Revisiting Education for Sustainable Development (ESD): Examining Anthropocentric Bias Through the Transition of Environmental Education to ESD


  • Helen Kopnina

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam Instituut voor Arbeids Studies, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
    • Correspondence to: Dr. Helen Kopnina, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdams Instituut voor ArbeidsStudies (AIAS), Plantage Muidergracht 12 1018 TV Amsterdam, the Netherlands. E-mail:

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Environmental education scholars have hailed the emergence of the discourse of education for sustainable development (ESD) as a progressive transition in the field. The author argues that there are some salient aspects present in sustainability discourse that present ethical paradoxes as well as empirical dilemmas. Discourse on sustainable development singles out economic development, which might have created the current ecological problems in the first place, as part of the solution. It is empirically questionable whether the industrial production necessary to expand the ‘economic pie’ to include the most dispossessed, is possible without further degrading the environment. In an educational context, ESD replaces a problem orientation associated with environmental education and shifts the focus to the inclusion of social issues and economic development. ESD masks its anthropocentric agenda and may in fact be counterproductive to the efficacy of environmental education in fostering a citizenry that is prepared to address the anthropogenic causes of environmental problems. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment