Creating A Sustainable Future

By Hope Gribble,
Education & Green Schools Manager
USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter

Too often, we lose sight of the larger context of life, of the systems we are a part of and the implications our actions have upon people and the planet. It’s no wonder, with the constant influx of email, social media, and information at our fingertips combined with daily tasks associated with living and working. Time for reflection is rarely given priority.

Along with increasing distractions and work-life responsibilities, we are faced globally with a growing population and limited natural resources. Now, more than ever, we must look past daily distractions and take action towards creating a sustainable future together.

One approach educators are taking to address this need is referred to as Education for Sustainability (EfS). As David Sobel notes in the National Action Plan for Educating for Sustainability published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and USGBC, “EfS was officially ‘born’ as a new field of inquiry in 1992, and thought leaders have been asking what students need to know, to be able to do, and to be like if we are to increase the possibility that humans and other life can flourish on Earth indefinitely.”

Education for Sustainability aims to equip learners with knowledge and skills to develop new ways of thinking that bring the larger context of the environment, economy, and social equity into consideration. It aspires to cultivate a new generation of young people with the awareness, responsibility, and ability to take action for a beautiful, prosperous future. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, a cornerstone of EfS is “including sustainable development issues, such as climate change and biodiversity into teaching and learning. Individuals are encouraged to be responsible actors who resolve challenges, respect cultural diversity and contribute to creating a more sustainable world.” (http://en.unesco.org/themes/education-sustainable-development)

Since 2011, a group of local organizations – Webster University, Missouri Botanical Garden, Saint Louis Zoo, U.S. Green Building Council – Missouri Gateway Chapter, Madison County Government, Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School – have joined forces to collaboratively plan and host the annual Sustainability Institute for Educators. This three-day Institute challenges participants to examine current issues in sustainability while considering how people and schools are connected to these issues.

Each year, hands-on activities, special guest lecturers, field trips, and resources focus on a specific theme such as food, climate change, water, or student empowerment. The 7th Annual Sustainability Institute for Educators, taking place June 20-22, 2017 in partnership with St. Louis County Department of Public Health, will explore food in schools through the lens of sustainability. Topics will include changing the cafeteria landscape, food waste and sustainable disposal, wellness and nutrition, schoolyard gardens, food policy, and more!

Built upon the EfS approach, the Institute begins by increasing participants’ awareness, knowledge, and understanding pertaining to the issues, principles and science of sustainability surrounding a focused subject matter. Participants then explore how to construct learning environments that connect to real-world problems facing the 21st century with an end goal of taking action and effecting positive change in school communities.

The Institute is designed for all members of the educational community including teachers, non-formal educators, and administration from public, independent, and non-formal learning environments. More information is available at www.webster.edu/sie.