|In particular, education for sustainability must counteract the long tradition of splintering knowledge into smaller and smaller pieces. Education for sustainability is not an add-on curriculum -- that is, it is not a new core subject like math or science. Instead, it involves an understanding of how each subject relates to environmental, economic, and social issues. Further, educating for sustainability promotes both high standards of achievement in all academic disciplines as well as an understanding of how these disciplines relate to each other and to the concepts of environmental quality, economic prosperity, and social equity.||Young
up 20 percent of the population, but 100 percent of the future.
-- Richard Riley, Secretary
Confronting the challenges of a new century will require a purposeful refocusing of the nation's education system into a more hands-on, interdisciplinary learning experience. Principles of sustainability can be used as a catalyst for innovation and restructuring of educational institutions, curricula, and teacher training efforts.
|Formal Education Reform|
|Encourage changes in the formal education system to help all students (kindergarten through higher education), educators, and education administrators learn about the environment, the economy, and social equity as they relate to all academic disciplines and to their daily lives.|
Four actions are proposed to implement this recommendation:
Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire.
-- William Butler Yeats
|A Nation at Risk, a 1983 report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education and authored by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, galvanized the country with its findings on the inadequacy of public schools in preparing the nation's youth. The report led many state and local leaders to make school reform a top priority; it also spurred bipartisan support to enact Goals 2000: Educate America Act (P.L. 103-227).|
This 1994 law aimed at improving the quality of learning and teaching in the classroom and workplace. Its principles include high expectations for all students; full participation by parents, educators, and communities; quality teaching; increased graduation rates; effective use of technology in learning; adult literacy and lifelong learning; safe and drug-free schools; and hands-on, experiential learning.
These principles are compatible with educating for sustainability. Educating students for high standards in basic skills across the curriculum will enable them to participate productively as members of the community and the workforce. Continuing educational opportunities throughout people's lives, both in formal and nonformal learning situations, will enable them to adapt to changing economic conditions and respond to the need for environmental protection. Building knowledge of the interdependence among economic prosperity, environmental protection, and social equity will help citizens understand, communicate, and participate in the decisions that affect their lives.
This reorientation to an integrated, interdisciplinary approach will succeed only if standards are established to ensure that sustainability education achieves high levels of quality and performance. Standards have been set for disciplines such as math, science, and geography. Additionally, educators have long recognized the need for a set of standards for environmental education. Organizations and businesses that fund environmental education projects also have called for a set of widely accepted materials standards that could be used in curriculum selection. To date, 19 states have adopted legislation mandating environmental education and 33 have enacted formal guidelines. Without a peer-reviewed framework of essential standards, however, implementation and evaluation of programs will be difficult. Education for sustainability requires connections to be made across all the standards and that environmental, equity, and economic issues be a part of each discipline.
Various organizations have focused on developing a set of consensus standards for environmental education.
Educators -- working in partnership with communities, businesses, and other stakeholders -- can make education for sustainability a reality. Specifically, for various levels of formal education, they can define the skills and knowledge students will need in order to understand how various human actions affect the environment, economy, and equity.
Students who meet performance standards on the principles of sustainability will be better prepared for emerging job opportunities in a global and dynamic economy. They also will be better prepared to become responsible citizens. Defining standards for a core of basic knowledge about sustainability will accelerate the infusion of these concepts throughout the nation's educational system. The standards also can serve as a resource for media strategies and other venues for nonformal education about sustainability.
