moving forward

PROGRESS ON THE INFUSION OF EDUCATION FOR SUSTAINABILITY themes into formal and nonformal education programs, businesses, communities and NGOs has been the result of a diverse grassroots movement that has succeeded despite many obstacles. The range and diversity of programs is the movement's strength, but also its weakness. Diversity sometimes results in duplication of efforts, lack of a shared vision, and deprivation of the strength that comes from a common voice. The 1994 "National Forum on Partnerships Supporting Education about the Environment" fostered a dialogue in search of a common vision and consensus on overall goals and priorities. The process of building on that dialogue to develop An Agenda for Action  has been a goal for this shared vision.

Putting the Agenda into Action

Educational change cannot follow purely from mandates, whether state or federal, although such efforts can be effective as catalysts. Instead, change will emerge from grassroots initiatives, as the history of environmental education clearly demonstrates. Increasingly, the demand for education about the environment is being initiated from students themselves. Adults can add their voices to this call as individuals and, collectively, as members of civic and professional organizations. They can speak out as well in their roles as teachers and professionals, as employees and employers in the business community, and as responsible citizens and civil servants at all levels of government.

A balance between "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches will be necessary for education for sustainability to realize its full potential. Grassroots activities will continue to drive progress through the bottom-up approach that has characterized the field to date. Government can assist, however, by continuing and improving its coordinating role, and funding innovation and research.

Options for each sector, based on present resources and given current challenges, are discussed in the remainder of this chapter. Potential roles, priorities, and next steps for the major stakeholders are explored. These options represent a snapshot of the collective thinking of the participants in the Forum and the many professionals who have taken part in the subsequent development of An Agenda for Action .

The purpose of An Agenda for Action  is to focus attention on the critical needs of education for sustainability, as they are seen today, and suggest, with a keen eye on the future, strategies for the 21st century for moving forward. Present thinking is evolving, however, and the strategies outlined in An Agenda for Action  will be reshaped over time in response to unforeseen changes. An Agenda for Action  is not a strategy, "set in concrete," but rather a living document.

The Role of Teachers and Faculty of Higher Education

Educators will be at the forefront in pursuing the actions outlined in the Agenda, whether acting as individuals infusing environmental perspectives into their classes or collectively fostering education for sustainability through their educational institutions, professional societies, state infrastructures, and local or national advocacy groups.

As individuals, teachers are responsible for pursuing opportunities for professional training to incorporate the principles of sustainability in their courses. In addition, they can enlist the help of nongovernmental organizations to ensure that their efforts embody diverse cultural perspectives. They can initiate innovations -- or inform themselves about the efforts of others -- to bring the business sector and the community at large into the educational experience. They can participate in workshops and seminars that help teachers find appropriate uses for advanced information and communication technologies for teaching about sustainability. They can initiate or replicate successful attempts to make the classroom serve as a model of sustainability for the community.

In all of these activities, teachers and faculty will find allies and willing assistance from higher education, professional societies, the business community, nongovernmental organizations, and state and federal agencies. In turn, they have the formidable responsibility of ensuring that their educational offerings on sustainability consistently meet the highest standards and serve students, parents, and the community.

Professionals in higher education play one of the most decisive roles, that of initiating innovative programs. By finding ways to integrate interdisciplinary and systems approaches in their own undergraduate and graduate courses, they will train a new generation of teachers who will be more effective at inspiring creative thinking and sound decision-making among their students. Through university-level research activities, these professionals can break down the barriers between disciplines and enliven their own teaching as a side benefit. They will benefit by searching out every opportunity to engage their colleagues from other disciplines in their research and teaching activities.

The Role of Individuals

One of the effective ways individuals can contribute to sustainability is by investing time and resources in educating themselves about the complex environmental and natural resources issues that affect their lives each day. Individuals of all ages can participate in and build on many of the initiatives in An Agenda for Action  through self-awareness, education, and information exchanges with friends, family, and colleagues. Success in educating others for sustainability depends greatly on individual initiative.

Thousands of Americans are already committed to sustainability, but many still lack awareness and accurate information. Individual roles include empowerment through increasing knowledge, skills, and changing attitudes. Roles as consumers are especially important to sustainability in terms of individual action, but equally crucial is collective action through partnering with schools as parents, alumnae, and as members of community and civic organizations.

