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Why should sustainability be a key part of education?

Why should sustainability be a key part of education?

In this post, TOTO Energy take a closer look at sustainability, offer a few tips on how to engage and reinforce the message and why it's important that we included it in the school curriculum.

There are many different definitions of sustainability, which can focus on many different aspects including politics, economics, philosophy as well as other social sciences. But the Brundtland Report seems to outline it well, "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainability skills and environmental awareness is a big priority in many jobs at a graduate level. Companies are embracing environmental, social and governance strategies and programs, and as they try to integrate these strategies throughout their businesses. They need new employees to help contribute and shape this new focus on sustainability, which ultimately, starts with education.

Sustainability education is a concept of education that seeks to empower and bring together people of all ages to assume responsibility for creating a sustainable future. It has also grown over time to recognise the need to engage with many different interests in society in order to address environmental issues. Sustainability can be split into three main areas; social, environmental, and economic. It is a very broad topic, and educational establishments need to give students and graduates insights into most aspects of the human world from business to technology to environment and the social sciences.

There are specialist sustainability programs popping up in colleges and universities around the world. More and more students and graduates are looking for careers where they'll make an impact, do something for the environment, or be involved in corporate social responsibility.

It is now vital that companies and communities implement authentic and innovative sustainability practices.

There are many issues that we are facing, that affect our capacity to live and learn, such as:

  • Catastrophic climate change
  • Deforestation, vanishing fish stock
  • Overpopulation, malnutrition and premature death
  • Polluted air and water
  • Diminishing natural resources

It’s not easy to address these issues, it is rather complex. We need to educate and grow the next generation of sociologists and social workers to address social issues, Economists, accountants, financial advisors to address economic problems. Environmentalists, environment managers, policy auditors, to work on our environmental future. As well as many more professions in different sectors.

How do we prioritise and shape educating the future of the world?

Well, in 2012, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development met to discuss and develop a set of goals to work towards. Here they grew out of the Millennium Development Goals that claimed success in reducing global poverty while acknowledging there was still much more to do. Eventually they came up with a list of 17 items which included amongst other things:

  • The end of poverty and hunger
  • Better standards of education and healthcare
  • To achieve gender equality
  • Sustainable economic growth while promoting jobs and stronger economies

All of the above and more while tackling the effects of climate change, pollution and other environmental factors that can harm and do harm people's health, livelihoods and lives. When discussing environmental issues, we are talking about the overall health of the land, air and sea.

It is encouraging that there are an increasing number of colleges and universities now including elements of sustainability as part of their campus management programs and curriculum.

The main issue we’re currently facing is a poor integration of sustainability within the curriculum and across departments. For example, in universities, sustainability curriculums are tacked on to programs or courses as an elective, therefore not compulsory, this is most common with business studies or economics. Sustainability has as much to do with business management, as does economics and accounting. Training students on how to approach complex problems, how to employ systems thinking, and how to engage younger workers who care deeply about sustainability is vital.

Schools and universities don't have to create lessons dedicated solely to the environment and energy to teach them about these issues. This knowledge can be diffused in core subjects like maths, science and even literacy lessons.

How can students be engaged?

It’s important for teachers and establishments to be aware of potential student overload. Employing sustainability in every sector of learning has the ability to overwhelm some students.

Start the education young, drip-feeding information over time, leading to a well-rounded understanding by adolescence. Perhaps we should be engaging students by discussing their definitions of happiness and quality of life, and whether they correlate with high levels of consumption and resource use.

Peer engagement and support is also hugely important. Engaging students in group discussions or projects in which they have the opportunity to discuss and support one another can reinforce the message.

Students may learn more about environmental issues by wrestling with empirical data for themselves, rather than receiving pre-digested data and analysis from lectures, the media or any other secondary sources.

Why not collect this data themselves on a field trip? Field trips bring people together in ways that go beyond traditional classroom experiences.

It is not yet clear what our sustainable future will look like, but with emerging technologies and the improvement of awareness in the world’s current workforce, it will continue to change. One thing is for sure, we all need to make sustainability accessible to all students, and this is a key issue that many schools and institutions need to address.

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