Few issues are so important but so elusive as sustainable development and there can be very few such issues indeed where the role of learning is so crucially important to our future. To many people, sustainable development is a difficult and nebulous concept and yet its main themes are fundamental to the daily lives of everybody on our planet. People from all walks of life, whether they be politicians, business leaders, journalists, educators, working people, students, parents or people in retirement, readily appreciate and often have strong views about the main components of sustainable development. How we generate enough wealth to enjoy a good quality of life; how we organise our society so that this quality of life is available to all; how we do so in a way that protects our wonderfully rich but fragile natural world are all things that to greater or lesser degrees are understood to be important. But learning about sustainable development is more than learning about economic development, about social policy or environmental protection. It is a question of learning about how these three fundamental areas are intimately related. It is a question of learning about the perspective of time.
There are hard issues to tackle. The resources of our natural world help us to create the wealth that, if wisely used, will enable people to enjoy a good standard of living. Yet we must not use such resources in a way that compromises the ability of future generations to create good standards of living for themselves in turn. In particular, we must not allow our pursuit of wealth generation in the short term to mutilate or destroy our natural environment, for not only can this undermine the important cultural and aesthetic contribution that the environment makes to our lives, but can imperil the very survival of countless people.
Sustainable development presents a complex and challenging learning agenda and raises many questions. What skills are needed to learn effectively across all of the many components of sustainable development? How can learning experiences best be designed for all of the many stakeholders for whom such learning is, or should be, essential? How does one create learning programmes suited respectively to governments, to the world of work, to the formal education sector and to lifelong learners? How do we measure the effectiveness of different vehicles for learning about sustainable development? And how do we measure the effectiveness, or otherwise, of the outcomes in the field of sustainable development itself?
It is this crucial interface between sustainable development and learning that is