Many states have already begun to address the changes needed to ensure that an informed citizenry has the awareness, understanding, behavior and skills necessary for a sustainable future.
|Friends of the Future|
Sixth through 12th grade students from the St. Francis of Assisi School
in Louisville, Kentucky, have created a voice for themselves and other
youth in the state by forming Friends of the Future (FoF). With their
teacher, Sheila Yule -- who, according to one student, "pulls everything
together and is the core of the group" -- Friends of the Future members
have set an ambitious local, state, and international agenda.
|Equipping today's students for tomorrow's decisions means that educators must promote long-term thinking and planning in conjunction with interdisciplinary, systemic learning. This shift will require new methods of teaching as well as new curriculum content. It will require that educators work with communities, businesses, and organizations to develop materials that expose students to local, national, and global issues. It means ensuring that issues and ideas from a variety of cultures and disciplines are represented in the classroom. Building a knowledge of the interdependence among economic prosperity, environmental protection, and social equity will help students become responsible citizens and understand, communicate, and participate in the decisions that affect their lives.||
Education for sustainability will . . . connect disciplines as well as
disparate parts of the personality: intellect, hands, and heart.
-- David Orr, Chair
The time is ripe for making education for sustainability -- and its requisite interdisciplinary approach -- a focal point of reinvention efforts in educational institutions. There are already groups, locally and abroad, that are leading the way:
If the nation's elementary, secondary, and higher education schools are to infuse sustainability concepts into their curricula and offer separate courses in issues related to sustainability, universities and colleges will need to take the lead in reorienting education's approach from compartmentalization to integration.
More courses that support interdisciplinary approaches need to be offered and existing courses need to be refocused to include sustainability topics.
Widener University offers a Sustainability and the Law course which has three themes: the role of law in achieving sustainability, sustainability as a basis for evaluating laws, and the potential effectiveness of different types of legal instruments in achieving sustainability. The course materials, which include an interdisciplinary bibliography, focus on topics including fisheries; business and manufacturing; biodiversity and climate; international, national, and local communities; and consumption and population.
Additionally, a wide variety of university programs focusing on sustainability and interdisciplinary study opportunities are emerging across the nation.
|To ensure that the momentum to develop programs on sustainability continues, universities need to work with federal, state, and local agencies to shift funding priorities toward interdisciplinary research. At present, fewer than two percent of federal funding to universities supports research related to environmental subjects, including the human causes of environmental change.2 Too often, interdisciplinary research is regarded as "soft science" which does not advance a faculty member's professional standing, fulfill publication requirements, or earn tenure. Consequently, the educational system is not responding as quickly to the need for information and research on sustainability.||
"Countries...could...establish national or regional centers of excellence in interdisciplinary research and education...Such centers could be universities..."
-- excerpted from Agenda 21
Elementary and secondary schools also need to work with other schools and communities to develop curriculum, deliver information, identify questions for research, and provide direct services to help solve community problems. Many elementary and secondary schools are already making progress in this area. For example, the Community High School Environmental Research and Field Studies Academy in Jupiter, Florida, incorporates sustainability concepts into classroom subjects, school activities, community service projects, and enterprise partnerships. This gives students an opportunity to share in decisions related to their school and community to define a more sustainable, equitable, and productive future.
Although some educators believe that schools should impart only knowledge and skills, not foster changes in attitudes or actions, other educators contend that participation in real-world activities is an integral component of education.3 Courses in citizenship, for example, sometimes involve the development of action plans to resolve real-world environmental problems and the opportunity to implement those plans if students desire. The Global Rivers Environmental Education Network (GREEN) initiative is an educational program with a strong focus on real-world problems and community service. This program is helping empower students to take community action by providing the tools necessary to learn about the environmental, economic, and social conditions in their communities, as well as the global community.
Community service can be a powerful educational tool. Taking young people out of the classroom has a long, successful tradition in environmental education.
Finally, the success of reform efforts will depend heavily on access to pre- and in-service training for educators and the development of new materials. Classroom learning can be greatly enhanced by knowledgeable educators who are supported by recent and accurate materials. Learning institutions can work collaboratively with organizations and businesses to develop materials for teaching and learning about sustainability. In fact, many organizations are already leading the way.
