A Brief History
The U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development (USPESD) was conceived at a November 2003 "Open Space" gathering held in Washington, DC that included almost 100 participants from a diverse range of sectors including K-12 and higher education, science and research organizations, conservation and environmental NGOs, faith communities, living institutions, youth advocacy organizations, government agencies and others. Convened by the National Council on Science and the Environment and University Leaders for a Sustainable Future, the group met to respond to the call by the UN General Assembly for a Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005 through 2014) and to consider specifically: 1) how the Decade could be leveraged to advance education for sustainable development (ESD) in the United States; 2) what were the opportunities for collaboration within and across sectors and 3) how could widespread engagement in the Decade by U.S. organizations be facilitated.
"Sustainable Development" has been defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs" (Brundtland Commission, 1987). "Education for Sustainable Development" encompasses all forms of learning -- formal and informal - that help achieve the "triple bottom line" of healthy environments, thriving economies, and just societies.
A subsequent strategic planning retreat on the campus of Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania gave shape to the emerging Partnership. Hosted by the International Center for Leadership Results and facilitated by Group Jazz, participants agreed upon the Partnership's Vision - "sustainable development integrated into education and learning in the United States;" and Mission - to "leverage the UN Decade to foster education for sustainable development in the United States". They also conceived of an operating structure for the Partnership, including Action Teams (Marketing, Outreach, Funding, ICT, Youth etc.) and Sector Teams (K-12, Higher Education, Faith Communities, Business, and Communities.), whose volunteer leadership would comprise an Executive Team. An "Interim Steward" would provide ongoing facilitation and leadership.
Participants decided that the Partnership would not design or implement programs of its own. Rather, it would serve as a clearing house - helping to connect, highlight, and foster collaboration among partners - and serving as a catalyst to convene groups and build community to support existing and emerging initiatives.
In late 2005, the Executive Team decided to incorporate the Partnership as a 501-c-3 non-profit and to apply for tax-exempt status in order to facilitate fund-raising. Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton provided pro bono legal services, and on May 12, 2006 the Partnership officially filed for incorporation. The Board of Directors was elected in July 2006 and the first full Board meeting took place in November 2006. With formation of the board, Debra Rowe became President (acting on a voluntary basis as Executive Director), and the position of "Interim Steward" that had been ably held by Steve Cochran was phased out. The board meets quarterly either by conference call or in-person. Board members fund their own travel expenses. Meeting space, and occasionally meals, accommodations and even carbon offsets for Board meetings have been provided through in-kind donations.
The Partnership supports its vision and mission through periodic conference calls, in-person meetings and events, and its website. Action and Sector Teams remain key operational components of the Partnership, carrying out a range of activities in support of its mission and vision. Action Teams are responsible for planning and carrying out joint activities that support the entire partnership (e.g. Funding, ICT, Marketing). Sector Teams focus on the needs of their own sector (e.g. Higher Ed., K-12, Faith Communities). The Sector Teams have compiled ESD tools and resources and worked together to advance ESD through initiatives held "in collaboration with the U.S. Partnership". The Decade and the U.S. Partnership provide international and national context for such efforts, helping to promote and strengthen education for sustainable development in the United States.
 "Open Space Technology" is a dynamic and inclusive methodology that fosters an interconnected learning environment to maximize the creativity of a group, and was developed by Harrison Owen in the mid-1980s.