Sunday, November 9, 2008

Positive Steps Forward

I have had the pleasure (and pressure) of working as ISKL's Green Team Coordinator for the past five years. In that time I have been witness to an ever-growing awareness and environmental consciousness in everything we do. Certainly, vocabulary like "carbon offsets", "carbon neutral" and "sustainability" may have been known to some a few short years ago, but are now almost commonplace.

As the recognition of the need for an Environmental Ethos at ISKL, originally identified in the 2002 WASC accreditation process, has become more entrenched in our mindset, and as best-practices are identified and promoted on our campuses and community, it it important to recognize that no one can change the world alone. Over the past two years the Green Team has identified a number of priorities (referred to as "Bold Thoughts") that ISKL should consider in order to truly move toward being a sustainable campus.

If we are to become stewards of our environment, as we say we hope to, then we must internalize and lead by example. Research suggests that the defining variable in one's awareness and empathy toward the natural environment is one's personal experiences at a young age. Anectotal evidence at ISKL suggests that most students have no participation in activities of any sort outdoors and nature takes a back seat to shopping and computer games as a pass time. Most notably, Kenny Peavy's study of ISKL middle school students indicated that a rather large number of them had Malaysia Week to thank for their only (or one of very few) outdoor experiences. If one was to generalize, and take such evdience, anectodal though it might be, and project to the next generation, the world's population is headed into a very nature-deprived existence.

In last year's CIS/WASC accreditation visit, the accreditation team mentioned environmental stewardship and education as one of their recommendations for improvement. The Green Team and our school's administration has embraced this very idea, and is moving toward that end each and every day.

Our new vision statement includes a mention of the word "environment". This, though seemingly minor, is a major step forward for our school's efforts to promote sound environmental practices. It puts the environment "on the map" so to speak, and allows us to keep our sights on tangible, measurable and quanfiable means with which to reach sustainability.

Our school has been working on it for a while, of course. Styrofoam was banned from our campuses last year. We are working toward eliminating toxic cleaning agents from our campuses. Recycling, notably, has found strong backing in our community. Our administration is prioritizing the environmental impact of our current behaviors and infrastructure and has begun setting action plans for structural changes in the functioning of our school. There is deliberation regarding the creation of an environmental education coordinator - an arguably necessary step - in the not-so-distant future. There is discussion about measurement and accountability in all we do. There are hopes for a building that will serve as a "living classroom" for our science and environmental classes. The Green Team is moving forward in plans to introduce composting on both campuses. There are also conversations going on with Julie James (HS World Class Coordinator) and Karen Palko (MS Malaysia Week) on how the environment can be better prioritized in experiential learning opportunities offered here. Likewise, ISKL now boasts its participation in the Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots Program and the presence of divisional clubs in the Elementary School (Green Earth Club), the Middle School (Earth Explorers) and High School (Earth Club) involved directly with the environment.

We are still a good deal away from being a "green" school. At ISKL, changes take place slowly and deliberately, as they should. Internalizing an environmental ethos takes longer for some than for others. Fortunately, at ISKL it is steadily taking hold. Discussions of environmental issues can be heard in the hallways, from the cleaning of table tops after lunch to the economic benefits of sustainable living in lessons.

The Green Team is a rather small, volunteer-based group. But it seems increasingly obvious that the community's recognition of the importance of our work is growing, along with the realization that it takes an entire community to make change. With this in mind, we move forward.

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