Education for Sustainable Development

The students involved in the project are given a chance to learn about, engage in and lead the way in re-imagining new communities that adapt to a global future where sustainable development and the re-generation of natural resources is the key to prosperity and a better quality of life.


UNESCO and Sustainability

Sustainability is a concept widely used and a concept with many different aims and objectives. This CICLO project is supported by UNESCO and it is carried out in collaboration with UNESCO.

The definition of sustainable development used by CICLO builds on the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, 2005-2014:

“Education for Sustainable Development means including key sustainable development issues into teaching and learning; for example, climate change, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity, poverty reduction, and sustainable consumption. It also requires participatory teaching and learning methods that motivate and empower learners to change their behavior and take action for sustainable development”

Read more about UNESCO’s Education for Sustainable Development here.

In 2013, UNESCO and the United Nations general assembly agreed that the goals for Culture and Sustainable Development will be a key agenda for world leaders to agree on in 2015 when the new World Millennium Goals for 2015 – 2030 should be agreed. You can read more about it here and here.

The solutions for the next decades to the worlds environmental and economic challenges are increasingly visioned to be covered by the term “a circular economy” . See elaboration below. Knowledge, skills and imagination about the transition to circular economies and circular cultures is thus of high immediate relevance for re-imagination of how communities and neighbourhoods around the world may evolve in coming decades and generations.


Imagining a circular economy in communities around the world

The world arts, religions and literatures have since the dawn of humanity been concerned with the connection between humans and nature. A core concern has been how natural resources are regenerated through time such as day/night, seasons and the life/death cycles. The celebration of the re-coming of rain after dry seasons, the celebration of harvest, the sun and daylight returning in the morning, and so on have always been of fundamental meaning to humanity and remain so – in a diversity of forms.

Over the last 200 years – with the gradually increasing globalization – peoples across the world have tended to forget the economic, social and cultural value of “regenerating our natural resources” and focused on human progress at the sacrifice of nature.

The consequence is an increasing scarcity and search for natural resources needed, i.e. on water, fertile land to produce food, minerals, energy etc. This can in varying degrees be observed by the students in the CICLO classes – in their “hood” or through the media.

The need for natural resources will more than double the 15-20 years as the global middle class will double – not least in Asia. China is today trying to find the resources in Africa, Latin America, Russia and the Arctic.

The economic problem facing children and youth the next decades and in their life-span is that there are far too little resources on the planet unless the natural resources used today all will get recycled in the future. The solution is circular economies in which all available natural resources are recycled instead of “throwing them out”. Recycling in this way will not be a “back to nature” primitive life but “connecting with nature” in a modern way, so all that today is considered “waste” in the future will be used as raw material for new production. The exciting part is that most of the solutions are already known – the challenge is to turn them into practice by innovation of business, science, education, culture and daily life.

For educational materials for schools in English on the cyclical economy, visit the Ellen MacArthur Foundations website – please check the 3½ minute video as the basis.

For info on the current global initiative on “circular economy” presented at the World Economic Summit, click here.


CICLO means “the circular”

A circular economy is a cultural challenge: Building circular cultures. Without a cultural mindset and behavior which intuitively appeals to all humans, economic solutions will not work.

Luckily, the idea of caring for regenerating nature’s resources is deeply embedded in the cultural heritage of humanity around the world. But connecting these age old values with our contemporary challenges is still new, as the old values tend to have been forgotten with the increased globalization. Thus, they need a revival.

The creative re-imagining of how to recycle natural and human resources in our communities and the world is central to building a sustainable future. Creativity, re-imagination of our daily life and “my hood” is absolutely essential to achieve this.

The name of the project CICLO derives from the Portuguese word for the “circular”. It refers to the cyclical and holistic elements embedded in art, learning and sustainability today.

CICLO also refers to the concern for regenerating nature’s resources embedded in the heritage of indigenous, religious and cultural traditions of all people on the planet.


The circular in the arts, literature and heritage

Heritage around the world

All cultures around the world have a deep and diverse cultural heritage addressing the circular connection between humans and nature. Some examples:


Brazil and Latin America – indigenous heritage

In Brazil, indigenous cultures have traditionally survived through their deep sense of how to connect with nature, as it is reflected in their rich and diverse cultures and heritage – spanning from myths, religion to dreams, rituals to crafts, music, visual arts etc.

