The low hanging fruit is where we always start. Put recycling bins in the cafeteria and by the photocopier. Stop laminating posters for your classroom walls. Have a designated ‘light-switcher’ each day so the lights are switched off when not needed. Turn off the taps... you know the drill. All of these are very worthwhile, as the small things add up. Not only that, but they are tangible actions that school communities can take to see how they can make a difference to the world around them each and every day. But when do we truly go beyond the low hanging fruit? When do you (I am talking to teachers, school leaders and administrators now) look at how these quick wins are adding up? What are they adding up to? Have we truly changed the understanding of what sustainability means? Have we looked beyond the easy wins and tackled the tough but necessary changes that need to happen to reach those elusive sustainable development goals? Have you looked at where your chemicals for cleaning are sourced? Have we investigated the accumulated carbon miles of our staff as they travel to work? Have we checked how our school uniforms are sourced and whether there is an ethical and sustainable imperative in their sourcing? When do we go beyond green?
For a school like the Arbor School in Dubai, beyond green is not just a add – on nice idea, its built into our vision. “Enough for all, forever”. Its written there for all to see – we are a purpose driven school, and our purpose is to grow individuals who will go forth and bring this vision to fruition - a sustainable future for ALL. Not just sustainable for those who live in the global North. Not just sustainable for those who can afford to be sustainable. But a truly interconnected, sustainable world where there is a clear understanding of our collective responsibility to live well, within this earthly household.
So how do we, you, all of us, go beyond green? Firstly, stop with the greenwashing. The 3R’s are not enough. Putting more hessian on your walls to appear green and using more sticks and twigs in your classroom is a veneer of green which detracts from the big challenges ahead. Don’t stop acting small, but seriously consider how the big questions may be tackled. Identify the areas in which your school is currently not acting in ways that are sustainable, and put some big, hairy, audacious goals in place. Water. Electricity. Air conditioning and/or heating. Resource consumption. Transport. Purchasing and procurement. Waste management. Cleaning. Ethical treatment of all staff. Inclusion and participation. Start with the question – what do we know? If the answer is not much, then you have a start point. Let’s get to knowing. Let’s audit those ‘known unknowns’ and figure out exactly where our starting point lies. And the beauty of a school, is you are not in this alone. Going beyond green means taking the entire community on the journey. Who is great at auditing waste – kids! Who is great at counting car miles – families! Who knows exactly how many sheets of paper or glue sticks used this week – teachers and support staff! A sustainability framework for the school community is exactly that – a community tool. No institution can be sustainable in isolation, it is a community project. We must build life affirming links that work to the benefit of us all, and by doing so move towards a sustainable future for all.
So, going beyond green means taking serious steps to put in place a framework of goals, actions and measures that hold you, us, our schools, to account for significant change. There are many examples of frameworks, organisations and consultants out there for schools to utilise as a support for action planning. Eco-Schools, Green Schools Alliance and Green Schools Initiative are three useful organisations to help schools and provide downloadable templates. The kinds of changes that will significantly impact on the future of our planet, our earthly household and all its inhabitants, require that we go beyond green. The development of knowledge, skills, dispositions and the willingness to convert those three things into action requires a determined leader (I don’t mean the kind of leadership that requires a title) willing to recognise that sustainability is not a fad, not a political tool, not a marketing USP, not a lifestyle. Going beyond green is a requirement for a truly exciting future in which we all wish to participate.