A Refreshing Way of Thinking about Sustainability

It is estimated that about 80% of food waste is avoidable or potentially avoidable, or about 1.04 Billion Tonnes.

The EPA estimates that 75% of the American waste stream is recyclable, but we only recycle about 30% of it.

It is estimated that about 40% of household energy waste is preventable through behavioural changes.

How can we stop such a seemingly preventable cycle? Could we simply raise awareness on these issues and the actions that individuals should take? Unfortunately, behavioural economics studies reveal that the solution is not that simple. The issue is rooted much deeper than simply “raising awareness” about these issues and the behaviours that individuals should implement to mitigate the effects of these problems. Rather, the issue lies in the way we think, treat, and deal with environmental literacy and education.

Earlier this Spring I had the privilege of chatting over coffee with Professor John Robinson from the University of Toronto, who is currently leading research on civic engagement and community co-creation in transformative urban sustainability policies. We both agreed that while there is a need for academics who study environmental sustainability in-depth, we should take advantage of the interdisciplinary and multifaceted nature of the academic field to incorporate it into other areas of study.

What we need, is a paradigm shift — we need to stop looking at the study of environmental sustainability as some far off, isolated space, and rather look at environmental sustainability as a lens from which we can study other topics. What we need is to produce engineers, doctors, lawyers, consultants, analysts, artists, musicians, athletes, citizens and more, all of which have the knowledge and understanding to apply an environemntal sustainability lens to the everyday work that they do.

Analogous to the foundational math education we recieve throughout our academic trajectory, even if we have no plans to become a mathematician, environmental sustainability should be intertwined in our curriculums whether an individual plans on becoming an “environmentalist” or not.

The only way we can build a resilient and feasible contemporary society is if we give our youth, the leaders of tomorrow, the tools, skills, and resources they need to understand how their actions effect the environment around them. We need to incorporate aspects of environmental sustainability in educational curriculums worldwide, instilling sustainable behaviours, habits, and thought processes.

From a young age, students should be taught the impacts their actions have on the environment around them. School boards should make use of multimedia, communication, and conferencing tools and technologies to bridge the gap between communities who are impacted most by climate change, and communities who are most responsible for climate change. Fast forward into the future, these same students should be taught the social and environmental implications of decisions they make as a professional while studying towards an undergraduate or even graduate degree.

Environmental sustainability should no longer be an isolated area of academics, but rather a way of observing, analyzing, and thinking about the world around us.

Students engaging in discussion at an environmental panel hosted by the Toronto Coalition of Ecoschools.