In Brazil’s border areas with and inside Ecuador and Peru, the Incas celebrated the goddess Pachamama as mother Nature. In Ecuador and Bolivia where this heritage is particular strong, the values of Pachamama have recently been inscribed by the Parliaments in legislation; in Ecuador in the constitution which now enforces “Rights for Nature” and working for sustainable development.

In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly declared 22 April as International Mother Earth Day (A/RES/63/278) recognizing that Mother Earth reflects the interdependence that exists among human beings, other living species and the planet which we all inhabit. Bolivia led the proposal and Mother Earth Day, now, highlights the need to help improve the lives of children and adults who suffer from the disorder between humans and nature so they can lead full and meaningful lives. See .


Russia – literary heritage

In Russia the love for nature and harmonic relationship between mankind and nature is among others explored by Russian poets like Tyutchev (1803-73) and Nekrasov (1821-78). Nekrasov wrote a poem called Sasha where the wood was chopped down and Sasha weeps about the destroyed nature:


“Corpses of trees lay immobile

The twigs broke, screeched and cracked.

The leaves rustled in misery…”

(translated by Grigory Ryzhakov)


One of the founders of classical Russian literature Sergei Aksakov (1791-1859) wrote a lot about nature and its relationship with humans. He mostly reflected on the reckless use of  natural habitats and warned about the future problems connected to that.

Poets like Sergey Yesenin (1895-1925) dedicated their verse to nature, while writers like Ivan Bunin (1870-1953) and Mikhail Prishvin (1873-1954) wrote short fiction adoring nature and teaching readers to appreciate nature and preserve it. Victor Astafiev’s (1924-2001) Queen Fish and  Valentin Rasputin’s (1937-) Farewell to Matera (прощание с Матерой) are late 20th century books about human vs. nature relationship.


Denmark – heritage of fairytales and living culture

Denmark was the home of Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) and his fairytales for children is known around the world. E.g. the fairytale “The Little Mermaid” can in a contemporary context be read as reflecting the search for a connection between Nature (the little Mermaid) with the Humans (the Prince), between the splendid world under the water in the Sea and the diverse and rich world of the land where humans live.

Another Dane, the poet and historian N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872) built a movement for adult education, which was a vision for a space for living dialogue, culture and sustainable development. This vision was turned into reality and has become the foundation for sustainable development in Denmark. Grundtvigs name is today used in the European Union huge funding program for Adult Education.


South Africa – heritage of Ubuntu

In South Africa, the spirit of Ubuntu is one expression of how sustainability is rooted in South African culture and history. The concept has been articulated and interpreted by many African writers and philosophers and after the transition to democracy these have spread internationally e.g. through writings by Bishop Tutu and citations from President Nelson Mandela.

The Ubuntu concept essentially stresses human kindness to others and recognition that humans are part of larger universal context. The associated philosophy is reflected in the sentence: I am because we are. The human-nature connection is central. In daily realities, this is connected with the struggle for many people to make the most of what they have. Many are forced to maximise what is available to them and seek to craft it into something more, something that captures the imagination so that it can generate some return for them. The spontaneously urge for recycling of waste material as an opportunity to help themselves and the community around them is strong.

Across the world, recycling is shared as a central practice by economically poor people, e.g. slum-dwellers around the world. The practices are however often not recognised. This will hopefully change in the future.


The circular and the linear in artistic and creative expressions

What is meant by the circular and the linear in the arts and creativity

The cyclical and the linear are universal and juxtaposed forms in all arts and in any creative expression.

The linear is expressed as the forward development in one direction in time and space.

The circular is expressed as repetitions, rhythms, echoes, sampling, recycling of materials, reuse of motifs/stories/myths, memory and so forth.

The circular movement is almost never absolute in the sense of 100% returning to the point of departure – it would be more precise to term the circle a “spiral”. The return is to a new point resembling the old but due to time in a slightly new generation, be it movement, sound, image or story, i.e. dance, music, visual art or drama/literature.

The circular and the linearity of time are evidently always combined. Though, in extra-ordinary situations time is felt to be eliminated. Stressing the circular is not a question of chossing beween  the linear or the circular. It is a way of acknowledging that the cycles of life and nature (death/life, darkness/light, fear/love and so forth) is the central focus for humans and all life in nature.

In a historic situation where humanity has built societies with little concern for natural cycles, the arts can remind us of this.


