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Curricula for Global Sustainability Education

Ignite your students' learning and inspire them to take action in their communities with our hands-on, standards-aligned global sustainability curricula!

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Understanding Sustainability: Two-Week Unit for Washington Social Studies, Grades 9-12 - Lesson Plan PDF
Understanding Sustainability: Two-Week Unit for Washington Social Studies, Grades 9-12 - Lesson Plan PDF

Teacher Lesson Plan PDF
Understanding Sustainability: Two-Week Unit for Washington Social Studies contains 8 engaging and inspiring lessons that help students build the connections between economy, history, democracy and sustainability. Each lesson in the two-week unit is aligned with Washington State high school social studies GLEs. For every topic covered, students learn creative tools to contribute toward sustainable solutions in their local and global communities.

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Table of Contents and Introduction

Download the Introduction and Table of ContentsThis download contains the table of contents and introduction.


Unit 1: Watch Where You Step

Students identify the components of an ecological footprint by creating a web diagram of all the resources they use in their everyday lives and the mark or “footprint” this consumption leaves on the environment. The activity emphasizes the interconnectedness of lifestyle, population, and environmental impacts, and focuses on solutions to reduce ecological footprints. Extension activities ask students to research past trends in ecological footprint size and to compare footprints from around the world.


Unit 2: Is It Sustainable?


Students define and discuss sustainability and its 3 key components: the economy, the environment, and society. They evaluate 2 seemingly identical apples through the lens of sustainability. Students then brainstorm and analyze the sustainability of a variety of actions taken by individuals, businesses, and governments, using a Venn diagram to help organize the process. A homework assignment calls for students to evaluate the sustainability of resources they use on a daily basis.


Unit 3: Shop Till You Drop?


In this simulation, students experience how resources are distributed and used by different people based on access to wealth, while paying attention to the environmental and social impacts of resource consumption. Students discuss and write about personal and structural solutions to increase the environmental and social sustainability of consumption choices. An extension activity focuses on real-world resource distribution per capita.


Unit 4: Are You Buying This?


Students examine the influence of media on consumption habits by working in groups to create and present mock television commercials for products linked to unsustainable or unhealthy behaviors. Students first present the commercials as they would typically be seen on television and then present them a second time through the lens of sustainability. On a second day, students review their own energy and water consumption habits and then create commercials for alternative products that use these resources in a sustainable manner.


Unit 5: What Makes a Civilization Sustainable?


Students read about past societies, drawing conclusions about why they may have failed. Causes of failure are grouped into broad categories. Students explore ways in which the lessons of the past can be applied to modern societies to ensure sustainability.


Unit 6: Putting Our Community on the Map


Download Unit 6: Putting Our Community on the MapIn groups, students create representational maps of their school and the surrounding community in order to conceptualize and understand the relationships between neighborhood resources, the environment, community, and sustainability. Students then brainstorm specific ways to make the school neighborhood more sustainable through improvements to the physical environment and revise their maps to reflect these enhancements. A homework assignment asks students to assess the availability of important resources near their homes. In an extension activity, students present their ideas to community stakeholders.


Unit 7: Three Faces of Governance


Students create a sustainable national energy policy via cooperation and negotiation among the 3 faces of governance:
the State (Government), Civic Organizations, and the Private Sector. In groups representing each of these areas, students work to accomplish their individual policy goals while negotiating and forming coalitions with other groups to strengthen their overall energy policy. Policy proposals are presented and 1 plan is selected to become a national energy policy.


Unit 8: Creating Our Future


How do we create a just and humane world for ourselves and for future generations? Help students identify and plan what they want their future to look like. Using an action-planning model, students visualize their desired future, identify objectives, develop a plan to address local and global issues, and implement their vision through action and service learning.


Reading 1: Ecological Footprint

Students learn how population and consumption can affect humanity’s ecological footprint, or our impact on Earth’s resources.


