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Social Innovation as a Route to Creating an Ecological School Culture

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Part of our mission at Be The Change Earth Alliance is to engage in productive dialogue with educators on the opportunities and obstacles for the wide scale uptake of environmental education. With that goal in mind, we’ve launched into a community action research initiative that explore Social Innovation as a lens to support transformative education. 

Our Social Innovation Roots

After five years of working with different educational stakeholders including teachers, directors of instruction, school administration, district sustainability managers, BTCEA is creating space for processes oriented projects that support the systems change that is oriented towards transformative education. 

BTCEA is committed to environmental education as a component of urban sustainability and will continue to build on the successes, but we also acknowledge the complex dynamics of systemic change and endeavor to catalyze innovation through a common agenda that supports the scaling of environmental education best practices.

In the last few years BTCEA’s work has evolved from a primarily grassroots approach, working closely with teachers to develop environmental education resources to working within higher levels of the education system. Through this new approach, we have come to understand how we can help unite individuals across the system in the pursuit of 'collective impact'

Social Innovation is a tool for individuals and groups who aspire to tackle deeply entrenched and complex social problems such as climate change, in a way that brings disparate parts of the whole together in productive dialogue and action.

This is a participatory action research study which is made impactful through the participation of passionate educators and leaders, including teachers, school and district administrators, as well as students, parents, and community organizations.

Cultivating a Community Research Agenda

The motivation for this research project is a result of BTCEA’s experiences bringing environmental education into schools and a strong desire to better understand the current challenges and opportunities for the wide scale uptake of environmental education.

Thanks to the support of the Vancouver Foundation approaches include place-based learning connecting the classroom to the community, an inquiry approach to problem-solving, a blended approach to on-line research, home and community based research, classroom dialogue and small group project presentations, personal values clarification, and taking real action to develop personal and social responsibility. The application of these approaches has been positively received by many teachers, yet these teachers still face considerable challenges to integrate environmental education into the mainstream courses in secondary school.

Teachers and students who clearly see the connection between global environmental issues and local actions are more likely to make choices supporting global sustainability. Further, they can have a strong influence on their friends and family. This is congruent with the positive results of the ‘quit smoking’ and ‘seat belts’ campaigns when the youth brought the message home to their parents.

An Emergent Process

This first stage of research is largely exploratory with the objective of developing a picture of those aspects of the current education system which encourage or challenge the integration of environmental education and an ecological school culture. This picture will be used to identify key actors, connections, and points of leverage within the education system that will be critical in developing a ‘social innovation prototype’ (a preliminary model that is collaboratively developed and tested and later adapted and adopted to create systemic change).

The second stage of the research project is to develop a social innovation process that leads to the sprouting of an environmental education intervention/prototype that will then be tested within the local education system. Those who participate in various stages of the research will be provided a range of opportunities to provide insights on the emergent implementation process and outcomes of this initiative.

The research components of this project will be conducted in partnership with BTCEA, other environmental educators and organizations, with BTCEA's Founding Director and PhD student, Maureen Jack-LaCroix, as the project lead, under the permission of the Simon Fraser Research Ethics Board,

 

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Beyond the Bin- How Zero Waste Education Can Shape Society

Waste is a huge barrier for any community that is aspiring to become truly sustainable. Municipalities that take this task seriously are quickly learning that if children and youth are not educated and engage- this cannot lofty goal cannot be achieved. Waste is a sustainability issue that allows cities like  Vancouver to test education that leads to positive environmental behaviors.

“The workshops offered by BTCEA will encourage students to take tangible actions in adopting zero waste behaviours and will help the City achieve the zero waste target set in the 2020 Greenest City Action Plan” says Patrick Chen, the City of Vancouver's lead on this collaborative project.

Can action oriented education help support the creation of a Zero Waste City? BTCEA has received significant support over the years from the City of Vancouver to put our action education model to the test so as to better understand the ecological impact of action oriented education.

Waste Watchers Shape School Culture

‘Waste Watchers’ explored place based learning by having students dig through their schools garbage, asking them to consider how positive environmental behaviors can mitigate the environmental impact of societies current waste issues. Students then took on a variety of individual, home, school, and community projects to mitigate the affects of current waste behaviors, drawing upon the knowledge they gained from the waste audit (a detailed break down of contamination rates and notes of diversion potentialities). 

