Key competencies in sustainability in higher education—toward an agreed-upon reference framework

Katja Brundiers, Matthias Barth, Gisela Cebrián, Matthew Cohen, Liliana Diaz, Sonya Doucette-Remington, Weston Dripps, Geoffrey Habron, Niki Harré, Meghann Jarchow, Kealalokahi Losch, Jessica Michel, Yoko Mochizuki, Marco Rieckmann, Roderic Parnell, Peter Walker, Michaela Zint

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

277 Scopus citations


Hundreds of sustainability programs have emerged at universities and colleges around the world over the past 2 decades. A prime question for employers, students, educators, and program administrators is what competencies these programs develop in students. This study explores convergence on competencies for sustainability programs. We conducted a Delphi study with 14 international experts in sustainability education on the framework of key competencies in sustainability by Wiek et al. (Sustain Sci 6: 203–218, 2011), the most frequently cited framework to date. While experts generally agreed with the framework, they propose two additional competencies, suggest a hierarchy of competencies, and specify learning objectives for students interested in a career as sustainability researcher. The refined framework can inform program development, implementation, and evaluation to enhance employability of graduates and facilitate comparison of sustainability programs worldwide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-29
Number of pages17
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Curriculum development
  • Education for sustainable development
  • Key competencies
  • Learning objectives
  • Sustainability problem solving

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Health(social science)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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