What Inspires Me – Paula McIntosh
In this edition of ‘What Inspires Me’ we feature Paula McIntosh, an inspiring teacher at Melbourne Girls’ College leading the Eco-Friendly Periods 4 Vic Schools petition.
Paula McIntosh, Teacher of the Year (Secondary) finalist in last year’s ResourceSmart Schools Awards.
Melbourne Girls College students promoting the Eco Friendly Periods 4 Vic Schools petition
1. How did you first get started with environmental education?
I studied Environmental Science at University. I loved the experiments, investigations, field trips and projects that sometimes took weeks on end to complete. In my very first job at South Oakleigh Secondary College, I taught VCE Environmental Studies and loved it. As a teacher, you’re able to replicate similar kinds of experiments with young people and really try and turn your students on to science.
I’ve also had the good fortune to work closely with Andrew Vance. Andrew is an inspirational environmental educator. If it wasn’t for his work, guidance and commitment to acting locally and thinking globally, I wouldn’t be talking to you now.
2. What have been the biggest highlights of your journey so far?
3. How do you engage with people that are not buying into the sustainability message?
It’s a really hard one. It can be so deflating to see workmates or students walking past you with disposable coffee cups and the like. Especially after all that we’ve tried to achieve as a school! I guess you need to accept to some extent that you’ll never reach everyone. I don’t get upset or angry with people. If I have a good relationship with them, I might say, “Ahhh, I now know what to get you for Christmas!” In fact, I gave a Keep Cup to a colleague that I often saw using single-use coffee cups and he was so rapt. He used it all the time from then on.
I try and influence as many people as I can through my Instagram @zerowasteschoolsaustralia. I have many students, colleagues and parents that follow me. People get an insight into what we’re doing as a school but also what I do in my own home and life to reduce waste and pressure on the planet. It can be done even when you’re a mum who’s also a full-time teacher!
I really try and keep the message positive and upbeat. It really is the way to go to keep young people engaged and enthused. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get depressed about the state of the planet. We’ve got to give kids hope but recognise that this only comes through action. We’ve got to be prepared to look at the impact we’re having as individuals and organisations and try and do something about it. If we don’t, we’re just hypocrites and hypocrites don’t do so well in schools.
I also try and lead by example. You have to be prepared to live your values. In my home we’ve eliminated all single-use plastic and very little plastic in general makes its way into the house. We haven’t put our landfill bin out on the curb for about 10 months. I’m pretty proud of that. We’re a vegan household so this really helps reduce our carbon footprint too.
Paula, with Lucy Skeleton (Melbourne Girls’ College student and EEV Student of the Year 2020 winner) and Andrew Vance
Support the Eco-Friendly Periods 4 Vic Schools petition so government commits to providing a choice of sustainable sanitary items for our young people in schools.
4. Can you share a school sustainability project or story that you’ve heard about that stood out for you?
This year at Melbourne Girls’ College we are lucky enough to be working with Australian Period Underwear Company, Modibodi. They saw our Eco-Friendly Periods 4 Vic Schools online petition that we have started at MGC to try and get reusable sanitary products into Victorian Schools, alongside single-use products. They were impressed and wanted to work with us, so we agreed to do a pilot project at MGC. Our collective aim, is to show the Victorian Government that period poverty can be alleviated in schools, it can be done in a sustainable way and it will be much cheaper than single-use in the long run. Modibodi are donating 5 pairs of period undies to 60 Year 8 students. It’s totally voluntary and hugely exciting for our students and their families.
5. What is your favourite environmental education resource for schools?
The students. If students are inspired and Principals are brave and supportive of young people, as they should be, then the students are the greatest and most powerful resource that can be harnessed. If young people find their voice and have the help, support and guidance of teachers, school communities can do extraordinary things.
6. If you could be a sustainability superhero, what name would you choose and what powers would you have to make the world more sustainable into the future?
I think Zena, the Waste Warrior Princess. My super power would be legislation, that make multinationals, supermarkets, manufacturers and businesses like McDonalds and Coco-Cola, responsible for the waste they are creating. As it stands, this cost is borne by the taxpayer and local ecosystems. That’s not right. I’d love the power to enforce, when it comes to consumables, the use of 100% recycled content, refillable options and compostable packaging wherever practical.