The Language of Sustainability 006

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How you ever found yourself saying the word ‘Sustainability’ and feeling deep down inside that there is lots of confusion or uncertainty about what the word truly means in your day to day life? Or feeling guilty at times because you are trying to live more sustainably, but can’t get past the feeling of being a sustainability fraud?

Speaking for myself, I often struggle with not being 100% sustainable and in fact often not knowing what is the best action to promote sustainability. When I am speaking to students or other staff I often feel myself lacking the confidence I desire and I feel my voice waver. This still happens even after over 10 years of teaching sustainability concepts to students and other teachers.

Granted I have been known to over think a things once or twice in my life… Yet at the same time I truly believe there is something ultimately confusing about how we all talk about sustainability. Many of us endeavour to have a high level of integrity when we use the ‘sustainability’ word or other words that are in the sustainability lexicon. And then there are those people and organisations that don’t honour the essence of what environmental sustainability needs to be in order to take the steps needed.

I put these groups of people into two categories:
Group 1: People/organisations engaging in this language because it is trendy and they want to fit in but lack the knowledge and understanding of how to do so.
Group 2: People/organisations actively taking advantage of the trendiness for the purpose of profit or marketing. How many times have you seen the word ‘Green’ or ‘Organic’ or ‘Natural’ on something and scratched your head in wonderment and said, ‘Really?’

If I am feeling like this I can only imagine what my students are feeling like. And schools are no different from the two groups above. As teachers it is our responsibility to be clear with our language around sustainability. Language like ‘we are being sustainable’ or ‘because we have solar panels we are being energy efficient’ encourages our school communities (students, parents, teaching staff, maintenance coordinators, board members etc) to believe that sustainability is a single act. A token. A single technology. Rather than more accurately understanding it to be the merging of technology with behaviour change and something to constantly strive towards and constantly move closer to. The more we learn and engage with sustainability problem solving the bigger the challenge we realise it becomes. And it is in this realisation that we have a never ending collection of legitimate tame or wicked problems that provide a platform for our students to practice communication, negotiation, enterprise, collaboration, advocacy and problem solving skills and experience what failing forward feels like. And that’s the type of education I want us to be providing for our students and our kids.

By using the language of ‘more’ and endeavouring to ‘increase’ the good things and ‘lessen’ and ‘reduce’ the bad things, collectively we come to understand this as something we constantly strive to do better. More recycling options, more solar power to assist with our energy needs, less waste, and less single use items at the school. It goes on…..

It will be a long journey for all of us to get the lexicon to be less confusing, but there is no better time and place to start then today at your school.

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