CERES Education Interview with Shane French
CERES Education, Excursions and Incursions Manager
1. How did you first get started with environmental education?
My Mum was the greatest influence on me. When I was 12 she sat me down and told me about the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and what was wrong with how they operated. She also introduced me to groups like Greenpeace, Friends Of The Earth and ACF. Growing up in the country with access to three television channels and one decent radio station as my window into the world, I didn’t quite get what she was on about, everything seemed fine in the world from the vantage point of a small country town… But the lessons stuck with me somewhere, and as I got older I started to understand what she was talking about.
I remember seeing the Earth Day Special broadcast on TV in 1990, for some reason I still remember the segments with Bugs Bunny and Bette Midler!!
My teenage years were full of frustration at the state of the world. When I was 15 I started to do a few holiday land restoration work camps with Australian Trust For Conservation Volunteers around different parts of Victoria. Through that I got to see that I wasn’t alone, there were heaps of people like me in the community, it was really empowering.
From there I moved to Melbourne, got involved with lots of causes and groups and in 2002 started my involvement with CERES, and kind of never left.
2. What have been the biggest highlights of your journey so far?
Starting work at CERES!!
My work with Greenpeace, engaging the public and participating in campaigns and actions was great fun, I learnt a lot about international and local issues, and a lot about myself.
Starting a grassroots environment collective called E.L.E.M.E.N.T. is also a highlight. We did a lot of activism around the World Economic Forum, and a cigarette litter campaign called “watch your butt”, where we went around beaches and streets collecting cigarette butts to deliver back to the manufacturers, people would ask what we were doing then just start helping out!!… But the biggest highlight for me was the creation of a travelling environmental children’s show called ‘The Trash Fairies’. We did a small tour funded by The Northern Metropolitan Waste Management Group. This was my first experience working with kids and it was what really started me on my journey away from adult focussed activism (I was reaching burn out with adults anyway) and towards environmental education.
3. What has been the biggest obstacle? How did you / are you overcoming it?
Burn-out, giving up hope. I reached this point towards the end of my time with Greenpeace; it is fun trying to change the world, but it’s really tiring!! I didn’t see much hope for humanity or the planet at that stage. Burn out is not exclusive to the environment sector, but it is certainly common. I see it in schools, community groups, activism networks, environment groups, everywhere. It is damn hard to maintain drive and passion; with so much bad stuff happening in the world, it’s easy to miss the good stuff.
I was snapped out of my funk when I went to a talk by David Suzuki. A lady got up and asked him what his ultimate goal was, and he replied “…all I really want to do is sit down at the end of my life, look at my kids and grand-kids and be able to say to them ‘I did the best I could’…”.
It all made sense to me after that. He’s right, you can only do what you can do; you just have make sure you’re satisfied with your own efforts.
4. What future plans or goals are you excited about?
CERES Education has some really exciting times ahead. Our Mobile Energy Classroom is going brilliantly, I am excited at the opportunities for the van to continue spreading CERES reach into rural and regional Victoria.
Next year we will also be starting work on our Human Powered Classroom. The whole classroom will basically be powered by up to 10 pushbikes. Students will have to generate enough energy to power a “typical” Australian lifestyle. We want to go big on this one, I am really excited about it.
Mostly I am looking forward to continue sharing CERES with schools, it is a real privilege to work at CERES and do what I do; I love that I get to share such a wonderful place with schools.
5. What advice would you offer to someone wanting to begin a sustainability program at their school or organisation?
Early on pick easy wins (the “low hanging fruit”) e.g. phone and battery recycling are simple to set up in a school and can have a huge impact across the whole school community and globally. Do waste audit competitions in your classes and have a “golden lunch box” that gets handed out to the best class each term. These early successes help inspire others to get on-board.
Don’t underestimate your influence. I have seen a few grade six kids totally bust a local council for lying about their e-waste recycling programme, and getting that council to improve. That’s world changing stuff, and it’s really great fun, what awesome bragging rights!!
Celebrate victories, show off what you are doing!! You are pretty much the coolest people at school, own your passion for the environment, display it with pride, we need as many of you as we can get. YOU ARE ON THE WINNING TEAM!!