What is the Role of Sustainability in Education?

greenhouse.jpgAs schools, we have a responsibility to make sustainability a top priority because we have both an environmental responsibility to reduce our impact on the planet, and because schools educate students and the community at large. The network of influence a single school empowers is like a star, emitting powerful light that spreads across great distances both through time and space, convening its own orbit and solar system. By implementing sustainability in our schools, we can make a lasting and positive impact.

Specific to education, sustainability must play out in three ways: first, through the operational design, or way in which we approach the function of our school buildings; secondly, through the practice and daily choices made by building occupants; and thirdly, through the integration of sustainability education into aspects of classroom curriculum and programming.

As we develop, rebuild, and renovate school building systems, we strive to keep in mind how to put design, operations, and practice into place that allows for high levels of function with minimal impact on the environment: such as providing adequate shelter, lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, cleaning and waste disposal systems while reducing energy use and carbon dioxide emissions, eliminating the use of harmful toxins, and decreasing the amount of waste we generate.

kristen_teaching.pngAll successful district and campus models for sustainability in the United States have made sustainability education a core piece of their strategy, as well. It’s important for students to learn about the interconnectedness of societal and environmental systems, so that they can recognize that environmental issues are not separate and disconnected from their day-to-day life. Engaging students to be leaders of sustainability helps to mobilize an entire school community in the effort of reaching energy and sustainable practice goals, and ultimately aids in the process of cutting costs and saving money for a school district.

Implementing sustainability in schools is a team effort. Teachers play a huge role in the process of a child’s growth and their understanding of the world around them, and so play a critical role in the success of sustainability implementation and student engagement, as do all building occupants and staff, including a school’s custodial staff who work hard to maintain sustainable operations. Often, sustainability plans involve partners within the municipality, such as the department of public works or community groups.

Schools affect the lives of students, and in doing so, the families of those students; parents who go out into the world every day with values and ideals that are hugely inspired by what their children have to say. Empowering youth to create a sustainable future is critical in the process of preserving the planet. Students are our future lawmakers, parents, consumers, ambassadors, and educators, and we can all make a difference in the here and now by making sustainability a priority.

Learn more about what is sustainability >>