Some students went on to deliver assembly presentations that asked their peers to consider simple behavior choices that would help their school, households, and communities get to zero waste. Others improved waste bin signage and conducted bin monitoring. 

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Classrooms are Key

The majority of student learning in the course of their careers takes place in side the classroom. When sustainability education is delivered in this space it is being recognized as important to the development of society. New curriculum approaches in BC welcome less prescribed formats that suite BTCEA’s action oriented approach.

The Zero Waste workshops were developed with the City of Vancouver and were delivered to 500 secondary school students in 2017. Science teachers were very interested in making room in their schedule for this offering as it connects well with the content they teach. 

When asked to pledge waste reduction actions, 50% of students committed to reduce their use of disposable items in their personal lives, in their homes, and at school. However, many students reported that they found these actions difficult to complete because using disposables has become part of their everyday lives and alternatives are often not provided, especially in fast food outlets and cafes.

Indeed, one student commented: “Something that was challenging was the fact that almost everything I eat and drink is contained in something disposable”.

Youth Invest in the Circular, Waste Reduced Economy

A move to ban coffee cups in the City of Vancouver could go a long way towards reducing the amount of disposables ending up in the landfill and hopefully also lead the way to significant reduction in the use of other disposable items such as plastic bags or straws. As our workshops and audits have shown, many youth are aware of and concerned about waste issues and are willing to reduce their use of disposables when provided with alternatives. 

Youth are key stakeholders for helping communities transition to the circular, waste-reduced economy. As students learn about the environmental impact of their consumer choices, they also learn how their purchasing power can help in re-shaping how society organizes systems of production and consumption. Transformation and education are inherently linked in this regard. 

Education That Focuses on Impact

Teachers indicated that they would like to receive more education of this type in the future but that even one off workshops, when delivered in an engaging manner, can have a significant impact on student behavior. The results of our assessment suggest that many students will alter their behaviours relating to waste after trying 1-3 actions provided to them during the workshop.

In fact, many students directly reported that they would keep up their actions in the future and ask their families to also take on similar actions. This feedback signifies the potential long-term impact of delivering hands on, action oriented education in a classroom setting. 

It is expected that by improving students’ waste habits, these same youth will also be more readily engaged in other types of sustainability actions. 41% of students indicated that more workshops/ classes around waste and climate change would serve to encourage them to improve their habits out of a desire to be an environmentally responsible citizen. 

How might we start to treat youth as the stewards of the future that they really are? Providing them with education that teaches them this is key. A significant number of students also indicated that extracurricular activities such as a student action groups and more support from teachers and other adults would inspire them to take even bigger actions.

These educational programs were made possible by the support of the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Foundation. If you are a teacher in Metro Vancouver and are interested in zero waste or climate change education, please get in touch as these are evolving offerings. 

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Awaken and Change Symposium

Are you concerned about what is happening to our planet?  Are you ready to create a different future for your family and the world?

Mission’s Be The Change Action Circle promise you a transformative education experience this Saturday, May 27that the Awaken and Change Symposium.  Co-hosted by BRIM (Building Resilience In Mission), this life-changing event will take place from 1-5 pm in the Cafetorium at Heritage Park Middle School.

Facilitators from Be The Change Earth Alliance, will lead participants through a thought-provoking exploration of our relationship with the planet… Where are we? How did we get here? What is possible for the future? Where do we go from here?

The afternoon features cutting-edge information, interactive dialogue and rich audiovisual materials presenting the combined wisdom of such international luminaries as Julia Butterfly Hill, Paul Hawken, Brian Swimme, Maude Barlowe, Van Jones and Desmond Tutu.

Most importantly, participants will explore the many ways that each of us can make a difference in our own lives and communities and have fun doing it.  

Admission is by donation, and teachers are welcome to bring students for free. Advance registration is strongly recommended as space is limited, but we will not be turning anyone away at the door. For more information or to register for the event, please email bethechangemission@gmail.com.


We look forward to seeing you there!

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Students lead the zero waste revolution

A few weeks ago, high school students at Windermere Secondary School helped Be The Change Earth Alliance launch a series of zero waste workshops that between now and June will engage thousands of students to think critically on their food consumption patterns, waste behaviours, and buying habits. This City of Vancouver funded project is one of many action oriented initiatives engaging the general public in sustainability behaviour change.

