In order to bridge the seemly disparate topic areas of sustainability, our team created a simple overarching framework for teaching, considering, and inculcating the ideas and principles of sustainability to educators. The Sustainability Education Framework for Teachers (SEFT) (Warren, Archambault, & Foley, 2014) builds upon knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for problem solving with respect to complex sustainability challenges. The goal of the framework is for educators to be able to understand: (i) the broad, complex nature of sustainability, (ii) the problem-oriented, solution driven nature of sustainability, and (iii) how sustainability connects to them as both citizens and educators. SEFT consists of four interconnected approaches that are meant to offer a critical and creative lens for viewing sustainability problems and solutions. SEFT embraces four ways of thinking, envisioning, and tackling new challenges. Meant to be used as a lens with which we see the world, the four ways of thinking aid in reconsidering the status quo and visioning for a more sustainable tomorrow.

When it comes to sustainability education, we need to develop particular literacies that build upon knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for solving the real world challenges that face our growing population.


Futures ThinkingValues ThinkingSystems ThinkingStrategic Thinking

Futures thinking means thinking about how the past and present influence the future. To live more sustainably, we must appreciate the process by which the solutions of the past have become the problems of today. We must anticipate how the solutions of today might become the problems of tomorrow. We need to imagine the potential consequences, both positive and negative, of human activity, and manage that activity to progress toward a more sustainable future. As educators, we should consider the range of possible futures so that we can educate society to envision and create a more sustainable tomorrow. What skills are needed in the next century to make effective decisions? What will be important to tomorrow’s decision makers? How can we teach the next generation to consider a multitude of possible futures?

Values thinking means being able to examine the effects our values have on our decisions. The influence of values on our decisions is often unconscious, and people tend not to think about their values. Sometimes people don’t know exactly what their values are, or why they have them. This can make communication and education very difficult. Values thinking recognizes that different people have different values, and that particular values are neither good or bad. This can be especially difficult when someone else’s values do not align with your own. If you can express your own values, and be open to understanding the values of others, significant progress can be made in resolving differing points of view. Understanding other’s values can also help break through the barriers of prejudice, politics, and culture, among other areas.


Systems thinking means understanding how systems are interconnected, as well as understanding the dynamics within systems. A system is a configuration of parts connected and joined together by a web of relationships. This means that in systems, it is difficult to predict the outcome of a single change since many things are influenced in concert.

Strategic thinking means being able to develop a strategy, or plan, to achieve a particular vision. Strategic thinking frames every decision by how it contributes to achieving that vision. When we work toward a sustainable future, strategic thinking helps us progress through a long-term strategy, rather than reacting to problems with short-term fixes. Actions based on strategic thinking can sometimes seem counterproductive, because the long term goal of the vision takes precedence over immediate satisfaction. However, what seems like a step backward in the short term might actually result in a long term gain of three steps ahead.

Warren, A., Archambault, L., & Foley, R., (2014). Sustainability Education Framework for Teachers: Developing sustainability literacy through futures, values, systems, and strategic thinking. Journal of Sustainability Education, 6, 1-14.