Circular expressions in the arts

Historically, circular expressions in the arts have been associated with indigenous (oral) cultures.

The transition to literate cultures and modernism are associated with the linear expressions in the arts.

From the 16th century and on, in Europe, popular folktales and music was transformed to literature and sheet music and the development of the classical ballet took the body to the straight lines through the “tip-toe” dancing movements. In the 20th century, the straight line became the icon in modernist architecture, which spread around the world.

During the last century and now a new modern focus on the circular – the connection with nature has arisen. Nature can, in this context, mean body, soul or environment. A start was how African music shaped Jazz in America, which influenced Europe and led to rock and contemporary rhythmic music. Classical ballet was changed by Martha Graham and contemporary dance, and later by break dance, hip hop and so forth. Classical theatre by performance e.g. using Indian traditions in urban settings. Visual art through Picasso and modernism.

During the last few decades, all of this has expanded further with a much wider exchange of “world arts” from all parts of the world along with a new global youth culture emerging in recent years as expressed e.g. in the global success of the South Korean hit “Gangnam Style”. At the same time some of the European/western classical traditions e.g. related to sheet music, classical ballet and theatre have broken up and artist use their techniques to explore new territories.


The new cultural paradigms for “closing the loop”

Two new paradigms which focuses on “closing the loop” – another slogan used for the circular economy/society – have been inspirational for designers, architects and recently also artists.

The first is Biomimicry (Beyneus, 1992). The core idea in Biomimicry is that we can find all the answers we need for achieving sustainable solutions through “inspiration from Nature”. The principles of Biomimicry are:

  1. Nature runs on sunlight
  2. Nature uses only the energy it needs
  3. Nature fits form to function
  4. Nature recycles everything
  5. Nature rewards cooperation
  6. Nature banks on diversity
  7. Nature demands local expertise
  8. Nature curbs excesses from within
  9. Nature taps the power of limits


Applied to business the biomimicry principles are:

  1. Use Waste as a Resource
  2. Diversify and Cooperate to fully use the Habitat
  3. Gather and Use Energy Efficiently
  4. Optimize rather than Maximize
  5. Use Materials Sparingly
  6. Don’t Foul Their Nests
  7. Don’t Draw Down Resources
  8. Remain in Balance with the Biosphere
  9. Run on Information
  10. Shop Locally


Biomimicry has been applied in science and business as well as in NGOs and citizen initiatives. A number of designers and architects have applied biomimicry principles with success and e.g. the global engineering company Arup has applied biomimicry in advising cities around the world on integrated sustainable urban planning. Artists have also begun to show interest in the framework.

The second is Cradle to Cradle (Braungart & McDonough, 2002). The core idea here is that all the waste can be recycled and create welfare and growth. The idea is similar to the concept of a “circular economy” and in order to function the idea will likewise imply a restructuring on a massive scale. Cradle to Cradle has compared to biomimicry and the circular economy concept, a certain focus on systemic industrial restructuring along with innovation in materials.

Cradle to Cradle has been tested in businesses, science, small business clusters and smaller cities. Designers and architects are among the professionals who have widely been inspired and further developed “Cradle to Cradle” through e.g. building manuals, product design etc. Several of the CICLO artists in Denmark have been inspired by Cradle to Cradle for arts projects with the students.


Inspiration: Other cases of education for sustainable development connecting creativity and sustainability


Things Talk – a project for Environmental education

Quotes from the Danish website Things Talk: where you can choose an English, Russian or a Spanish version. Three quotes about Things Talk:

  • “The education project, Things Talk – Children, Climate Change, and Waste Art, aims to provide the children of the world with an opportunity to be heard in the global debate on climate change.”
  • Things Talk creates a global platform, where children can get a chance to speak.”
  • Things Talk is developed in an unusual collaboration between five very different partners: two municipalities, an art institution, an environmental company and a humanitarian organisation. We have developed a good idea for a global project focusing on environment, arts and democracy. Especially the multidisciplinary approach has stimulated creativity and therefore it is also important to maintain this perspective of the project.”


Ecco schools – an international program

Quotes from Ecco Schools website: :

Ecco-Schools …

  • “is empowering students to be the change our sustainable world needs by engaging them in fun, action-orientated learning.”
  • “is the largest sustainable school program in the world and is operated by the Foundation for Environmental Education.”
  • “aims to empower students to be the change our sustainable world needs by engaging them in fun, action-orientated learning.”

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