To remain competitive in the global marketplace, our nation needs a
workforce knowledgeable about the interdependence among
environmental, economic, and social issues as well as the skills
necessary to apply this knowledge to their everyday lives. It
follows that an educated workforce needs to have access to
programs, training, and curriculum that provide for
interdisciplinary learning opportunities. Many schools are
starting to recognize the benefits of interdisciplinary studies,
and are working collaboratively with students to create their own
programs of study.
Saleem Ali worked with advisors at Tufts and Yale to pioneer his own interdisciplinary path of study. After completing a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and environmental studies at Tufts University, Saleem was accepted to a master's program at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. To buttress his environmental degrees and his interest in sustainable development, Saleem took a variety of courses including Industrial Ecology, Environmental Economics, Quantitative Methods in Decision Analysis, and Philosophy and Public Policy.
But he knew that coursework alone was not enough: He needed to couple his academics with hands-on, experiential learning in order to gain a broader understanding of the interdependence of environmental, economic, and social issues in a global society. Saleem set out to gain experience in the business, nonprofit, and government sectors to broaden his understanding of how each one operated. He worked for the General Electric Company on international environmental protocols and environmental auditing; interned for a year for the British Parliament (House of Commons) in London conducting research on material for environmental debates; and worked at the Center for Rainforest Studies in Australia where he interviewed farmers, conducted analysis on water and soil samples, and prepared a research report on reforestation in the Lake Tinaroo Catchment.
Sharing his knowledge with others is a top priority for Saleem. He has written about his interests and concerns in campus and local newspapers, including the Yale Herald and Tufts Daily. Plus, Saleem has lectured in Pakistani schools to promote awareness of environmental issues. In 1994, he was awarded the Marshall Hoshhauser Prize for "altruistic community service."
To Saleem Ali, these diverse activities and experiences just made sense. "In order to be an effective environmental professional, it is essential to cover a broad disciplinary spectrum because environmental issues tend to permeate all educational discourse from humanities to natural sciences. I am particularly interested in bringing my skills to work for the industrial sector because I feel a need to bridge the gap between the corporate sector and the environmental community. This partnership between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, I believe, will be the most significant impetus to environmental reform in coming years."
|Classroom Outside the Classroom|
A group of windsurfers on the Huron River became concerned for their
health when they emerged from the water with severe skin rashes. A
few had also contracted Hepatitis A. The students turned to
University of Michigan professors Dale Greiner and William Stapp
for answers. The professors devised nine water quality tests and,
over the next few months and in a variety of weather conditions,
assisted the students in charting the quality of the water. What
they found was that after a heavy rain, there was a dangerously
high fecal coliform count -- at 1,200 parts per million it was not
considered safe for drinking, swimming, or fishing -- caused by
combined sewer overflow. The students told city officials of their
findings and erected a sign to warn others of the potential
dangers of entering the water after a storm.
In 1986, students from 16 high schools near the Rouge River heard about the Huron River findings and decided to do the same analysis. They were shocked to find that their river's fecal levels were even higher than in the Huron study, with counts ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 parts per million. The students contacted city officials, who were able to attract financial support from the federal and state governments to build retention basins that would eliminate the sanitary waste from overflowing storm pipes. There are now more than 100 schools involved in monitoring the Rouge River.
These events, and the concern for healthy water systems, launched the Global Rivers Environmental Education Network (GREEN), a nonprofit organization whose director, Keith Wheeler, also participates on the Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education Task Force. Since 1989, GREEN has grown to include more than 140 nations.
GREEN's interdisciplinary approach to watershed analysis entails maintaining a log of scientific data and information, as well as looking at an area's history and cataloguing its culture and economic status. The GREEN program also emphasizes that watersheds do not recognize human boundaries; and encourages communities, states, and nations to work together to preserve water quality.
For example, high school students in Juarez, Mexico, conducted water quality tests at their school and discovered high levels of nitrate. Suspecting that the problem was caused by fertilizers seeping into community wells, the students made appeals to local authorities for action. Although their appeals were ignored, the students posted signs in the community. Public awareness of water quality issues increased -- as did sales of bottled water. This project, which came to be known as Project del Rio, now has 24 participating schools in Mexico and 36 in Texas and New Mexico. Student results are validated by local environmental businesses, and data are shared via a bilingual computer network.
