Sustainability: Celebrating a new approved learning frameworks principle - Part 2

This two part series has been contributed by Dr Sue Elliott, Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the University of New England, NSW.
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PART TWO- Sustainability in Practice

The approved learning frameworks V2.0 (AGDE, 2022) include a new principle of sustainability which specifies three dimensions to consider, economic, social and environmental. Whilst the ‘environmental sustainability’ is included in Quality Area 3 of the National Quality Standard, the remaining two sustainability dimensions, economic and social, may be new to many in our sector. There are a series of resources and networks to support your journey to include the additional dimensions of sustainability in your programs, practices and policies.

Connect with professional networks

The Australian Early Childhood Education for Sustainability (ECEfS) professional networks are long-standing networks that have much expertise to offer through resources, newsletters, professional centre visits, conferences and training opportunities. These networks operate in a number of states and territories and offer guidance and support from those who have been promoting and implementing this approach for many years:

Engage in personal professional learning

A number of Australian early childhood specific texts and freely available resources will support you and your service team to learn more about addressing climate change and sustainability. Consider what is most relevant to your service setting and where you are on your journey to identify which resources would be most appropriate:

  • The text by Julie Gaul and Deb Watson, Eco Smart: A sustainable standard for early education, explores how all the National Quality Standard areas can be linked to sustainability and offers specific practical guidance.  
  • The edited book by Julie Davis, Young children and the environment: Early education for sustainability was first published in 2010, is now into a third edition due in 2024. This text has been translated and taken up internationally, it includes both Australian and international research and practice and is well-illustrated with case studies. 
  • For any educators keen to explore current ECEfS research, the edited book Researching early childhood education for sustainability: Challenging assumptions and orthodoxies (Elliott, Ärlemalm-Hagsér & Davis, 2020) is available. This is the second volume of research collated by members of the Transnational Dialogues in ECEfS Research (TND), an international group established in 2010.

Other stakeholders in your local community can also assist in gathering more information, for example:

Gathering information will assist in sharing the worldviews and values that underpin educator sustainability understandings, and then how these might link to the everyday pedagogies employed by educators. We can all recall the basic pedagogies of role modelling, questioning or demonstrating, but embedding sustainability requires deeper critical reflection.

The following pedagogical principles provide a starting point for educator discussion and ECEfS implementation. Take a moment to collaborate with your service team and think about what you could be doing with children aligned with each pedagogical principle listed here.

Pedagogical principles for ECEfS (Elliott & Davis, in press)

1. Collective action for change at individual, local and global levels as sustainable early childhood education communities.
2. Transformative pedagogies that question daily practice norms, invite problem-solving and facilitate change.
3. Ethically informed relationships across human and non-human to promote species equity and social justice.
4. Democratic and civic participation with children to address the complexities and challenges across all sustainability dimensions—environmental, economic, social, cultural and political.
5. Awareness of the worldviews, values and cultural wisdoms that inform our pedagogical interactions.
6. Promotion of children as agentic with rights to express their feelings, ideas and resolutions about their futures.​​​

Extend your thinking around the sustainability principle

There is potential for exploring additional dimensions beyond the stated social, economic and environmental sustainability dimensions. For example, thinking about a political dimension strengthens the statement ‘Children’s agency and their right to be active participants in all matters affecting their lives is supported’ (AGDE, 2022, p. 18).  

You should also consider how the sustainability principle and the new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives principle can be mutually supportive in practice. Could you be exploring sustainability on Country with children?  

Lastly, a strongly embedded or whole service approach to sustainability has long been advocated (Davis, 2015) and promotes ensuring that all five learning outcomes explicitly reference sustainability. There is much scope for implementing the new sustainability principle beyond the most obvious Learning Outcome 2: Children are connected with and contribute to their world.  

So, let us celebrate the new sustainability principle in the approved learning frameworks as a policy milestone as well as reflect and extend our pedagogical thinking. As educators and service leaders, we must recognise we are all in this together to make transformative change for both children and Earth’s sustainable future.


  • Australian Government Department of Education [AGDE] (2022). Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (V2.0). Australian Government Department of Education for the Ministerial Council. 
  • Australian Government Department of Education [AGDE] (2022). My Time, Our Place – Framework For School Age Care in Australia (V2.0). Australian Government Department of Education for the Ministerial Council. 
  • Davis, J. (Ed.) (2015). Young children and the environment: Early education for sustainability (2nd edn.). Cambridge University Press. (3rd Edition, Davis & Elliott, 2024). 
  • Elliott, S., Ärlemalm-Hagsér, E. & Davis, J. (Eds.) (2020). Researching early childhood education for sustainability: Challenging assumptions and orthodoxies (Vol. 2). Routledge. 
  • Elliott, S. & Davis, J. (in press). Early Childhood Australia Essentials: Sustainability in early childhood. Almost mainstream: Re-imagining early childhood education for Sustainable Futures. Early Childhood Australia.  
  • Gaul, J. & Watson, D. (2019). Eco Smart: A sustainable standard for early education. Pademelon Press. 
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]. (2021). AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2022.