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Responsible Futures

A framework & accreditation mark for embedding sustainability in learning
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About

Responsible Futures is a whole-institution supported change programme and accreditation mark to embed sustainability across all aspects of student learning.

We’ve developed the Responsible Futures externally-assessed accreditation mark (audited by students) to assist tertiary education institutions in helping students gain the skills and experience needed to thrive as global citizens. We actively support partnerships between students’ unions and institutions through a structured framework of criteria to encourage action on embedding sustainability, inclusive of climate justice, into formal and informal learning. This is the only framework of its kind that maps out the organisational innovation and enhancement required, spanning top down, middle out and bottom up level change, to achieve whole institution engagement with sustainability learning.

We need an education system which equips graduates with the necessary competencies to face and address the climate and ecological emergency and deliver on climate justice, to avoid repeating mistakes of our past. By following the Responsible Futures framework, partnerships are signposted towards and supported to realise institutional changes needed to develop a learning experience which supports graduates to develop the knowledge and understanding, skills, and attributes to actively contribute to a socially just response to the climate crisis. Education is a force for social good, and it should benefit the whole of society: Responsible Futures aims to ensure tertiary education's impact is both positive and transformational..

Framework

The Responsible Futures framework assists partnerships (made up of institutions and students' unions) to legitimise and mainstream education for sustainable development as a tool for delivering an education, which enables all learners and educators to realise their potential as global citizens. The 45 criteria used in Responsible Futures provide a roadmap for actions - they are not prescriptive and seek to recognise individual partnerships' different approaches.

The criteria within the framework cover key themes including benchmarking, leadership & strategy, policy & commitment, interventions and outreach. Partnerships are supported throughout to implement the actions and deliver key impacts and outcomes.

Partnerships

Findings from partnerships who have achieved the accreditation to date have indicated that Responsible Futures has provided:

  • A road map to ESD for institutions who are just beginning their journey
  • A focused approach to a broad and complex topic
  • A validation and strategic tool for institutions who are well on their way
  • A structure in which the students’ union/association and the university/college can work together more closely
  • A range of clear examples of best practice to facilitate top-down, bottom-up, and middle-out change
  • Increased buy-in and support from senior leadership to drive this work forward
  • Increased capacity and resourcing for developing curricula with sustainability as a golden thread

The Responsible Futures Mark

The Responsible Futures mark, which reads: NUS Responsible Futures, accredited institution

The Responsible Futures mark is awarded to institutions following their student-led audit. This mark is a demonstrable commitment to embedding sustainability across all aspects of student learning.

League tables and rankings

Responsible Futures is accepted by the People and Planet University League as a recognised framework for Education for Sustainable Development. Demonstrating active participation in the accreditation programme and change framework provides 25% of the scoring for the University League's section 9, 2a. Education for Sustainable Development.

"People & Planet will look for evidence of the framework on the university website and check the status with NUS Responsible Futures directly."

People & Planet University League 2021 logo


The Responsible Futures is signposted as a step to climate action in the FE Climate Action Roadmap, the HE Climate Action Toolkit by the Climate Commission for UK Further and Higher education and the HEA QAA ESD Guidance.

Additionally, Responsible Futures counts toward Times Higher Education Impact Rankings and EAUC's Sustainability Leadership Scorecard.

Participating partnerships are encouraged to add the Responsible Futures logo to their web pages to highlight adoption and engagement with the framework.





Network Learning

Current Responsible Futures Partnerships

Since its pilot in 2014, over 35 institutions and students' unions have participated in Responsible Futures, representing nearly 600,000 students across the UK.

Responsible Futures Partnerships are encouraged and supported to make use of this extensive network of partnerships representing a broad range of experiences with embedding sustainability in learning, and share learning between partnerships through regular network catch up calls, support afternoons and webinars.

Sign up for 2022/2023

For more information on any element of Responsible Futures, please email responsiblefutures@sos-uk.org.