Monday, August 23, 2010

Going "green" with Mr. Carmichael

The following discussion is a transcript from an online (as it turns out, getting Mr. Carmichael to have free time around my teaching schedule is a difficult one) interview that I had. with Mr. Carmichael, ISKL's Environmental Coordinator. I am happy to announce that Mr. Carmichael has begun his new role with a good amount of positive energy, spirit and a great deal of enthusiasm. It will be needed as ISKL moves toward being a "green" school. Our community's efforts are solidly founded on the hope that he is a driven, motivated, forward-thinking educator who can also juggle administrative duties, organize activities, model behaviors, set expectations and move our entire microcosm in the right direction. No small order, but so far Mr. Carmichael has impressed even those amongst us who are a little late on joining the "green" bandwagon.

What should people should know about you.

My name is Angus Carmichael. I have been at ISKL for 2 years and before that I worked in Tanzania. One of my favourite ways to spend the weekends is heading outdoors with my family.

Why are you an environmentalist?

Probably the greatest challenges facing humankind at the moment are centered around the changing climate and biosphere. In some small way I hope to make a positive contribution towards improving the situation we find ourselves in.

You have been Environmental Coordinator for close to a month now? What is the best and worst part of the job for you so far.

The diverse responsibilities make the job very exciting; teaching G2s about recycling, writing ESD benchmarks, choosing new cleaning products, scoping out trails for IAS (International Awards Scheme) trips. The hardest part is that there is so much to do and I have to understand I can't tackle everything in the first month.

Do you really expect adolescents to care enough to want to make a difference?

Yes, the initiatives that were set up in the MS last year and presentations to Admin from their students showed a real desire to help us improve things at the school. In HS the new Student Council have the environment as something of a focus this year and their colleagues voted last semester to reduce bus idling times putting the minimizing of pollution ahead of their comfort.

If you look at the new ESD (education for sustainable development) standards, how would you rate ISKL's performance at the moment?

Good, it is a relatively new deal and has only had an outline at each division. However, many teachers have expressed interest with curriculum coordinators, Malaysia Week coordinators and GAP leads all keen to infuse it with what they are doing. As the semester continues time will be spent with departments and teams exploring the possibilities. The 'skill set' worked well with Honours Chemistry students last semester with exceptionally positive feedback and I anticipate the process will find success elsewhere.

Given that we are thinking about moving to a new campus (if and when it happens) which will, almost certainly, mean the displacement of natural habitats in one form or another, what can ISKL do to "live ethically" in the way it handles decisions from here on out?

Certainly the materials used in construction can be as low impact as possible e.g. low C concrete is available. The campus will need to be a working model of best practice where students can get close to Nature on site as well as seeing Green innovations in action.

A thought came to my mind the other day: Since I have been at ISKL animal species that used to be seen on a daily basis (largely kingishers and toads on the lower field) have moved on as we have turned our pitch to Astro Turf and covered up areas where grass used to be. Why is it, I thought to myself, that everything natural has to be pushed aside for human benefit (in this case, making facilities more durable and user-friendly). How about designing and building a campus where biodiversity actually increases? Is it possible to have human development actually promote biodiversity in the same area? Can a school do it?

Yes. A good example is the PREM Centre where students have ready access to countless ecosystems thanks to the woodland, fruit farm and stream that are associated with the campus.

Is environmental ethos just another way to market the school, or does it actually exist at ISKL?

Yes, when parents visit and we tell them about waste from the canteen, read about our tree planting, see the battery bins etc I think it will give us a head-start in attracting students.

How feasible is it to think that ISKL can, at some point in time, have the majority of its energy needs taken care of through sustainable sources? If so, what sources do you envision ISKL using? If it is possible, what would be a reasonable time frame.

One of the most important things to look at before we talk about energy sources is our own efficiency. New campus design will significantly improve this but at the moment we are looking at installing some smart meters and have several students bodies promoting energy saving. More teachers are using desk fans and these changes will make a big difference.

We will be able to make use of solar thermal and some degree of photovoltaic energy but it will almost certainly not be enough to meet our requirements. Again, other systems such as anaerobic digesters in the canteen to fuel gas hobs, small turbines etc can hopefully be included but their presence will primarily be educational rather than for energy production.

You often talk of McKay and his "Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air" documents online. He indicates that we need to go through major transformations to make a difference. What kind of "major" transformations do you forsee ISKL going through the next few years, realistically?

Several groups are already tackling their paper wastage and this is a great sign that we are thinking of the environment. The biggest impact we have on the environment though is the amount of flying we do. This is a rather contentious issue but there are definitely some areas where the mileage could be trimmed or off-set. HS Athletics has been leading the way on this aspect of our business and I hope others will follow.

Probably the biggest attitudinal change needed is with respect to consumption patterns. Understanding the external costs of a purchase and then thinking carefully how much it is needed. This is the biggest challenge for our community which is comprised of relatively fortunate, privileged individuals.

Say I'm a 6th grader going through your vision of an "ideal" ESD-based education. By the time I graduate, what do I look like? What I have done for the environment? What am I thinking? What levels of understanding, skills, values and dispositions do I have toward the world around me?

Have a read of the presentations and documents on the Green Pages. ESD goes well beyond the traditional 'environmental' focus and will produce a truly well-rounded, international individual. This is well in line with what I believe our mission statement means when it refers to 'highly successful, spirited, socially responsible global citizen'.