GreenComp: Lifelong learning for a sustainable future

The European Sustainability Competence Framework (GreenComp): Promoting lifelong learning for environmental sustainability.

The GreenComp sees itself as a response to global environmental problems and disasters that impact locally and on our everyday lives. The competences defined in this framework are intended to help meet the complex challenges and support learning for sustainable, resource-conserving action.

This article was first published on EPALE (in German):

Emergence and frame of reference of the GreenComp

Core concerns of the GreenComp

The GreenComp aims to promote sustainable thinking, planning and action. To this end, four areas of competence were identified, each with three competences that can be incorporated into educational programmes. People of all ages should thus develop knowledge, skills and attitudes to take care of the present and future of our planet in a responsible way.

The framework is a response to the policies set out in the ‘European Green Deal‘ and the ‘European Education Area by 2025‘. The GreenComp was developed by the Joint Research Centre (Joint Research Centre, JRC ) of the European Commission. Its development was accompanied by consultations with experts from different disciplines and stakeholders from the fields of ‘Education for Sustainable Development’ and ‘Lifelong Learning’.

Aims of the GreenComp

The GreenComp is a reference model – explicitly not a curriculum – which should be usable for all persons involved in planning and designing learning opportunities. It addresses formal, non-formal and informal learning opportunities and aims to support learning for environmental sustainability across all stages of life. In addition to education and training providers, the framework also addresses employers and corporate learning. 

There is a broad consensus in the literature1 about which competences are important in the field of Education for Sustainable Development. However, descriptions of competences have so far hardly been designed in such a way that they can be adopted in the heterogeneous structures of lifelong learning. Those responsible for education are usually left alone when it comes to implementing more generally formulated sustainability competences. This is where the GreenComp would like to offer support.

Furthermore, the GreenComp wants to be understood as a common reference. Thus, it can be the basis for adjustments but also for joint further developments. The competences of the GreenComp are therefore not set in stone. The definitions of competences give all those involved in education a sound basis on which to discuss their meaning and how to achieve them. This can lead to extensions or redefinitions of competences.

In addition, it wants to make competences transferable and thus promote mobility within the EU.  After all, sustainability competences will be seen as an important part of professional competences in the future.

Sustainability and sustainability competences: What is meant? 

The problems in aligning educational offers for sustainable development often start with the definition of the terms. The GreenComp provides definitions2 that apply to this framework.

  • Sustainability as defined by the GreenComp means prioritising the needs of all life forms and those of the planet by ensuring that human activities do not exceed the planet’s carrying capacity. The GreenComp thus refers to environmental sustainability and is therefore not a reference model for the implementation of all UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, it repeatedly references various SDGs in its definitions and examples. 
  • Sustainability competences are defined as follows: Learners internalise sustainability values, they can map systems and demand or take actions that maintain or restore the ecosystem. And they can develop visions for a sustainable future.

Structure and competences of the GreenComp

The GreenComp comprises four competence areas, each of which contains three competences. These are presented here in summary form. Each competence is extended by the components knowledge, skills and attitudes, which are intended as examples for the practical expression and implementation of the respective competence.

Screenshot GreenComp: The European sustainability competence framework, p. 3

Competence area ‘Embodying sustainability values’

This competence area focuses on the recognition, reflection and questioning of one’s own values and personal points of reference to ecological sustainability. 

It includes these competences:

  • Valuing sustainability: Reflect on personal values, critically evaluating how they align with sustainability values.
  •  Supporting fairness: Support justice for present and future generations and learning for sustainability from previous generations.
  •  Promote nature: Recognise that humans are part of nature and respect the needs and rights of other species and nature.

Competence area ‘Embracing complexity in sustainability’

This competence area is about recognising structures and systems that are significant for ecological sustainability. And reflecting on factors that may be linked to environmental problems, such as the complexity of society (lifestyles), socio-ecological problems and economic activities.

It includes these competences:

  • Systems thinking: approaching a sustainability problem from all sides; considering time, space and context.
  • Critical thinking: Evaluate information and arguments, identify facts and assumptions, challenge the status quo.
  •  Problem-solving strategies: Formulate and specify challenges as sustainability problems in order to identify possible solutions.

Competence area ‘Envisioning sustainable futures’

This competence area should promote openness towards alternative development scenarios. Being able to recognise and formulate alternatives enables the joint shaping of a sustainable future. This is because despite uncertainty about the future, one should be able to see possibilities for development so as not to be paralysed by uncertainty or apprehension.