Reading 2: Feeding the World


Students learn how different methods of agriculture have impacted global sustainability. The reading explores historic and modern trends in agriculture.


Reading 3: Urban and Community Planning


Download Reading 3: Urban and Community PlanningStudents learn how public transportation, waste management, and community spaces play a part in sustainable development.



Reading 4: What Is Good Governance?


Students learn how government, civic organizations, and business all play a role in governance. The reading explores real-world examples of effective and ineffective governance.

Resource Details

Why Use Understanding Sustainability?

The purpose of this unit is to teach important sustainability concepts and their interconnections, including natural resources, human population growth, and resource consumption. Lessons link to relevant and easy-to-implement action projects, including a sustainability audit in which students investigate and make recommendations about their school’s energy, water, trash, and transportation use. Students develop critical thinking and collaboration skills while applying sustainability concepts in their local and global communities.

Issues Covered/Key Concepts:
  • Action planning
  • Civic engagement
  • Community planning
  • Consumerism
  • Ecological footprint
  • Equity
  • Governance
  • Media
  • Personal solutions
  • Policy
  • Population
  • Poverty
  • Quality of life
  • Resource consumption
  • Structural solutions
  • Sustainable civilizations

Student Skills Developed:
  • Collaboration
  • Critical thinking
  • Historical analysis
  • Inquiry
  • Mapping
  • Problem-solving
  • Systems thinking
  • Written and oral communication


How to Use Understanding Sustainability

Understanding Sustainability can be used as a short unit on global issues or as an engaging contextual framework within which core subjects are taught. Understanding Sustainability is often compatible with existing curriculum requirements and topics and extends students’ learning through an interdisciplinary approach to issues.

State Standards

Educator Quotes

 This unit is thoughtful and engaging. It allows students to weave between sustainability locally and globally. I especially appreciated the history lesson as too often we look at sustainability as a modern notion; this will empower students to look at this issue across time and space. 

- High School Global Issues & World Affairs Teacher, Kent, WA

Curriculum Funding Toolkit

Use this toolkit to help find funds to purchase Facing the Future curriculum for your classroom. The funding opportunities listed below have been screened by Facing the Future staff to ensure that they are easy to apply to and that funds from these sources can be used to purchase our curriculum.

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Current Funding Opportunities


Eligibility: Teachers, Schools, Districts

Amount: Varies  |  Deadline:  Open

Adopt-A-Classroom partners donors with teachers so you can have funds to purchase critical resources and materials for your classroom. By registering, your classroom will be posted on the Adopt-A-Classroom website available for donors to select. When adopted, you will have full discretion to purchase items that meet your unique classroom needs. FAQs


Eligibility: K–12 public schools

Amount: Varies  Deadline: Open

Teachers can post a project or curriculum they would like to fund. Donors can make an online donation for any amount toward the cost of the project or curriculum. When the item is fully funded, DonorsChoose purchases the item and sends it and a thank you kit to the teacher.

The Lawrence Foundation

Eligibility: U.S.-based IRS 501(c)(3) qualified charitable or public schools and libraries

Amount: Varies  Deadline: April 30 and October 31

The foundation is focused on making grants to support education, health, human services, and other causes, with the opportunity to support other diverse areas on an occasional basis.

Learn and Serve America

Eligibility: Local Educational Agencies, public or private schools, nonprofits, and higher education institutions

Amount: Varies by state  |  Deadline: Varies by state

Do you have an idea for a service-learning project that will impact your community? Learn and Serve America provides grant support annually (primarily through intermediaries) to diverse partnerships to develop and sustain service-learning projects. Generally, grants are for a period of three years, renewable annually contingent upon performance and the availability of funds.

Note: Funds are allocated to each State by a formula that considers each State’s school-age population and Title I allotment. Grants are awarded on a non-competitive basis to States through State Education Agencies (SEAs) that then provide sub-grants to Local Educational Agencies, public or private schools, nonprofits, and higher education institutions that implement programs.

