With over 7 billion people on the planet, environmental education has never been more important. As more and more of the world’s population develops a western lifestyle it becomes imperative that we adopt sustainable practices.
If everyone consumed resources as westernized countries do, it would require four Earths to support us all. Well, we haven’t got four; we’ve only got one. Would any of us deny a better quality of life to those less fortunate so that we can continue needlessly wasting our natural resources?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away over 115 million tons of recyclable material per year and spend $218 billion per year to grow, transport, and process food that will never even be eaten. Many of our unsustainable practices contributing to these high numbers are due to ingrained habits and lack of awareness, and Education for Sustainability (EFS) groups are working to change this.
Sustainability is word that seems to put people on the defensive, but it simply means to meet present needs without harming future generations’ ability to do the same. Education for Sustainability is the learning process that brings awareness of these issues and teaches responsibility, both on an individual and corporate level, for our impact on the natural resources on which we depend.
With teacher time and school budgets being maxed out, this type of education cannot be an add-on, it must be imbedded in the curriculum. Common Core standards do address care of the environment but the actual practice of it is left to the teachers and schools that choose to make it a priority. No matter how much academic excellence is instilled in our students, it will not serve them if they are inheriting the unconscious behavior that will leave them with a degraded environment.
Fortunately, some dedicated local schools are adopting EFS into their programs. Verde Valley School lists environmental stewardship as one of its Guiding Principles and incorporates this principle into many academic areas, as well as campus life. Sedona Charter School created a Sustainability elective for its fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. The elective had enough interest to be offered for three consecutive 9-week sessions with several students joining all three sessions. Mountain View Preparatory Academy started multi-stream recycling thanks to the determination of their Parent Teacher Association and its Interact club. Big Park School created a summer STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) camp that covers environmental topics.
Not only does EFS enhance and reinforce the regular school curriculum, it is teaching valuable life and job skills. Sustainability has three factors: economy, environment, and social welfare. So while students are learning to care for the environment they also learn how to do so in an economically viable way. They learn about human labor rights from poor farmers in other nations to their own rights as future members of the workforce. Fortune 500 companies commonly hire Sustainability Directors and many small businesses try to lessen their environmental impact so these job skills are very marketable.
Sedona Recycles has always been a grass roots organization with an educational mission. I am the latest in a long line of full time educators on staff helping to bring EFS to local schools and businesses. Last year I gave in-school presentations reaching about 400 students, had another 300 students to the recycling center for field trips, and gave over 100 adults tours of the facility. I believe that people shouldn’t be trained to throw items into a bin; they should be educated so that they can make responsible choices, from purchase to disposal.
The Sedona Charter School and Sedona Recycles partnership won runner up in the Teacher Awards for Sustainable Curriculum. In one of my favorite lessons each student played a part in a chocolate bar supply chain, starting with the purchase at the store. The money went down the chain until the cocoa farmer was left with pennies. We looked at the labels on the wrapper, such as organic and fair trade, and discussed what they mean. Then we read the ingredients on an organic bar and compared it to a popular brand and the students got to have a taste test. This lesson included business, math, botany, health, conscious consumerism, and the social inequality that leads to misuse of resources.
When these ills are brought to students’ attention, they are always indignant and start pitching ideas on how to change things. There is hope for the future in their passion.
To start an after school club, in school, or workplace EFS education, contact me at Sedona Recycles at 928-204-1185 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The impact that an educated community can make cannot be overemphasized. We only have one earth and our lives depend on it.
by Jean Turocy, Sedona Recycles
Sedona Red Rock News
June 15, 2016