By Carla Jones, Communications Assistant
It would be putting it mildly to say that it has been a frustrating couple of weeks in the world of sustainability, with the outcomes of the Rio+20 Summit described by George Monbiot as ‘perhaps the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war’.
Just how do you build leadership and where does it get nurtured? I was at the Eden Project in Cornwall last week where, at the final workshop of our Low Energy Sustainable Schools (LESS) CO2 programme, schools in Devon and Cornwall showed that empowering pupils to take action and experience their own agency – in other words, creating an environment where students gain the confidence to make a difference – is key.
With support from the LESS CO2 programme, eight schools have achieved remarkable things by handing over power to their pupils.
For example at Gwinear Primary school in Hayle, Cornwall, ‘eco detectives’ from as young as six can control classroom projectors and reprimand teachers who waste energy. At Trevisker School in Wadebridge, Cornwall, children from the age of eight are taught to measure their own carbon footprint, take responsibility for their own CO2 emissions and learn that their actions can make a significant difference. In all schools, student eco-committees and eco-clubs have brought a real spirit of sustainability to both the schools and their communities.
Importantly, the LESS CO2 schools are showing their pupils how to put the theory they learn in their lessons into practice. This is real progress from when I was at university, when my only option was setting up a student society to explore local, practical solutions to social and environmental problems – this simply wasn’t covered as part of my course.
LESS CO2 mentor Keith Webber of Okehampton College explains how he brings the reality of the school’s local environment into every lesson:
“We’ve really moved away from just teaching about climate change and energy systems in the abstract, and whenever I can I encourage teachers to send students out of the classroom to look at what we are doing as a college. Too often they are the ones who will notice the light left on in a sunny room and pull me up on it – they’re so much more engaged now in what we can do right here and now”.
More and more programmes are recognising the potential of building sustainability leadership skills within the next generation. For example, past Ashden Award winner Global Action Plan has a great programme for students, as do small innovative charities such as Envision’s secondary schools programme and Otesha’s Change Projects.
The Eden Project itself has even committed itself to working in this area. Says the Eden Project’s Schools Project Manager Sam Kendall:
“Too often young people are bombarded with messages about how we are going around destroying our planet, but that doesn’t inspire agency and change. What they don’t hear enough about are the possibilities. A project like Eden has a story which inspires that personal agency.”
Schools have a vital role to play in supporting young people who know the power of their own agency to start make a difference. It’s only here that true leadership on sustainable development will begin.
Recruitment for the 2012/2013 LESS CO2 programme is now open to primary and secondary schools in Cornwall and Devon. For more information contact Carla Jones: email@example.com, 020 7410 7068.