Lyfta focus area: Sustainability & global citizenship

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In this piece we consider sustainability and global citizenship, two separate but interlinked concepts in education. We explore definitions, recommendations and some of the innovative ways in which Lyfta and its storyworlds can support sustainability education in schools.
Key definitions

The recent government policy paper ‘Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems’ (April 2022) presents the need for more climate and sustainability education in schools. If these associated action plans are to go beyond knowledge into transformative action (as the strategy advocates), then we argue that they need to be accompanied by a sense of human interconnectedness and shared responsibility - something at the heart of the idea of global citizenship.

UN's Sustainable Development Goals

Though all related terms can be contested, there is a general understanding amongst educators that sustainability and global citizenship education relates to learning experiences aimed at developing an understanding of key global challenges such as climate change to everything linked to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This type of education also includes opportunities to reflect upon this learning and act where possible.

Sustainability is considered to have three pillars - economic, environmental and social (sometimes reframed as people, planet and profits!). Linked to these are key sustainability areas (e.g. food, energy, water, waste, and ecology) and sustainability principles and behaviours (e.g. resilience or regeneration, see this piece by Daniel C. Wahl). Often the word ‘sustainable' is accompanied by the word ‘development’ when talking about action and progress. An oft-quoted definition comes from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 (referred to as the Brundtland report): ‘sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’

Sustainable development is also the term used in the global learning focused target of the UN’s SDGs, where we find an array of interlinked concepts:

By 2030 ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.


In the UK, the concept of global citizenship education (often considered in relation to human rights education or environmental education for example) is also regularly used. A useful definition comes from Oxfam who have produced a range of resources and guides on this theme:

Education for global citizenship is a framework to equip learners for critical and active engagement with the challenges and opportunities of life in a fast-changing and interdependent world. It is transformative, developing the knowledge and understanding, skills, values and attitudes that learners need both to participate fully in a globalised society and economy, and to secure a more just, secure and sustainable world than the one they have inherited.


Internationally, UNESCO have also been particularly active in advocating for global citizenship and SDG4.7, who suggest global citizenship education has three dimensions of learning - cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioural.

  • Cognitive: knowledge and thinking skills necessary to better understand the world and its complexities.
  • Socio-emotional: values, attitudes and social skills that enable learners to develop affectively, psychosocially, and physically and to enable them to live together with others respectfully and peacefully.
  • Behavioural: conduct, performance, practical application and engagement. (Source:

Global citizenship education is regularly accompanied by pedagogical theories linked to transformative learning, postcolonialism, critical pedagogy, problem-based learning, futures thinking, values based learning, and participatory and experiential methodologies.

Concepts such as power, control, sustainable development, cultural capital, equality and social justice are regularly at the heart of resources and projects. For an overview of the many resources and publications available in this area, please see DiverseEd’s Global Citizenship Toolkit (also written by this author). This is to some extent also the case for sustainability education, where we also find pedagogical approaches linked to outdoor learning and placed-based environment education (for more information, see the UK National Association for Environmental Education).

Image from the storyworld called Mother of the Forest, Philippines.
How can Lyfta support sustainability and global citizenship in schools?

To meet key sustainable development targets and goals we believe at Lyfta that it is crucial to build a meaningful sense of global citizenship and global social justice. We cannot just present to children the facts around melting ice-caps or deforestation and expect them to instantly feel or understand the impact on those living thousands of miles away.

Similarly, we do not always think there are necessarily clear answers or solutions in global citizenship education, that sometimes it is more about developing the critical literacy, emotional literacy and intellectual rigour in order to face uncertainties and navigate unknown (and unknowable) futures.

Environmental learning that helps us better connect with nature and build sustainable wellbeing is vital, but to help us move beyond the local we know that human stories from around the world can help with:

  • Building a sense of human connection around the world to bridge the gap between being ‘aware’ of major global challenges and connecting with their importance in a meaningful and human way.
  • Building key skills for a changing world - especially empathy (e.g. with those more immediately threatened by climate change or unsustainable behaviours)
  • Demonstrating, through human stories, key values for and different perspectives about a fast-changing and increasingly uncertain world.
  • Illustrating and humanising key abstract concepts so prominent in sustainable development (such as what is meant by resilience, the circular economy, green skills and any of the concepts referenced in the UN’s SDGs).
  • Providing virtual experiences of people and places that would otherwise be unachievable for a variety of reasons (from Covid-19, to ecological and/or socio-economic reasons).
  • Helping support understanding of place and location so essential for children’s understanding of sustainable development.
Image from the storyworld called One Billion Trees, China

In case study and impact research we have been working with teachers to better understand how Lyfta can support the theme of sustainability, and the following activities and resources have been especially successful.

  • Using a storyworld such as Rob and the Beach to introduce the interlinked themes of sustainable living, responsible consumption, awareness raising and plastic pollution - also using this storyworld to launch the SDGs across the school see this case study of St Laurence Primary.
  • Finding sustainability themed resources and lesson plans in the teacher dashboard by filtering for specific Sustainable Development Goal numbers and topics - for example, sustainable farming in Tanzania; sustainable fishing in San Francisco; sustainable fashion in Kenya; beekeeping and sustainable living in Germany and Peru; reusing and recycling in the UK (phone boxes) and Argentina; entrepreneurship and sustainability in Ethiopia;
  • Imagining alternative ways of being with nature and living by exploring the many multi-sensorial aspects of sustainability linked storyworlds such as: Mother of the Forest (biodiversity and conservation in the Philippines; High Water (impact of flooding, climate change and environmental crisis in Guatemala); and One Billion Trees (climate activism and planting trees in the desert in China).
  • Incorporating sustainability, nature and animal themes into core subjects, for example inspiring reading as detailed in a blog by our Professional Development Lead, Anna, here.
  • Using content to catalyse lively discussions on sustainability and global citizenship themes amongst students, creating a space for student voice and reflections on moving to action or change - as we recently did with over 1500 students in our Earth Day lesson.
  • Using the positive and empowering stories contained within Lyfta to balance out the sometimes seemingly overwhelming and disempowering dimensions of global world issues and challenges.
  • Creating (in both hard copy and digital copy forms) a ‘Lyfta Passport’ that encourages reflection on the learning as well as building a sense of accumulating a bank of experiences and perspectives from around the world.
Image from the immersive 360° space in the storyworld, High Water, Guatemala.
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Sustainability & Global Citizenship
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