Commitment to lifelong learning is a way for individuals to gain the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions in their personal and professional lives. They can enroll in adult education classes at their local community college or accompany their children on the next school field trip. They can encourage their employers to work collaboratively with youth as mentors, or ask employers to help expand the work of a local community group that is restoring rivers and streams. There are literally hundreds of actions individuals can take to educate themselves and help advance sustainability.

The Role of Nongovernmental Organizations

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play a critical role in advancing education for sustainability through research, publications, training, service efforts for their members and clients, funding, and community outreach activities. Although some NGOs can maximize their impacts and minimize organizational costs by focusing their efforts at the national level, others can be most effective and influential in their local communities or home states. For example, the Environmental Defense Fund, Columbia University, and the Countee Cullen Library in the New York City Empowerment Zone drew on each institution's expertise to implement a program based on information technology to educate inner city children and their teachers about environmental impacts that affect their community.

The next steps for NGOs include helping educators define standards and identify ways to support existing standards in science, mathematics, and geography education. In addition, they can develop materials for lifelong learning in cooperation with nonformal and formal education venues. NGOs are in a position to set the stage and lead the way for collaborative alliances and initiatives, based on the lessons they have learned in delivering effective and long-lasting programs. The American Forum on Global Education, for example, houses the Sustainability Education Center. Its mission is to promote the concept of sustainability in educational environments by using collaborative programs, research, and materials development as vehicles.

Local community organizations also can play an important role in maximizing the strengths of the numerous stakeholders they serve. They can tap into the cultural viewpoints and norms, business and industry expertise, and the vibrancy of religious communities.

The Role of Professional Organizations

Historically, professional organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association and the North American Association for Environmental Education have played a central role in the evolution of environmental education. Specialized professional and research organizations, such as the Center for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Education, the Global Change Research Program, and the National Council for Geographic Education, as well as related professional groups, such as the American Association of Engineering Societies, have established committees or task forces that focus on sustainability and the environment. Other national efforts include the National Consortium for Environmental Education and Training, the Environmental Education and Training Program, the Global Network of Environmental Education Centers, and the National Environmental Education Advancement Project.

In addition to convening national conferences and seminars on education for sustainability, professional organizations disseminate information on topics pertaining to the environment and distribute educational publications, newsletters, curriculum guides, and creative teaching aids. Professional groups also offer technical assistance to teachers and provide reference assistance, as well as conduct training programs and workshops. These organizations bring together professionals who might otherwise have limited direct contact, such as elementary school and secondary school teachers, and practicing professionals in various fields of expertise. Above all, they promote education at all levels and work to enhance the status, quality, and effectiveness of methods of teaching about the complex relationships of economics, social conditions, and the environment.

Each of these organizations, in addition to working individually to support education for sustainability, can increase their nationwide impact by expanding their partnerships. A coalition speaking with one voice on issues such as the need for professional pre-service and in-service sustainability training for teachers would be very influential. A coalition also could work to encourage adoption of the materials and learner outcome standards being developed by the North American Association for Environmental Education.

Such a coalition could work with the existing organized labor infrastructure to promote vocational training for jobs related to sustainability. The coalition also could collaborate with labor and businesses to expand opportunities for retraining workers displaced as resource-intensive industries downsize, and improve on-the-job upgrading of skills that workers need in order to deploy sustainable production practices that save energy and raw materials.

The Role of Youth

The tools needed to breathe life into An Agenda for Action  include vitality, enthusiasm, the courage to tolerate change, and a healthy sense of adventure. In short youth are a very important part of the process.

Leaders from business, government, nongovernmental organizations, and academia are forging new initiatives to educate citizens about what it takes to live sustainable lives. Involving young people in this process from the beginning is essential to insure their ownership and partnership as new policies, practices, and activities are developed.

The economic and social viability of our nation's communities are dependent on youth. Young people generate billions of dollars in annual consumer revenues. In addition, they are actively involved in activities in a number of economic sectors such as sports and recreation, religious institutions, local libraries, and community-based youth organizations. Moving forward with An Agenda for Action  with the vision and cooperative energy of today's youth is an important step. Bringing together youth and leaders of the adult community is essential to generating partnerships and trust.

