Climate change is affecting every industry around the globe, from financial planning to civil engineering, building development to farming, technology, health, and beyond. The challenge in front of us as we transition to a lower carbon intensity world is that we need a workforce with the skills to help these industries find practical, viable paths forward in an environmentally conscious way.
While there is no single solution to the issue, one part of the overall solution is to equip our school children to play a constructive role in future climate action. By integrating sustainability into our schools’ curriculum and cultural ethos, we will provide them with the knowledge and skills to tackle these complex economic, technical, and social challenges of the working world.
A survey carried out by SEED, partnered with UNESCO, found that over 60% of young people had a “reasonable” understanding of the concept of sustainability. Only 1% had a negative view of sustainability, but 31% only had a very basic understanding, such as you would find in a standard dictionary definition of the term. Knowing that there is a high level of general understanding of sustainability is motivating. Still, there is much work to be done if we are to develop a new generation of informed, skilled and proactive adults ready to face the environmental challenges of the future.
Green program affiliation
Introducing sustainability education into a school can seem daunting.
The good news is that there are many options available, and there is a program that will fit your school criteria and culture. All around the world, schools are partnering with sustainability organizations like the Eco-Schools Global, Green School Alliance, Learning Lab, Eco Rise, Green Schools Project, Watt Watchers of Texas and many more.
The bad news is that searching for the right program can be overwhelming and confusing as it takes time to research each one. The following are some frequently asked questions and answers that may help you frame the issue and path forward in your mind.
Q: Are you, as a school, where you want to be in terms of understanding and integrating sustainable practices and education?
This is a good starting point. Eco Schools Global has a seven step process, while the Green Schools Initiative has a questionnaire to help schools understand their current “green” status and how to move forward. By looking at existing processes in building operations and curriculum and assessing efficient use of resources, healthy environment and community practices, schools can establish an existing benchmark and determine future goals.
Q: Are you looking for a Green Program that is free or are you willing to support a paid membership?
The Green Schools Alliance notes that the direct and indirect savings of implementing a Whole School Sustainability Program are, on average, 20 times higher than the initial investment in “greening.” They have shown that the benefits of introducing sustainability go beyond the educational benefits of such programs, leading to reduced absenteeism, greater teacher acquisition and retention, and an improved community image. With all that said, it can be a struggle to find spare capacity in your school’s budget to invest in green programs, at least initially. But once you understand your available budget, you can assess options open to you. If you don’t have a budget, there are plenty of available programs for free, and for those that have a cost, green energy grants and loans for schools are also available.
Q: Does the school want to take on a challenge, a campaign, or full program immersion?
Some schools prefer to participate in annual competitions, a specific challenge, or a campaign, while others are focused on a more broad-based, in-depth program affiliation.
Q: What are the time constraints in terms of commitment?
Introducing a one-off project can be an excellent way to start your school thinking about sustainability and get your students inspired. It also provides an opportunity to measure the learning outcomes by “testing the water” of sustainability for schools.
Q: How many teachers would be interested in taking on a role in a green school program?
Ultimately, your school’s approach to sustainability will be affected by management and staff “buy-in.” Programs can start with particular issues that concern you and other like-minded colleagues and members of your school’s wider community. Work with what you already have and make it grow.
Q: Does the school need professional development, teacher training, and support?
Your teachers must be supported to deliver this if you are to facilitate your students’ learning of sustainability concepts and practices. Not only will they need support with topics and content, but also with the dynamic skills they will need to teach sustainability and foster leadership. Green school programs can offer teacher training resources, from guidance materials to direct training.
Q: Would the green program be run during class time or as an extra-curricular activity?
It’s worth deciding what it is you want from a sustainability program. It might be that you are looking to make an annual commitment to introducing sustainability into your school. This could be done by incorporating sustainability curriculum or introducing extracurricular programs such as community gardens projects. A paper by Elizabeth A.C Rushton at Kings College acknowledges that teaching Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in schools can be hampered by time constraints, staffing limits, and accountability pressures. The paper cites the benefits of extra-curricular and non-curricular sustainability activities. It demonstrates how they can provide “a disciplinary bridge” and help with “developing links across communities and allowing creativity in teaching and learning.”
Q: Would you prefer the program to be teacher-led or student-led?
There is a very high degree of flexibility in the green programs available for your school. Some are predominantly teacher-led, others encourage students to take the lead, and many offer a mixed approach, with a balance of teacher leadership and a focus on empowering students’ independent initiatives. Centering students at the heart of building sustainability programs are common to the numerous green programs that are available for schools.
Q: Is there a specific aspect of sustainability you wish your school to focus on, or would you like a broader overview?
For example, organizations like Ecorise are helping develop an academic sustainability curriculum introducing students to “environmental literacy, social innovation, and hands-on design skills.” They help improve STEM education by linking scientific and mathematical concepts with “sustainability challenges relevant to their school and community.” They also help promote sustainable living practices and can nurture leadership around sustainability.
Q: What age groups and categories in sustainability would you like to include?
There are programs for all age groups starting from Kindergarten onwards. And there are programs that address specific environmental issues. It is advisable to sit down and discuss the topics that interest your school and staff limitations for different age groups.
Q: If you belong to an international network of schools, does the program you like offer multilingual support?
There are global and local programs. If you belong to a portfolio of schools you can decide whether to allow each school to pick the most appropriate program for themselves or join a global program so that the whole group follows the same path.
These questions are a starting point for a discussion on finding the right green program for your school. The more buy-in you can get, the better you will be able to add sustainability programs into your school successfully. While it is very difficult to start a large, new program, the range of green programs available is broad, with a variety of options than can be customized to suit school specific time and resources.
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