GREEN participants learn the importance of ensuring a clean and safe water supply for themselves, their families, and their communities. The problem-solving skills, knowledge, and understanding they achieve advance them as responsible citizens.
Educators are the best means for infusing sustainability into formal learning -- but only if these educators have had relevant high-quality professional development before and during their tenure in the classroom. Professional development can bridge the gap between what educators know now and what they will need to know to prepare the nation's youth for changes resulting from the global transition to sustainability. Educators continually need to learn new methods and techniques for transferring knowledge both inside and outside the classroom. The challenge is how to best deliver this training so it is widespread and promotes hands-on, interdisciplinary learning.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that teachers do not feel adequately prepared to incorporate environmental education, multicultural perspectives, vocational relevance, and other educational demands that comprise elements of a sustainability curriculum -- including stimulating, higher order creative skills -- into their teaching. Difficulty in accessing different teaching materials are barriers.
Professional training for sustainability poses a number of challenges. For one thing, teachers in all subject areas will have to acquire some knowledge and understanding of the principles of sustainability. Adequate pre-service training will depend on institutions of higher education adding appropriate courses; in-service professional development presents the formidable challenge of retraining the 2.8 million teachers in the nation's public and private K-12 schools.6 Meeting these challenges is an important step in our nation's movement toward sustainability since educators impart the knowledge that the next generation of citizens, parents, and workers will use in their daily lives.
Because it is a relatively new concept for teachers as well as students, education for sustainability needs to be incorporated into teacher pre-service and in-service education programs. Adequate funding through legislation or grants is essential for expanding pre-service and in-service training in sustainability. To ensure adequate financial support, partnerships among state departments of education, institutions of higher education, professional societies, and school districts are critical. Funding for developing, demonstrating, and disseminating exemplary programs, especially for professors who educate pre-service teachers, could strongly influence the future of sustainability in the United States. Where state or federal funding is unavailable, the private sector can help meet the challenge.
Teachers will need plenty of guidance at the outset, especially in measuring success. Educators, with the help of academics, non-governmental organizations, professional societies, and businesses, can take the lead in developing new materials on sustainability. Professional development, adequate teaching materials, and evaluations of success are all necessary prerequisites if educators are to meet the challenge of preparing students for a new era.
Successful work in this area includes the following:
|Teaching Teachers and Students About the Environment|
Despite the popular teaching slogan "think globally and act locally," few
high school students graduate with the ability to analyze and assess
global environmental problems. A 1995 study sponsored by the Pew
Charitable Trusts found that global topics such as population change,
ocean pollution, temperate ecology, and land use -- some of the most
pressing problems facing society -- were among the least common subjects
addressed in environmental education classes and teacher training programs.
Although many teachers would like to include global environmental studies in their courses, they are discouraged by a variety of barriers including the need for new information, the need for new ways to integrate information and materials into learning situations, and determining how to make global issues relevant to students. In addition, teachers worry about overwhelming students -- either with the somber nature of the topics or as an addition to an already overcrowded school year.
Most teacher training courses and curriculum materials offer little help. Training courses tend to focus on local and regional issues. Most materials are appropriate for elementary and middle schools, but not sufficiently challenging for high school use.
Overcoming these obstacles is the goal of a recent partnership formed between the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Global Network of Environmental Education Centers. By combining their respective strengths -- teacher training and the production of top-quality curriculum materials -- they hope to bolster the professional development of environmental educators nationwide and stimulate the infusion of global environmental studies into U.S. secondary schools. The plan is to develop model teacher training courses using WRI's curriculum materials that link global environment and sustainable development issues with similar concerns.
The university has all too often geared its research, teaching, and
service to communities in ways that have little relationship to
sustainability. We must change much of our thinking about how to walk
softly upon the planet. To do this will require us to make fundamental
changes in the corporate culture of the university.
