Taking a closer look at sustainability
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Taking a closer look at sustainability

07 January 2020 By Melissa Bell - Sustainable Procurement Manager at YPO

children running in a field

Sustainability is a word that most people have heard of, but what does it actually mean?

In 1987 the Brundtland Commission, established by the United Nations, published a report called ‘Our Common Future’. The commission aimed to unite countries to pursue sustainable development together. Over 30 years later, the most common definition of sustainability still comes from this report:

“Sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The three pillars of sustainability


The notion of sustainability is generally recognised as having three pillars – economic, environment and social (also known as profits, planet and people). Yet most people hear the word sustainability and only think about the environment.

Social value is also a term that is becoming increasingly important and common definitions of social value include having regard to economic, social and environmental well-being.

The obvious similarities between sustainability and social value are not hard to see when you consider these definitions however, they are often treated as separate concepts.

A focus on the devastating effects of climate change and reducing negative impacts on our environment, such as removing single-use plastic is very important to sustainable development, but it is only one third of the equation. For any school or educational establishment who truly wants to become more sustainably responsible, they also need to think about their social impact as well as their environmental impact.

The Sustainable Development Goals


In 2015, the United Nations launched The sustainable Development Goals (SDG's). These are a set of 17 goals that aim to target the most critical issues in the world, aiming to end poverty, hunger inequalities and fight climate change by 2030.


In order to achieve the goals, the government, business and individuals need to work together to build a better future for everyone. Education is key to this. Not only is Quality Education (ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all) a goal in itself, it is important for schools to promote the SDGs to make an impact on all the goals.

Promoting SDG's in schools


There are numerous ways in which schools can look at developing the SDGs, many of which school leaders are already working on. For example, encouraging girls to continue with STEM subjects. According to recent UCAS data, 35% of STEM students in higher education in the UK are women. And the data shows that between 2017 and 2018, only 19% of students studying for a computer sciences degree were female. Inspiring girls from a young age in STEM subjects reduces inequalities throughout their lifetime and can bring about real diversity into the workforce.


Teaching children about where the food on their plates comes from can help to promote a healthy relationship with food and start to tackle childhood obesity. Working with local government, charities and anchor institutions’ schemes can be implemented to alleviate some of the pressures of holiday hunger.

Preparing children to have the skills they need for higher education or go into the world of work is the primary focus of schools. This does not just entail teaching the curriculum or getting children ‘book smart’. The soft skills also required are essential to ensure that children leave school well rounded. “Decent Work and Economic Growth” will not be achieved with high numbers of young people classed as not in employment, education or training (NEET). Recent figures show that there are 792,000 NEETs in the UK which equates to 11.5% of all young people. Schools can look at supporting children with CV writing and interview skills preparations. Working with an organisation such as Inspiring The Future can connect schools with businesses and volunteers from the world of work to motivate children and give them an insight into a wide range of exciting jobs.


Taking a holistic approach to sustainability to increase positive environmental, economic and social impacts can really drive a change to make the world a better place.


To read more about sustainability sign up to receive Issue 7 of our Everything Curriculum: The Environment, which will be out in January, or explore our previous edition's.

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