Oppilaitosten kestävän kehityksen sertifiointi

Sustainable development certification of educational establishments


Towards sustainable future

Improving skills related to sustainable development is essential for us all if we want to cope with the huge challenges brought by the climate change, increasing consumption of nature resources, decreasing of biodiversity, social problems, and development issues in many countries of the world. Schools and educational establishments have an important mission in supporting the growth of their students as environmentally and socially responsible and skilled citizens who are able to consider the aspects of sustainable development in their work and everyday lives.

National strategies

In Finland, the Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development and the Ministry of Education have elaborated national strategies of education for sustainable development (2006). According to the targets of these strategies, all schools and educational establishments have sustainable development programmes by 2010, and 15% of schools and educational establishments have been certified for their sustainability work by 2014. Sustainable development is also incorporated as a comprehensive, subject crossing theme in the national core curricula of general and vocational education.

Environmental certification

Year 2000, Trade Union of Education in Finland OAJ took the initiative in preparing environmental criteria to help schools and educational establishments in their work for sustainable development. Environmental criteria and a certification system were developed in the Life Environment project Envedu (2001-2004), which received financial support from the European Commission and the Finnish Ministry of the Environment.

The participants in the project were the Trade Union of Education in Finland OAJ, the OKKA Foundation, National Board of Education, Hyvinkää-Riihimäki Vocational Adult Education Centre, SYKLI Environmental School of Finland, University of Oulu, University of Joensuu and Cooperative Eco-One. From 2004 onwards, the OKKA Foundation has been responsible for the management of the certification system.

The OKKA Foundation

The OKKA Foundation is a foundation for teaching, education and personal development supporting the educational sector. Its founding organisations are the Trade Union of Education in Finland OAJ and several teachers’ associations in vocational sector.

Sustainable development certification

New SD criteria

During 2010, the environmental criteria and certification system were updated to cover the environmental, economic, social and cultural aspects of sustainability. The criteria apply to the basic education and general and vocational upper secondary education, and vocational and liberal adult education.

The new criteria and related self-evaluation tools are based on the principle of quality circle (plan, do, check, act), and are applicable with quality systems. They provide a systematic tool for the planning of teaching and constructing sustainable development programmes.

The criteria include sustainability themes such as responsible procurements, recycling and prevention of waste, energy and water, nutrition and health, safety, wellbeing of staff and students, cultural environment and cultural diversity. The idea is that the school selects annually one or more themes which are implemented in teaching and school culture.

Aims of the certification system

The main aims of the certification system are:

  • development of the quality of teaching, learning environment and operation of educational establishments,
  • implementation of education for sustainable development in teaching and school culture with a comprehensive approach.

The desired impacts on the school level are:

  • Increased students’ awareness and commitment to sustainable development
  • Sustainability-skilled students entering the working life
  • Improved safety, wellbeing and cooperation of the staffs and students
  • Cost savings in the operation of schools (waste, water, energy, etc.)
  • Increased interaction between the society and cooperation with external stakeholders in promoting sustainable development
  • School’s responsible profile (certification)

Applying the certificate

Before a school can apply for the Sustainable Development Certificate, it has to carry out a self-assessment. Furthermore, an independent, external auditor carries out an audit in the school. The school applies for the Environmental Certificate from the OKKA Foundation.

The certificate is free of charge, but the school compensates the auditor for the costs due to the planning and implementation of the external audit. The certificate is valid for a three-year period at a time.

By October 2015, the environmental/sustainable development certificate has been awarded to 84 educational establishments.

Applying the certificate

Certification system

The OKKA Foundation is responsible for maintaining and developing of the certification system which contains

  • criteria for integrating sustainability issues in the management, teaching and maintenance activities of educational establishments,
  • wide supporting material for the sustainable development work of educational institutions available on the certification website,
  • nation-wide auditor network which implements evaluation and development of the operation of schools and educational establishments,
  • teacher training courses supporting the construction of sustainable development programs, qualification and supplementary courses for auditors,
  • possibility for external evaluation and certification.

The OKKA Foundation has a wide cooperation network to promote certification and sustainable development work in schools and educational establishments. Implementation and development of the certification system is done with support from the Ministry of Education.

OKKA operates in projects and provides teacher training on sustainable development issues together with several partners. Close cooperation is also done with the Eco-Schools programme which is managed by the Finnish Association for Environmental Education. Sustainable Development Certification is not designed as a rival but a complementary system for the Eco-Schools programme.

Certification system

Theoretical approach

Theoretical approach of the sustainable development (SD) criteria is based on the following aspects:

  • All dimensions of sustainable development included (ecological, economic, social and cultural)
  • Holistic view to the school as an organisation promoting education for sustainable development (ESD)
  • Quality approach and model of continuous improvement
  • Pedagogical model of ESD

1. All dimensions of SD included

The starting point for the development of the SD criteria was to integrate the viewpoints of environmental, economic, social and cultural dimensions of sustainable development. This can be done in two ways. First, it is important to develop the school curricula and pedagogical approach towards cross-curricular teaching and systemic thinking.

