The Sustainable Business Council Blog

Raising eco-aware kids builds sustainable community
January 18, 2009, 6:41 AM
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By now we’ve all heard enough scuttlebutt concerning politics, government and regulatory agencies to last a lifetime. So with climate change concerns, financial woes and energy challenges all weighing heavy upon us – do you feel comfortable hoping the government will take care of it all?

Neither do we.

Individual empowerment is where it’s at. Collectively our behavior modifications can help to sustain this planet for generations to come. If you’ve been following our column, you know that we’ve been offering monthly go-green tips such as giving local vendors the first shot at your business, consuming less and rethinking daily patterns (like where you shop and how much you drive). What else can you do to effect high-impact change?

Young children have a great ability to absorb values, attitudes, skills and behaviors that support sustainable development such as the wise use of resources, cultural diversity, gender equality and a sense of democracy. They also have an innate sense of empathy and can much more easily connect to the world around them. This is the period when the foundations of thinking, being, knowing and acting are becoming “hard-wired.” It’s the period when habits are formed that will last a lifetime.

Education in the home starts with you, our esteemed reader. Influencing others, particularly children, by engaging in desirable behaviors is arguably one of the strongest educational modalities around. What do you do in your own home and life to model eco-responsibility for your friends and family?

Does your pantry contain a plethora of pre-packaged foods? Do you balance that with trips to the farmers market? Do bottled waters cram the fridge or do you each have you own reusable water bottle? Is your garbage full of aluminum, tin, cardboard and plastic, or are these items sorted and ready to be recycled?

As winter approaches, do you find that you are letting your car warm up for longer periods of time? Do you ever walk or bike while going about your daily tasks? Do you reward your child (or yourself) for a job well done by a trip to a big chain store to purchase something you probably don’t need and can’t afford? Do you take reusable bags to the grocery store? Little changes add up to big results.

Another potential sphere of influence is the secondary education system. Curricular goals should include development of caring and responsible young people genuinely concerned with (and capable of) contributing to a just and peaceful world.

Ideally, a sustainably literate adult will emerge from this system and continue to morph as new experiences and educational opportunities arise. We’re all aware of the benefits of lifetime learning, from early childhood education to classes for seniors. Let’s thread sustainability education through the needle of each stage.

Many experts agree that the first five years of life is the most crucial time for building identity. It is in these years that the groundwork is laid for children’s emotional, social, language, cognitive and physical development – all critical elements for school readiness and life success. A core component of that success is learning to live and flourish in a sustainable manner.

Historically, traditional early childhood programs have been geared toward the employment-focused academic skill set of public schools at the expense of a kind of education that helps children make sense of their own immediate worlds.

Children are very sensitive to nature and its elements – animals, plants, flowers, the phenomena of fire, water and wind. They are emotionally touched by, and intellectually interested in it. Experience shows that many adults who live in big towns remember with pleasure unforgettable moments of their formative years in rural areas, recalling vividly the organic shapes and smells of plants, seeds, trees, rivers, gardens, birds and animals.

And so it makes sense to nurture this deep ecological interest in early childhood. You can be sure that SBC members such as Spirit at Play and Academic Advantage Academy are developing sustainably minded kids.

In the long term, children must genuinely value the environment and understand natural capital as a set of resources that have constraints. This requires a holistic vision of sustainability education. Focusing on ecological knowledge, environmental attitudes and behaviors, building a sense of place and forging connectedness within our communities are all part of this.

How does this all fit with the Sustainable Business Council? These children are the future welders, investment bankers, chefs, musicians, bookkeepers, nurses, journalists, alternative energy technicians, Web designers, farmers, natural resource managers, local entrepreneurs and mechanics who will be shaping our world in the very challenging years ahead.

We think they need to enter their professions giving equal credence to people, planet and profit (triple bottom-line thinking). Our solemn responsibility is to help each one of our children understand that sustainability isn’t so much a lifestyle “choice” as the only viable path to ensure prosperity for future generations.

– Genevieve King and Lisa Swallow


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