How to Teach Sustainability
Today we've got an interview with Josh Hahn, whose company, Stone Bridge, advises schools on how to address sustainability and how their physical campuses can become integral components of this curricular mission.
We here at SFUSA first met you through you involvement with the Lawrenceville School, a private boarding school in New Jersey. They have an extremely progressive school food program (headed by Gary Giberson), the keystone in their Green Campus Initiative. What was your involvement with Lawrenceville and that program?
At Lawrenceville I was hired to produce a strategic plan for how the school could address the large conceptual issue of sustainability, and specifically what sustainability means for schools. I think that "Education for Sustainability" is much different from "greening."
For example: if a school installs light sensors in a classroom so that the lights go off when students leave, they should think hard about what exactly that action is teaching. If the students don't have to turn off the lights themselves, it may be further disconnecting them from ecology and natural resources. Education for sustainability looks to integrate children with the natural world not disintegrate their relationship with it.
At Lawrenceville the dining services aspect of the project became a model for how everything is integrated (land and water management; green building and energy efficiency; experiential education; procurement; waste streams; community and economic partnerships).
What makes that program work?
Buy-in and planning. I approach all my projects from within the organization. Too many sustainability initiatives are just that, an initiative. They need to be fully integrated into the culture (and all of the complex nuances of a particular place) in order for an organization to have success. Having a separate "program" kind of defeats the purpose, though it is an entry point or starting place that is sometimes essential.
What do you say to the skeptics who say: of course! It's a private school! They're rich and going green costs money!
First, I do work primarily with well-endowed schools; to me it is even more essential for these schools to take on the leadership that will be necessary to transition us to a post-petroleum economy.
Second, it is true that in developing models there is initial upfront investment, however not all schools need to be models! Teachers can start by putting worm bins in their classrooms and teaching a lesson on Waste=Food. The underpinnings of an Education for Sustainability curriculum are very simple and can be taught in Pre-K or PhD with little to no investment.
Again, it goes back to the difference between "greening" and educating. The whole school doesn't need to be off the grid to teach these lessons. Rather than the whole salad bar being local, start with growing basil and making pesto in the school. The program will grow, not because of its virtuous philosophy, but because people will be authentically interested and actually like the pesto! Yes, even kids.
And, then you can expand: Next step? Bread from a local bakery. Then local tomatoes and fresh house made mozzarella (which is really easy to make with kids)…all of a sudden you have a grilled cheese that is unique to your school. Name it after a teacher… that is what we did at Lawrenceville and now all the teachers want a sandwich named after them!
What have you found to be the key elements for an institution to be successful on their path towards sustainability?
In my experience the organizations that are most successful in implementing some of these ideas are Learning Organizations. These are organizations that understand that teaching and learning are reflective practices that require constant adjustment.
Schools that are able to work across disciplines (science integrated with art), and across departments (teachers working with chefs and food service managers) are the most well equipped to hit the ground running. This is why food is so important to broader sustainability issues; it is a meeting place for everyone in the community. The key is to identify opportunities that already exist within an organization and to make the projects/lessons authentic to student's real lives.
Check out their web site: www.bridgingsustainability.com
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