--Bunyan Bryant, Professor
|Educational institutions -- from K-12 schools through colleges and universities -- can and should serve as models for sustainability. As such, schools at all levels can be potent forces in educating the communities they serve while reducing their own operating costs and increasing their efficiency. For students, participating in a school's conservation efforts is a form of hands-on, experiential learning. Various forms of community service that get students out of the classroom, literally or figuratively, can also serve as powerful educational tools.|
In February 1995, a workshop on the Principles of Sustainability in Higher Education was held in Essex, Massachusetts, under PLTF auspices. The workshop was sponsored by Second Nature, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education for sustainability, and the Secretariat of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future. One of the workshop's major conclusions was that the operations of universities and colleges should be restructured so that they serve as models for sustainability:
Not only can institutions develop curricula that integrate sustainability concepts, they can also incorporate these concepts into a wide range of activities, including research projects, career counseling, administrative procedures, procurement practices, academic curricula, and other university services.
The results of practical research or model greening projects conducted at universities and colleges can be shared with the community and other school systems. For example:
|Primary and secondary schools can follow suit; in fact, some of the nation's 80,000 primary and secondary schools have already made great strides.||
Higher education institutions bear a profound moral responsibility to
increase the awareness, knowledge, skills and values to create a just
and sustainable future.
--Tony Cortese, CEO
Becoming a model of sustainability is consistent with higher education's traditional mission of teaching, research, and service. Increasing awareness, knowledge, and technologies to create a sustainable future is a key responsibility of schools. Schools educate the leaders, managers, and visionaries of tomorrow. They train the teachers who educate children from kindergarten through high school, vocational schools, colleges, and universities. The school's responsibility is to provide a quality education and a safe and healthy learning environment. Institutions of higher education can exert a strong influence on society by turning out literate citizens who have witnessed first hand the benefits of sustainability.
Universities and schools nationwide should develop 10- and 20-year plans to make sustainability a central focus of their operations. Through their own experiences in becoming more sustainable, universities and schools can serve as catalysts for encouraging local communities to move toward a sustainable future. Following are some examples of successful sustainability efforts and experiments in academia.
"Colleges and universities are, for the most part, still educating the
young for an industrial world. But in the much more crowded world of the
21st century those now in school must have the know how and know why to
sharply reduce the amount of land, fossil energy, materials, and water
thought necessary for human life."
-- David W. Orr, Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental
To answer the challenge of educating students for sustainability, Oberlin College is involving students and faculty, as well as outside consultants and stakeholders, in developing a 10,000 square foot, zero emissions Environmental Center. The facility will require the efficient use of recycled materials, ecological wastewater systems, solar energy, and ecological landscaping. "We intend for the building to be a crossroads for interdisciplinary education, research, and action on the complex array of problems and opportunities facing humankind in the 21st century," says Orr.
In conjunction with the Environmental Center project, Oberlin College offers an Ecological Design class. Students in the class meet with leading practitioners, energy experts, and designers to share and develop ideas contributing to the building process. In the future, students will use the building as a living laboratory for discovery and learning.
|Schools as Models of Sustainability|
Some 450 faculty, staff, and student delegates from all 50 states and six
continents convened February 18-20, 1994, at the Campus Earth Summit at
Yale University. The delegates agreed that schools must promote
sustainable development; they gathered their suggestions, input, and
recommendations into the Blueprint for a Green Campus: The Campus Earth
Summit Initiatives for Higher Education.12
The document describes ways to make sustainability a central focus of
education programs and to provide community and regional fora to discuss
sustainability. It is based on the principle that students, as
multi-billion-dollar consumers of higher education's services, have the
power to demand more environmentally responsible campuses and curricula.
The Blueprint's 10 recommendations are as follows:
|National Wildlife Federation Campus Ecology Program|
On Earth Day 1990, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) launched the
Campus Ecology program to help college and university students, staff,
and faculty promote environmental education throughout their campuses and
make campuses more sustainable. The program has involved over one-third
of the institutes of higher learning in the United States.
