On January 14, 2022, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the EU Commission, issued the study entitled GreenComp: the European sustainability competence framework.


It is important to emphasize that the prefix "Green" and the use of the wording "environmental sustainability" instead of "sustainability", should not imply that it is referred to a limited and partial conceptual and disciplinary scope.


The EU Commission also argues in its Communication Proposal for a Council Recommendation on learning for environmental sustainability (adopted on the same day) that interdisciplinary approaches are needed to help learners understand the interconnectedness of economic, social and natural systems, and JRC reports that experts consulted during the development of the study recommended using the word "sustainability" rather than "environmental sustainability" to recognize the multidimensionality of the concept.


The aim of the study is to provide a shared competence framework on sustainability at European level as a common basis to guide both educators and learners, that can work as a catalyst for action to solve the great challenges of our times.

GreenComp can serve a wide range of purposes, including:

-        curricula review,

-        design of teacher education programmes

-        (self-) assessment/ reflection,

-        policy development,

-        certification,

-        assessment,

-        monitoring and evaluation.


It offers a common definition of sustainability, tightly connected to the concept of planetary boundaries:


“sustainability means prioritising the needs of all life forms and of the planet by ensuring that human activity does not exceed planetary boundaries”.


It also offers a definition for sustainability competence:


empowerment of learners to embody sustainability values, and embrace complex systems, in order to take or request action that restores and maintains ecosystem health and enhances justice, generating visions for sustainable futures”.


In particular, the GreenComp study elaborates its main statements around the need to have 12 competences (in bold) organised into the four areas, as reported  below:


1.     Embodying sustainability values, including the competences

        valuing sustainability

        supporting fairness

        promoting nature

2.     Embracing complexity in sustainability, including the competences

        systems thinking

        critical thinking

        problem framing

3.     - Envisioning sustainable futures, including the competences

        futures literacy


        exploratory thinking

4.     Acting for sustainability, including the competences

        political agency

        collective action

        individual initiative


This study is very important in its overall nature but also because it poses Systems Thinking as one of the core competences in the area “embracing complexity for sustainability”. It is also worth noticing that also the very same concept framework is defined as a “System” itself…!

Indeed, the 12 sustainability competences are tightly interrelated and interdependent, and should be treated as parts of a whole. Thus, GreenComp implies that sustainability, as a competence, is composed of these 12 building blocks and that, if the 12 competencies are separated from each other, or divided into separated blocks, and not used in full conjunction, they will be inadequate to pursue sustainable development.

It is important to underline how also the same principles (named “values”) for sustainability, as defined by JRC in the first area as meta-competencies, would be inadequate to pursue results if not accompanied by a systemic approach to thinking.

Last but not least, it is also worth mentioning that also the block of only the first three areas would prove inadequate for the purpose since the “action capability” represented by the fourth area is fundamental to operationalize the first three ones.


JRC provided a visualization inspired by nature to represent the interconnection of the 4 areas and the 12 competences (see figure).

Visual representation of GreenComp.