It includes these competences:

  • Future literacy: imagining alternative sustainable futures by developing scenarios and identifying the steps to achieve them.
  • Adaptive capacity: coping with challenges in complex sustainability situations and being able to make future-related decisions in the face of uncertainty, ambiguity and risk.
  • Inquiry thinking: Adopting a way of thinking that explores and links different disciplines, using creativity and experimentation with new ideas and methods.

Competence area ‘Acting for sustainability’

This competence area is certainly self-explanatory. Taking action on an individual and collective level for change – in this case a sustainable future – can be seen as a core concern of civic education and education for sustainable development.

It includes these competences:

  •  Political action: finding one’s way in the political system, identifying political responsibility for unsustainable behaviour and demanding effective policies for sustainability.
  • Collective action: Working with others to advocate for change.
  • Individual initiative: Recognising one’s own potential and actively contributing to improving the outlook for society and the planet.

The opportunities of the GreenComp for adult education and beyond

Starting points for a wide variety of learning opportunities

Sustainability must be lived in order to be effective. This requires that we recognise and reflect on our attitudes and values, understand systems and structures, develop alternatives for our personal and social lifestyles and actively implement them. This sequence – from recognition to action – is expressed in the competence areas of the GreenComp. They offer a wide variety of starting points at different levels of learning and thus meet the diversity of offers, especially in non-formal adult education. Because – as already written – the GreenComp is not a curriculum, but it can be a basis for one. It is not a question of developing educational offers that promote all GreenComp competences to the same extent (whether this is desirable at all is a moot point). However, depending on the educational institution and the target group, it is possible to implement individual competences or competence areas in practical learning offers.

Learning for Transformation: Developing Future Competence

If one were to delete the word “sustainability” from the GreenComp, one would get a reference model that seems suitable for different transformation processes. Actually, LifeComp, the European framework for personal, social and learning competences, was developed for this purpose. However, the LifeComp lacks a competence area that is comparable to that of the ‘Visions for a Sustainable Future’ and the future competence described there. This competence area is particularly important, because promoting a sustainable way of life is not only about raising awareness for change and adapting to a transformation process. It is centrally about recognising possibilities for action in the present and becoming active in order to thereby help shape the future.

Further application possibilities

Even if the GreenComp is aimed at people and is designed for learning processes, one can imagine possible applications that go beyond this. Two are mentioned here as examples:

The GreenComp could serve as a reference model for surveying ecological sustainability competences and show how society is coping with the challenges of ecological change. This is already happening in Germany for digital competences: the competences of the DigComp form the basis of the D21 Digital Index (, an annual study that determines the level of digitalisation of the population.

It is also conceivable that organisations use the GreenComp to determine the status of internal sustainability competences and (further) develop sustainable actions of the organisation. Especially educational institutions that want to promote these competences among learners should of course set a good example4. The GreenComp, in an adapted form, can be a great help for this.

Prerequisites for the GreenComp to be usable for adult education

The GreenComp should be translated into as many languages as possible. This is the only way to facilitate its adaptation and implementation for education providers. Translations also promote the further development of the framework across organisations and countries.

If we as adult educators want to promote sustainability competences, then we should of course have acquired corresponding competences ourselves. Further training is necessary to enable us to build up comprehensive competences4. In order for such training to be effective, it should be both financially and temporally feasible for all adult education staff (teachers, planners, administrative staff).  Our own learning, the learning of the education providers and the learning of our target groups should be a parallel path that we follow together.

Read more

EPALE Open Educational Ressource OER: Adult Learning and Sustainability,

EPALE: We only have one home: Manifesto on Adult Learning and Education for Sustainability,

Lohrer, Maren (in German): Problem Plastik – Gelebte Nachhaltigkeit heißt auch „Ja“ zu weniger Plastik. Was bedeutet das für die Erwachsenenbildung?   


1. Bianchi, G., Pisiotis, U. and Cabrera Giraldez, M., GreenComp: The European sustainability competence framework, S. 11

2. Bianchi, G., Pisiotis, U. and Cabrera Giraldez, M., GreenComp: The European sustainability competence framework, S. 12

3. Initiative D21 e.V.: D21-Digital-Index 2021/2022, S. 30

4. refer to: We only have one home: Manifesto on Adult Learning and Education for Sustainability,

The “GreenComp: Lifelong learning for a sustainable future”  article by Dörte Stahl is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence. The linked works and the accompanying photos have their own licences. Please check before using.

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