© 2017 Elsevier Ltd In this paper, we argue that it is opportune to revisit profound questions about the purpose, nature and value of higher education in society at a juncture where the context of higher education has been significantly influenced by the global sustainability agenda and responsible management education imperatives (United Nations (UN) Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME), UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UN Global Compact, UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), etc.). We take Holman's (2000) work on models for management education and his recommendations as our point of departure in critically examining the practice of embedding ESD and UN PRME (as two complementary schemes) in our institution. We explore the nature and interrelationships of Holman's 5 axioms of management education (epistemic, pedagogical, management-as-practice, social, and organisational) in order to provide a reflective account of our experiences and elucidate deeper understandings of what responsible education for sustainable development may mean in practice. The arguments presented here are grounded in both practical theorising stemming from related literature and concrete empirical illustrations generated through our observations and reflections as participants (in our roles as PRME Leader, ESD champion and SD programme leader) in the PRME/ESD initiatives. We have demonstrated that embedding ESD responsibly across a HE institution is a complex, emerging, evolving and non-linear process of addressing simultaneously the curriculum content, power, structures, identity, values, and external checks and balances. Therefore, a critical attention is needed to all 5 axioms and assumptions that are at play and has to be facilitated by a combination of educational activism, informal academic collaboration, formal measures and reporting, and practical skills of maintaining legitimacy and ownership of creative and innovative pedagogic models while negotiating the meaning of those to align with the institutional priorities.