Campus Ecology's mission is to establish environmentally sound practices on college campuses by promoting leadership and action within the campus community. Realizing the importance of diversity, Campus Ecology strives to include all peoples in working toward environmental solutions, and encourages joint campus and community projects. Campus Ecology recognizes the efforts of people who work on outstanding projects by documenting and publishing their accomplishments.
The program has three main components which have led to its success. Action is the most essential component. It is necessary to act now for environmental challenges to be met. Coalition building is also necessary; this promotes leadership, and should be representative of the country's diverse cultural heritage. Finally, continuity is crucial. Programs should be designed with a long-range goal in mind and be in existence long after students have graduated.
Campus Ecology participants have access to many different resources and services. These include Ecodemia, a book highlighting how universities around the country have started to "green" their campuses and the benefits associated with this greening; project resource packets which provide an overview of issues and strategies on tackling these issues; one-on-one consultation; site visits; workshops; NWF campus environmental yearbook; newsletters; job bank; speaker's bureau; case study clearinghouse; and a World Wide Web site.
|The George Washington University: Becoming A Model for Sustainability|
In 1994, the U.S. EPA and The George Washington University (GW) signed a
partnership agreement to work collaboratively to foster and enhance
leadership and stewardship for environmental management and
sustainability. GW is striving to become a model among institutions of
higher learning by embodying a principled ethic for the environment and
sustainability. This effort includes its education and training programs;
research; healthcare, and other services; management of its built and
natural campus environments, and other functions. This holistic approach
implies that GW is in a "...perpetual state of becoming sustainable."
GW has developed a "living" strategic plan which serves as its dynamic roadmap to a sustainable future. The planning process involved the participation of internal stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, and administrators. External stakeholders also participated -- including representatives of the neighborhoods around its campuses, vendors and contractors, local, state, and federal government agencies, and other parties. University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg signed and committed the plan to action on Earth Day 1995. The comprehensive plan is available to other interested schools via the National Environmental Information Resources Center at http://www.gwu.edu/~greenu/.
As an outcome of initial planning efforts, and to institutionalize what began as a volunteer-driven initiative, President Trachtenberg also chartered, funded, and staffed an "Institute for the Environment." With a University-provided base operating budget of about $150K/year (FY95), the Institute's mission is to facilitate and coordinate sustainability initiatives across all operating units of the University. Volunteerism continues to be a vital force in achieving the objectives of GW's plan. Rosemary Sokas, M.D., directs the Institute and its paid staff and volunteers, on a part-time basis. She brings a unique perspective to the job -- as a faculty member who actively practices international occupational and environmental medicine. Says Dr. Sokas: "GW has already made healthy returns on its investments." Trachtenberg's response:"...investing for sustainability is just plain good business."
Enrolling a diverse population of students from all 50 states and more than 120 countries, GW is the largest institution of higher learning in the nation's capital. At its main campus, the GW community of faculty, staff, students, and on-site contractors numbers more than 30,000. GW is the largest private sector employer in the District of Columbia, with a regional economic impact estimated at $1.6 billion annually. Its academic, research, and health care activities extend into over 100 countries. The scale and scope of these activities reflects a remarkable capability and an enormous capacity to drive widespread, positive change for sustainability. This ranges from the national and international influence of its more than 150,000 living alumni, to the leverage it exerts in the marketplace when specifying and procuring environmentally preferable goods and services from the 26,000 vendors it uses each year.
GW is working with colleges and universities; business and industry; federal, state, and local government agencies; and other organizations to form strategic alliances, advance mutual objectives, and achieve common goals for a sustainable future.The alliances are operating at four levels of communities: local, regional, national, and international. Opportunities which build the intellectual capacity for a sustainable future, fuel the economy, create new jobs, advance social equity, and enhance public and environmental health and wellness are among the results.