The Role of the Business Community

Companies and corporations have a direct interest in the quality of our nation's educational system because the students of today are the workforce of tomorrow. Employees who are trained in the principles of sustainability, for example, are in a position to positively influence the production processes of their companies to conserve energy and minimize waste of raw materials.

Businesses bring a number of resources to the table, from financial support to technical skills and research. As companies select issues to address, they should weigh their interests, define the nature of their involvement, and decide which arenas to work in -- whether local, state, regional, national, or international.

The result of these deliberations might be a decision, for example, to help young people explore their future careers, whether through mentoring programs, internships, or school-to-work opportunities that enable students to experience a variety of occupations. The environmental technology industry has a particular responsibility to encourage careers in environmental fields. Through professional societies, this industry should work with the schools to find ways to invite environmental professionals into the classrooms as guest teachers and students into the business environment to observe how employees tackle real-world problems.

Businesses can take steps to incorporate the principles of industrial ecology into their operations and encourage on-the-job training in sustainable production processes. In doing so, they will be in good standing with the community for their environmental record, while at the same time reduce their economic costs.

Numerous companies are providing support to formal and nonformal education. Part of that commitment is ensuring that their dollars are spent efficiently. Business can participate in curricular development activities with business schools, universities, and engineering schools to ensure that educational programs meet the needs of the business community. Even publicizing business's own successes in introducing sustainable practices is an important educational effort that will help the nation move forward on the path to sustainability.

As with the other sectors, businesses can work individually or collectively. Just as the health care industry has stepped forward to educate the public on the relationship between health and the environment, the forest industry has taken it upon itself to introduce sustainable forestry practices and invite the public to grade its efforts. Likewise, An Agenda for Action  challenges the advertising community to take the lead in finding ways to educate the public about sustainability and lend its marketing expertise to promote sound education programs, nationally and at the local level.

"Show me a person who understands the wise use of resources -- capital, labor, and the environment -- and I will show you a business leader of the future."

Samuel C. Johnson
SC Johnson Wax

The Role of America's Communities

A community is only as strong as the citizens who live in it. Forward- looking communities recognize that it is up to them to encourage new economic opportunities and ensure that local schools are training a workforce that will be prepared for new jobs in a changing world. A community working through school districts, local government, and nonprofit civic organizations can create opportunities for formal and nonformal learning that will prepare its citizens for a sustainable future.

The single most important step is to initiate a serious long-term planning process that begins with envisioning sustainable practices appropriate to local conditions. Civic leaders have a responsibility to inform themselves about successful community and neighborhood projects. A number of these projects are highlighted in this document and in the two reports produced by the Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education Task Force and the Sustainable Communities Task Force of the President's Council on Sustainable Development.

Local governments and civic groups can reach out to business and academic communities for assistance. In other words, municipal governments and local community organizations should serve as catalysts for initiating partnerships and helping build consensus on the need to infuse the principles of sustainability into the educational curricula of local schools. In addition, civic groups in particular should seek out opportunities to engage their members actively in the classroom as mentors and project leaders.

The Role of the States

Education for sustainability requires active state leadership. Many states prefer to adopt a decentralized approach to achieving sustainability. But for those states that have a formal structure, such as an advisory council and a state coordinator for environmental education, it would be appropriate to play a leadership role in advancing education for sustainability. One option is to take legislative steps to further the initiatives; which implies a responsibility for ensuring that the resulting programs are adequately funded. States also can enlist the private sector's assistance in supporting these activities.

In addition, states can provide technical assistance, adoption or promotion of curriculum standards, assistance with professional development to enhance educators' preparation for teaching sustainability, adoption of teacher certification standards, support of multicultural training for teachers, and assistance with community visioning processes. Many states already are working actively to develop statewide plans for sustainability that include encouraging local planning.

Finally, state actions also can be crucial in linking communities and school districts with federal agencies that can provide assistance.

"Education about the environment can best be accomplished through the cooperative efforts of diverse groups. The very nature of bringing diverse groups together -- the parts -- emphasizes the strength derived from the whole system. As we look to the future and the challenges we will face, we will need the wisdom that only the whole system can provide us."

