Green Flag certification scheme: A case study on Education for Sustainable Development in Sweden

By Alexander Hellquist 

In Sweden, there have been relatively few political initiatives to support schools with the implementation of education related to sustainability during the UN decade for ESD. Therefore, schools have relied in part on non-governmental organizations. The Green Flag certification scheme is one prominent example. It is an interesting case as it has been successfully upscaled since its inception in 1996 and is now used in 2 700 schools (in preschools and at primary and secondary level). According to our experience, the number of school units that are certified according to the Green Flag standard is one of the most common indicators of ESD implementation among Swedish municipalities. Arguably, such a widely used tool has a substantial impact, and it is of interest to examine how it conveys ESD policy based on the understanding of practitioners involved in its design and development.

The aim of the study we introduce here is to examine how persons working with the Green Flag certification scheme at a strategic level understand conceptions of education, and of those being educated, in relation to their practice. One such conception is the one explored in the T-learning project – education as a transgressive process. More specifically, the study aims to i) elicit how frames of understanding among Green Flag project managers align with certain conceptions that are visible in ESD policy and in research debate; and ii) how the project managers perceive that tensions between these conceptions have been handled, or could be handled ahead, in the Green Flag initiative. Based on our findings, we hope to be able to discuss potential of handling ambiguities and incoherence between key conceptions in ESD policy at the implementation level. Particular attention will be paid to prospects of implementing transgressive learning ideals in contexts where other conceptions are also present.

Acknowledging research that shows how understanding of a policy among relevant practitioners is crucial for its implementation, we wish to contribute to knowledge on how ESD practitioners understand ESD policy. There is a substantial body of research dealing with how educators and school principals incorporate ESD in their practice, and also numerous studies on how the implementation of different ESD concepts plays out in terms of learning and change among target groups, including research on the effects of the Green Flag certification scheme. In contrast, less attention has been paid to the understanding of practitioners working with ESD certification schemes.

We will use frame analysis as a tool to first outline general (shared) frames capturing central concepts in educational theory and ESD policy, and then relate these to elicited frames among Green Flag strategists. We are still in an early stage, with semi-structured interviews with Green Flag staff booked for November and December. An initial desk study of Green Flag policy documents and promotion material has identified several potentially incoherent conceptions of ESD and the future societal role of students enrolled in Green Flag certified schools, including wording that aligns both with transgressive and more transmissive educational ideals respectively. This can be interpreted as a reflection of global and national ESD policy. It will be interesting to learn more about how the respondents understand these inconsistencies in relation to their practice.



  1. Injairu November 21, 2017 at 8:14 am - Reply

    Thank you Alexander. It is interesting to hear about this initiative that you are working on. I am interested in the ways that you make a distinction between educators, school principles and practitioners. I wondered if you could give me more of a way of looking into what makes their roles very different? Is it the element of design and development and in that case is the role of educators mostly associated with the implementation of what has been designed and developed?

    I guess this makes the case study very interesting because the space for design and development then can have a huge impact on the content that is being shared with learners. I am really looking forward to hearing more about what you find there and the space to transgress within that role. I can see that emboldening the actions of practitioners at this level would have significant impact on how ESD is rolled out in schools. What will also be of interest is the way the incoherence around ESD conceptions plays out in the design. this is a very useful study that gives us a way of seeing into how the ESD discourse performs itself out there in the world.

    As an educator and practitioner the focus of your study reminds me the power one has in the design development of a programme. And how this can stand apart from the aspect of implementing it as an educator. It reminds me to embolden the actions that are held in this space and unpack the assumptions and discourse that comes with it so as to further liberate the space for engagement that will come later.

    Looking forward to hearing more of you results:)

  2. Alexander Hellquist November 22, 2017 at 3:13 pm - Reply

    Hi Injairu,
    many thanks for your comment! As yet, I am not sure how the distinction between educators and the designers/strategists of the certification scheme will play out – I guess that the results of the study will tell. You are right that in the Green Flag case the strategists are working on development and design and not classroom implementation. I hope that we will be able to report some interesting findings here eventually.

    Best wishes

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