By Kirsty Costa
“We can’t afford it”
“We can’t fit it into our crowded curriculum”
“We don’t have the time”
These are common reasons/excuses stated by principals, curriculum coordinators and teachers for not having a sustainability program at their school. Thankfully, these statements are becoming less and less but sustainability is still seen by some schools as “just one more thing that we have to do, on top of everything else we have to do”.
So how do we respond to these statements and explain the many reasons why sustainability isn’t just “one more thing” schools have to do, it is the MOST important thing.
Why? We need to take action to protect our future.
The IPCC March 2014 report makes no bones about stating the consensus that human-driven climate change is occurring. Hundreds of changes have already been observed that are consistent with climate change, temperature rises, and associated issues such as ocean acidification. The most important of these impacts include threats to ecosystems and organisms, increasing coastal erosion and inundation, decreasing crop yields, and intensifying flood frequency (http://theconversation.com/the-ipcc-has-spelled-out-the-risks-now-what-do-we-do-24792).
This is really serious stuff and the threat is immediate.
So while it’s important to focus on programs like Literacy and Numeracy, these skills will fall in value if we don’t have enough food to eat, water to drink and clean air to breathe. Some would argue that sustainability is more important than Literacy and Numeracy for this very reason.
Why? School populations are contributing to the problem.
Schools have one of the highest ecological footprints in the community – with the large amount of people coming on site to use resources and systems. When schools use ResourceSmart Online (http://www.resourcesmartschools.vic.gov.au/), they enter their billing data to find out how much paper, water, electricity and gas they are using as well as how much waste they are chucking out. Even for small schools who don’t have a sustainability program, figures are often high. Paper use is contributing to deforestation, water use is draining our dams, electricity is creating carbon emissions.
Sound overwhelming? At first, this data often can be.
But the reality check is important and the best news is that even a small change – like making a school newsletter available electronically or installing a water tank – can make all the difference.
Why? It can be integrated, not added on.
Sustainability is not a stand-alone subject, as outlined in the Australian Curriculum it is woven into units of work. It doesn’t necessarily need its own time. Writing persuasive texts? Why not choose a local environmental issue. Exploring volume? Why not measure the volume of your bins and find out how full they are (hello percentage!) when they’re collected.
If sustainability is just lunchtime activity for a group of students, then it is definitely just one more thing a school has to do. The same if sustainability is ‘Environmental Science’ or one inquiry unit a year.
Integration is key and there are plenty of examples of how sustainability can be worked into existing programs. Student representative councils can sometimes lack in things to do. There’s an opportunity to get them engaging and driving your school’s sustainability program without having to form an extra team. The same goes with a school’s operations and systems. People already (hopefully) put items in the bin – so give them the choice of which bin to put their waste in. Change, at first, can feel like extra effort. But as it become ingrained it doesn’t feel that way anymore, it just becomes another unnoticed part of daily life.
Why? There are more benefits to just ‘saving the planet’.
As a school starts to embed a sustainability program, one of the first things to benefit is the budget. This alone is not a reason to start a sustainability program but it is definitely an advantage. Money can be saved on water use, electricity use, gas use, paper use and waste collections. In turn, this money can be channelled into other important things around the school. Added to this, sustainability programs help raise a school profile, provide real-life learning opportunities for students, engage those students who may not like sitting at a desk and help build community both inside and outside your school gates. As your school becomes more ‘green’ it also starts to look better – less litter, more gardens, better signage, more colour.
Why? It’s about equipping our students with the skills and knowledge they need.
The ‘green jobs’ sector is one of the fastest growing and most stable sectors in Australia. We should be equipping our students with the skills and knowledge they need to prosper in this sector. Furthermore, our current students are inheriting an Earth where understanding about sustainable lifestyle choices, putting the environment before personal needs and innovative thinking may be vital to someone having a good quality life.
Why? There are so many programs that support schools – there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
Victorian schools are spoiled for choice when it comes to getting support for sustainability programs. CERES alone has connected ResourceSmart AuSSI Vic to over 70 partner programs who provide everything from online support, resources, face-to-face contact, staff workshops and student leadership programs. Most of this is free. You don’t need to be a ResourceSmart AuSSI Vic school to use these partner maps and you can see what’s on offer at http://dev.sustainability.ceres.org.au/program/rsav/partners/
Why? Why not.
Sometimes schools are going to have to put in some elbow grease to get their sustainability program off the ground. And sometimes they might have to spend a dollar here and there (most of which will actually save money for the school in the long run).
But let’s get real here. We are talking about the future of the human species and our planet so a bit of hard work and money is worth it. Full stop.
Another way to think about the benefits of your school’s sustainability program is through a Triple Bottom Line Report. This report outlines the Educational/Social, Environmental and Financial Benefits to your school, community and the planet. CERES has provided an example of a Triple Bottom Line Report which you are welcome to use as part of your presentation to the important people at your school.
Click here to download the report example.
Read other CERES Education Our Say articles at http://dev.sustainability.ceres.org.au/project/our-say/ and join the conversation on social media.