Kristina Allen
Arizona State Education Agency Representative to the U.S. EPA

The Role of the Financial Community

The financial community -- individual and institutional investors, banks, and international financial institutions -- will play a key role in funding educational activities. Advancing education for sustainability in the years ahead will require careful planning, vision, and commitment of leaders from the public and private sectors. Implementing some of the initiatives presented in An Agenda for Action  could prove to be smart investments. The publication and dissemination of educational materials, for example, has long been a profitable industry in the United States and abroad. The development and commercialization of educational technologies, including computers and telecommunications devices, is a thriving industry worldwide. Institutions such as the World Bank and other development banks can influence the direction and level of effort devoted to education for sustainability activities.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is finding novel ways to attract investors to this important activity. In October 1995, the World Bank convened a major conference on financing for sustainable development. Dialogues such as this are key to directing the talent and resources of the financial community.

The Role of Foundations

Historically, nongovernmental organizations have relied on the support of public and private foundations to help finance work for the environment and education. Today, public sources of funding are diminishing, while the number of organizations seeking money is growing. It is therefore increasingly important that foundations participate in the national dialogue on goals and priorities for education for sustainability. Foundations, as stakeholders in this process, are ideally positioned to facilitate a broad, comprehensive approach to sustainability by raising awareness about the interdependence of economic, social, and environmental issues.

The Role of the Federal Government

The federal government should work closely with state and local governments and the private sector to catalyze and coordinate national and international activities. The departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Interior, Labor, Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, and others, have programs addressing the environment and various aspects of sustainability. Helping the nation articulate its near-and long-term educational needs is an important role for departments and agencies throughout the federal government.

The federal government should work to ensure that limited federal funds are carefully targeted toward high-priority national needs and that department and agency efforts are not duplicative. The National Science and Technology Council can aid in coordinating federal activities throughout the Executive Branch and help communicate related programs and priorities to the Legislative Branch.

The federal government also serves as a source of information about the environment and education. Using telecommunications technologies, federal agencies can provide the public with easy access to a wealth of information. The federal government's role in advancing education for sustainability will undoubtedly evolve in the years ahead. Regardless of new directions, the policies and programs of departments and agencies will strongly influence the capacity of the nation to maintain and improve its standard of living while protecting resources for future generations.

The Role of the International Community

International action in the field of education for sustainability has risen steadily since the 1970s. Without question, the call to action has been delivered, and response has come from numerous international groups. The United Nations organizations that participated in the 1972 U.N. Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm were among the first to respond. The call was clearly repeated in a 1988 U.N. document titled An International Strategy for Action in the Field of Environmental Education and Training for the 1990s .41 

The challenge facing the international community is to maintain open lines of communication and evaluate policies in an integrated fashion. Only then can it reach all people to promote approaches that integrate social, economic, and environmental policies. Efforts emerging from this base of communication can be directly applied to the advancement of skills, knowledge, and practice worldwide.

Examples of Opportunities for Partnerships

American Forum for Global Education
120 Wall Street, Suite 2600
New York, NY 10005
Contact: Tom Keehne
Phone: 212-742-8232
Fax: 212-742-8752

The American Forum for Global Education is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the education of our nation's youth for responsible citizenship in an increasingly interconnected and rapidly changing world.

Global Network of Environmental Education Centers (GNEEC)
601 South Concord Street, Suite LLA
Knoxville, TN 37919
Contact: John Paulk
Phone: 615-525-6262
Fax: 615-525-6442

The Global Network of Environmental Education Centers is a network of organizations worldwide, whose mission is to provide opportunities and resources for member centers to participate in joint environmental education programming at all levels; to unify environmental education centers under a collective voice; and to strengthen and develop environmental education as a recognized and respected international institution.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Environmental Education Division
401 M Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20460
Contact: C. Michael Baker
Phone: 202-260-4965
Fax: 202-260-4095

The National Environmental Education Act of 1990 charged the EPA with the responsibility of providing leadership at a national level to improve environmental literacy -- the Act establishes various programs -- grants, teacher training, internship and youth award programs.

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