Journal of Cleaner Production
Policy Press and Earthscan
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)
International Journal of Sustainability in HE



Staff serving as external examiners

External Examiner,

  • University of Aberdeen
  • University of St Andrews



Research interests

Transformative learning and learning systems, systemic thinking, learning and sustainable lifestyles.

Current research includes:

  • ‘Energy Literacy in Higher Education’ (PedRIO)
  • ‘Investigating innovative pedagogies at Schumacher College and their wider potential in HE’ (PedRIO)
  • ‘The impact and effectiveness of carbon visualisation technology on awareness, understanding and behaviour’ (CSF)
  • ‘Weaving the future’: stakeholder perceptions of skills for employability through interdisciplinary learning in Education for Sustainable Development at taught Master’s level’ (HEA/UWE)

Other research

Critical friend to HEFCE LGM project ‘Leading Curriculum Change for Sustainability - Strategic Approaches to Quality Enhancement’

Co-chair of CSF-r (Education for Sustainability Research Group)

Critical friend to HEA Green Academy programme




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

Lectures, presentations and workshops in 2012

  • 16 February Keynote: ‘Transformative Learning and change for sustainability at Plymouth University’’, UGAF conference (Universities Green Academic Footprint), UNICA (Network of Universities from the Capitals of Europe), University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

STEPHEN STERLING: Lectures, presentations and workshops in 2011

  • 19 Staff Development Seminar, Faculty of Education UoP. ‘Education for Sustainable Development in the Curriculum’.
  •  27 January ‘Sustainability Education and HE – challenge and change’ Sustainability Education and Training Webinar – Earthscan Earthcast. 
  • 2 March Keynote: ‘On the Whole: holism, learning and wellbeing in uncertain times’ Care Well being: personal, social and global approaches to ESDD/GC in ITE, UK ESD/GC Teacher Education network London South Bank University. 
  • 18 March Festival of Research Contribution to Festival of Research, ‘Interdisciplinarity, sustainabililty and pedagogic research – progress and potential’.
  • 22 March 2011 ‘Sustainability education and institutional change at the University of Plymouth’, Green Academy residential, University of Leeds, Higher Education Academy
  • 14 April Inaugural lecture 'Are we nearly there yet? Learning, education and response-ability in an age of uncertainty’ Thursday 14th April 2011, University of Plymouth
  • 6 June ‘Pedagogy and wellbeing in uncertain times’ UPC Annual Conference.
  • 7 July The ‘Future Fit Framework’: an Introductory Guide to Sustainability in the Curriculum, VC’s conference, University of Plymouth 
  • 16 September ‘The role of campus in strengthening Higher Education for Sustainable Development’. Presentation and chair of Roundtable, UNESCO Chair Conference: ‘Higher Education for Sustainable Development: Moving the Agenda Forward’ 14-16 September, University of Luneburg.
  • 21 October ‘Sustainability and the Curriculum’, Petroc College, CPD day, Barnstaple
  • 26 November. ‘Teaching and learning sustainability at the University of Plymouth, in the context of UK and European developments’. Heads of University Management and Administration in Europe (HUMANE), Brussels.


Conferences organised

15 - 17th September 2009 All our Futures Conference 2, University of Plymouth

2008 All our Futures Conference, University of Plymouth