The goal of education for sustainable development is to develop future citizens who can make informed decision and take responsible action to solve the problem. The concept of action competence proposed by Jensen and Schnack in 1997, which emerges as a critical thought from traditional environmental education, gradually attracts the attention with the maturing on the idea of sustainability. This research aims to systematically analyse the peer-reviewed studies published between 1997 and 2017 that embraced the concept of action competence as the instructional approach. After coding 170 articles from two quality databases, some patterns emerge from the year of publication in the resulting 34 empirical studies. Findings on the research design, pathway of intervention, instructional setting, and learning outcome increase our understanding of action competence applied in the authentic context. There is a sharp increase on the inter-disciplinary topic of sustainable development. It reflects the influence of the intergovernmental agreement and the resilience of action competence from environmental education to education for sustainable development. Reviewed studies indicate that action-oriented and transformative pedagogy cultivate students to be active participants, empower their capability of deliberating the causes and effects, and construct their visions for finding strategies toward the problems.