Examples of State Learn and Serve Programs: FL, NY, TX, IL,CA, WA

Parent Teacher Association (PTA)

As the largest volunteer child advocacy association in the nation, Parent Teacher Association (PTA) reminds our country of its obligations to children and provides parents and families with a powerful voice to speak on behalf of every child while providing the best tools for parents to help their children be successful students.

Student Achievement Grants - NEA Foundation

Eligibility: Applicants must be practicing U.S public school teachers in grades PreK–12, public school education support professionals, or faculty and staff at public higher education institutions

Amount: $5,000   |  Deadline: Open

The NEA Foundation Student Achievement Grants aim to improve the academic achievement of students in U.S. public schools and public higher education institutions in any subject area(s). The proposed work should engage students in critical thinking and problem solving that deepen their knowledge of standards-based subject matter. The work should also improve students’ habits of inquiry, self-directed learning, and critical reflection.

Toshiba America Foundation

Eligibility: Public and non-profit private schools

Amount: Varies

Deadline: Applications for grades K-5 accepted once a year on October 1st; applications for less than $5,000 for grades 6-12 accepted on a rolling basis; applications for more than $5,000 for grades 6-12 due August 2, 2010.

Toshiba America Foundation (TAF) grants fund the projects ideas and materials teachers need to innovate in their math and science classrooms. TAF is interested in funding projects designed by teachers or small teams of teachers for use in their own schools.

Verizon Foundation

Eligibility: Schools and 501(c)3 organizations

Amount: Grants average between $5,000 and $10,000  |   Deadline: January 1 and October 31

The Verizon Foundation seeks to improve literacy, knowledge, and readiness for the twenty-first century. Its four core areas are education, literacy, Internet safety, and domestic violence.  Eligible organizations seeking grants from the Verizon Foundation must be prepared to track and report program outcomes and specific results that demonstrate measurable human impact. In the grant application, organizations must indicate what outcomes are targeted through programming and what results, as specified on the grant application, the organization will measure.

About Federal Funding

Federal funds tend to be large grant awards and most often are open to schools, districts, or state governments. Individual teachers are not typically awarded small grants through Federal Grant Programs. You can search all federal funding opportunities at or Department of Education funding opportunities at their Discretionary Grant Application Packages page.

Information About Programs

Use the Guide to Education Programs to learn about federally funded programs. Below are direct links to specific programs for which funding opportunities may arise or may be available through your state:


Grants Forecasting
The grants forecast can help you identify grant competitions within some of these programs that may open soon.


Tips and Resources



Don’t let a lack of funds keep you from using our curriculum resources. If you teach at a Title I school or have a high percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch, please contact us.

Professional Development

Facing the Future offers the following workshop to help you learn more about Understanding Sustainability: Two-Week Unit for Alaska Social Studies, Grades 9-12:

Understanding Sustainability: 2-Week Unit for High School Social Studies
Engage your students in an examination of what it means to be a sustainable community, democracy, and civilization. This workshop provides a tour of Understanding Sustainability which includes concepts such as resource consumption, governance, and civic engagement. This unit of study is appropriate for Contemporary World Problems, World History, Civics, Geography, and Global Issues classes; it includes eight stand-alone, activity-based lessons, student readings, assignments, assessments, and action project ideas. Your students will gain skills in critical thinking, historical analysis, mapping, problem-solving, and collaboration.

Additional Professional Development Opportunities


To learn more about our upcoming workshops, webinars, and conferences, please visit our Workshop Calendar. If you are interested in having Facing the Future present at your next event, please contact us.

Supplementary Materials

To complement Understanding Sustainability, this section contains background information and additional resources to help educators and students learn more about global issues and sustainability.

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About Us

We equip and motivate students to develop critical thinking skills, build global awareness, and engage in positive solutions for a sustainable future through hands-on curricula and professional learning.

Facing the Future is an
independent program of WWU