Secondly, the aspects of sustainable development must be taken into account in the development of school's operational culture and everyday activities of the learning environments. The idea is that the school must act as it teaches.

Elements of sustainable development in school culture

2. Holistic view to school

It is important to understand the holistic nature of ESD. The main point is to learn skills for creating a sustainable future. Learning does not take place only at individual level. It has also institutional and global levels. This means that we must pay attention not only to the learning of students, but also to the learning of the school as an organisation, as well as learning of the society and the world population.

In education for sustainable development, learning is at the same time implementing the change towards sustainable future.

Of course, one single school cannot solve the problems of the world. But it is important to understand that schools and educational establishments are vital operators in institutional change towards sustainable development. Therefore schools' work for SD must be seen as development of teaching and learning, organisational development of management, learning environment and school culture, as well as creating cooperation and networks with the external partners and society.

Implementation of ESD in schools

3. Quality approach

The structure of the SD criteria is based on the continuous improvement model known from quality thinking: plan, do, check, act. The idea is that school's work for SD leads to a positive circle of development.

The three parts of the criteria are named as "Planning", "Implementation" and "Follow-up, evaluation and development".

The most important aspects of Planning are

  • Sustainable development values of the school
  • Awareness and implementation of statutory requirements related to SD
  • Organisation and resources for SD work
  • Sustainable development action programme of the school
  • Integration of SD in the curricula

The second part, Implementation is divided into two aspects:

  • Implementation of SD themes
  • Implementation of teaching

Follow-up, evaluation and development contains aspects that are related to

  • Indicators and evaluation procedure of SD
  • Development of operation and reporting

Sustainability Criteria: process model

4. Pedagogical model of ESD

The part of the criteria concerning implementation of teaching is based on the model of education for sustainable development prepared for this purpose in cooperation with pedagogical experts. The model contains the most important aspects that can be identified in several theories of ESD. The idea of the model has been to find a simple structure that supports both evaluation and planning of teaching.

The parts of the pedagogical model are

  • 1) Knowledge of the environment,
  • 2) Cognitive skills, and
  • 3) Action skills and experiences.
Knowledge of the environment

The target of learning knowledge of the environment is understanding the ecological, social, cultural an economic environment in which we live and act every day. If we want to find a sustainable way of living, we have to understand the function of nature, society and the world, as well as background and possible solutions for sustainable development issues.

Cognitive skills

However, the most important thing is not learning the existing knowledge, but cognitive skills that are essential for using the knowledge and implementing change. The cognitive skills most often related to ESD are systems thinking, critical thinking and future thinking (see the popup "Pedagogical model of ESD used in the criteria" below). It is important that teaching is organised in such a way that these skills are used for processing sustainability issues.

Action skills and experiences

The growth to a builder of sustainable future also requires action skills and experiences that stimulate affective dimension of learning. Practising and learning of environmentally and socially responsible ways of action can take place in schools' own learning environment.

The target of using learning environments outside the school is to create experiences through which it is possible to deepen the personal environmental relationship of the students and create personal meanings for sustainability issues. In addition to natural environments, also constructed and cultural environments as well as the society with all its functions are good learning environments for ESD.

Active citizenship

Learning the skills of interaction, participation and influencing is an essential part of ESD. These skills can also been seen as skills of democracy or citizenship. It is important that schools can provide students with an operational culture in which every member of the school community has possibilities to participate and influence in the common issues.

Possibilities for participation and influencing should also be searched outside the school from the local community and through participative projects between other schools and organisations.

For vocational training and education is designed own pedagogical model which is based on the ESD aspects described above. The model is structured to comply with the evaluation criteria for skills demonstrations set in the national vocational core curricula (see diagram below).

Pedagogical model of ESD used in the criteria

Pedagogical model for vocational training and education

Sustainable development programme

Sustainable development programme is a tool for systematic development of school's work for SD. The SD criteria are designed to support construction of SD programme. The school can annually select one or more themes from the table presented in the criteria and plan the targets and actions based on the identified needs of improvement. On the certification website there is a databank of examples on how to implement different SD themes in teaching and school culture.

The central idea of the programme is that the actions for SD are focused both teaching and development of learning environments and schools culture. The results of the programme should be evaluated and the programme updated annually.

It is important that the students, teachers and other school staff participate in the selection of themes and planning of the programme targets and actions as well as evaluation of the results.

Table of SD themes in the criteria

Using the criteria for constructing SD programme

Example: energy theme

SD criteria for download

Download the Sustainable Development Criteria for Educational Establishments

General education

Vocational education

Presentation of the Sustainable Development Certification

SD Certification

Contact information

Sustainable Development Certification of Educational Establishments:

Planning manager, Mr. Erkka Laininen
The OKKA Foundation
Rautatieläisenkatu 6 A
FIN-00520 Helsinki, Finland
Tel:+ 358 50 3729 195