Over the next few months’ students will take and record measurable zero waste actions in the hopes of reducing their individual, home, and school Waste Footprints. This approach to climate change mitigation addresses the ongoing challenge faced by cities in engaging citizens on the impact their behaviours have on the climate.  

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Workshop connects local zero waste initiatives to climate change and supports the 'greening' of Vancouver schools. It explores the issue of waste in detail, introducing students to waste-related topics such as recycling, disposables, Vancouver's litter problem, and over-consumption. Students are invited to explore waste-related topics and to take personal actions and give short presentations to their fellow students about potential actions and solutions to the waste problem.

“Students are eager to learn. We share the belief with the City of Vancouver that youth will hold the largest burden of climate change and should therefore be engaged in the solution,” says Erin Leckie, BTCEA’s Executive Director. BTCEA has been delivering action oriented education on sustainability issues to students since 2011.

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Greenest Schools = Greenest City

Vancouver residents have an ecological footprint three times larger than the global average. In 2011, the city announced its goal to reduce its Ecological Footprint by 33% below 2006 levels by 2020 and achieve one-planet living by 2050. The Vancouver School Board is putting forward a renewed vision for district sustainability and student leadership will be a big success factor, says the VSB’s Sustainability Coordinator, Ashley Bangsund. “We are doubling down on our commitment to help the city get to the goal of zero waste/zero carbon by 2020 by engaging as many students as possible.”

Between 2010 and 2015, BTCEA has engaged 17,000 students in sustainability education. We believe our overall Environmental Footprint is getting significantly smaller each time we educate a student on their role in creating a shift towards a sustainable culture.

Moving Past The Bin

Vancouver is taking steps to improve its Ecological Footprint, which means getting youth on side. Students are really an untapped resource for sustainability performance improvements says Jen Holden, BTCEA’s Communications and Development Coordinator. “Children and youth have a significant influence on the patterns of their parents. From what food is bought to how waste is handled. When students ask their parents to change things for the betterment of the planet, the odds are, they listen.” This makes it easier for the City of Vancouver to engage more with less.

Youth empowerment can be very vulnerable, frustration can often lead student back to apathy, which is why teacher support and encouragement are key to motivating them towards sustained action. “Students are feeling more frustrated by the actions of their peers when they chose to place waste in the wrong bins,” reflects Petra Rempel, science teacher at Windemere. 

Despite this, students are consuming more consciously – waiting to purchase items and asking whether they need something or merely want it.  “Students are even considering packaging when making purchases and discussing with their families on how to produce less waste.” 

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Donate to our Seeds of Change Campaign!

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Voices of our Community - Extended

Being our last longer stories for our Community for Change Campaign, we want the voices of our community, contributors, and benefactors to reflect who we are and what we do. So we asked a couple community members to ‘chime in’ and let us know the role we have played in their experiences and also the role they have played in BTCEA’s work.  

Here are a couple responses, the longer less refined raw answers…

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Voices of our Community

If you haven’t already contributed, there’s just two days left to be part of our Community for Change Campaign!

In four weeks we’ve raised just over $15,000 of our $25,000 goalSo far eighty people of our 100 person goal have contributed

Will you donate and help us reach our target? We need your help to continue this amazing work! Canadian tax receipts are issued for all donations over $10.

What work, you ask? And why?

We asked a few community members to chime in and let us know what BTCEA means to them.

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Give Active Hope to Young People

Could you use some ‘active hope’?

Young people today need this particular kind of hope— and in this season of generosity, you can get it by giving it.

What is active hope? 

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Are you a BC French Teacher?

Are you a BC certified French speaking teacher who cares deeply about environmental sustainability?

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Join BTCEA's own star Suzanne in our Community for Change!

You’ve heard from Simon, one of our many empowered students and from Fiona, one of our many inspired teachers. Today we’d like to take you backstage to hear about one of our amazing volunteers, environmental biologist Suzanne Barois.

Charitable endeavours like Be The Change Earth Alliance could never exist without the generous support of other concerned citizens like Suzanne (and you!) who share our passion for positive change. We welcome you to pledge support by joining our Community of Change.

 

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