I feel like I just returned from the future. It was actually a trip to visit clients, teams and partners in Asia, but there were elements of campus life at primary and secondary schools that, I think, are harbingers of things to come worldwide.
This is good news, because at the forefront was sustainability.
Students everywhere are highly attuned to the need to be more environmentally sensitive. All of us in the education community have seen how young people are leading the way on major changes, such as reducing our reliance on plastics. This generation has rightly gained a reputation for pushing for change in the way we all interact with the environment.
Typically, it’s been higher education students who tend to get attention for efforts and campaigns. It was eye-opening to see younger students, from high-school kids right down to early learners, working together to incorporate environmentally sound practices in just about everything they do.
Take the pre-emptive waste reduction approach to dining at Dulwich College in Singapore. In the cafeteria kitchen, food is monitored carefully so the team can be more accurate in purchasing – and the students more accurate in planting and harvesting in the school garden. They take the view that the best way to combat food waste is to not create it in the first place.
Once students and staff – often bringing their own mugs with them – finish meals they have an opportunity to sort and weigh their leftovers to understand, individually, how they might further the waste reduction effort.
It was eye-opening to see younger students, from high-school kids right down to early learners, working together to incorporate environmentally sound practices in just about everything they do.
At UWC Southeast Asia, students take this further a few steps further.
They start by collecting organic waste after meals, mining the cafeteria for coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peels. They then haul their findings to the on-site composting area that older students created a few years ago. That compost is used as fertilizer for the school gardens, which, in turn, supply the cafeteria kitchen.
“It’s a lot of hard work to start with. I didn’t realize how much natural waste we put away each day and having to carry that was a bit of a pain. But I think it’s just a great way to reuse the waste that we have,” one student told Channel News Asia.
There was a special energy on these campuses. Students, faculty and administrators were excited about the changes they were making in the world. They were learning the life skill of turning ideas into actions – a key understanding as we are to tackle the food waste issue more broadly.
I can see how this trend is already spreading. In Europe, there’s a growing embrace of the International Food Waste Coalition’s SKOOL program — School Kitchen Optimisation, Organisation and Learning. SKOOL started in three schools it’s first year, then spread to six and is now in 17 schools across France, Belgium, Italy and the UK.
Many of our other partner schools have incorporated environmental sensitivity into curriculums and work with our teams to enact more sustainable practices.
Like the UWCSA student said, impactful sustainability efforts can seem tough to implement at first, but the benefits soon become abundantly apparent. It’s only a matter of time until these kinds of holistic commitments become the norm.
It’s good for students, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for all of us.