Thursday, December 13, 2012

Human Nature Newsletter Arrives!

It's a new concept, but an old one. We have a website and a blog. We have in-class visits and curricular discussions. We have spontaneous teaching moments and officially recognized 'indicators'. The Human Nature newsletter (above) is in its infancy, but serves as a 'one stop shop' of the highlights of sustainable and service related practices at ISKL. Read on. Send some feedback. Write an article. Let's get involved and do some celebrating sustainability and service all year round!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sustainable Holiday Decisions

This is it. As soon as you're done reading this article (or instead of) you'll be out the door and on your way to some far-flung location for a well-deserved vacation. Perhaps it's with family. Perhaps it's in a place that makes you relax. Certainly you'll be taking the time to enjoy your 'down time' and looking forward to a new year filled - as it should be - with hopes and promise. 

So, here are some ideas for sustainable choices for the break:
  • Travel as much as you can in public transport. It's such a great way to really get to the place!
  • Ask that presents intended for you are given unwrapped (or in something reusable) and save on single-use paper. Do the same for others.
  • Make at least one meal vegetarian and minimize the impact on the environment from grazing animals
  • Enjoy time outdoors and while you're there plant a tree (or a flower)
  • Make a new-year's resolution that involves sustainability and/or the environment
  • Take some time to help others and show appreciation for those around you (don't we always?)
  • When you come back offset your carbon. ISKL often uses Climate Care but you can feel free to assist future energy production and/or carbon sequestration
The list could go on and on and on. Suffice it to say that as big as that list is, so too are the options for things you can do, right now and over the break, to make your choices more sustainable. Some are easy. Others are not. All are helpful. 

Happy Holidays for those who celebrate them, and all the best for the new year!  See you in 2013.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sustainable Technology: 'Switching' Things Around

Despite efforts to turn off the lights and ACs, in the past two months the energy meters are inching higher when we're all hoping they will reverse direction.  So, when I had the chance to chat with Dave Neudorf about the possibility of turning servers off at night (when use is less) the conversation twisted and turned itself into all sorts of directions. It is to the little victories such as these that I hope to turn out attention to in this article.

Does anyone know what a switch is?  No, not one that you turn the lights on/off with. If I understand it correctly a switch is a connection between devices within the same network. Say we have a computer and it needs to connect to a network to access information or any type of service. A switch will be present between the server and the device to transmit and relay data from one device to the other. Apparently there are switches all over the place at the moment and each switch remains 'on' in case any device needs its functionality. But not for long!

As we take a few weeks over the semester to re-energize and relax, the Ampang campus will be undergoing great changes. When we all return to ISKL in January this will be a whole new place. Except we won't be able to see it. New technology will allow these new and improved switches to use only the power necessary (depending on what is being used). Say a switch provides power to 48 devices (it's maximum) but only one is being used. At present the switches need to remain 'on' for all 48 connections. Not so with the new ones. Needless to say this is the type of 'behind the scenes' technology that makes things more efficient both in information transmission and in energy consumption. 

And what of new plans?  Well, the future could hold great things for our Tech Department. As we move to putting a computer in every student's lap at the Ampang campus we will need more energy. Or will we?  Future ideas, such as server virtualization, might be around the corner for our technology infrastructure as well. Still only in the "brainstorming" phase, a move to virtualization would mean using possibly 90% less energy with more power to make adjustments simply by allowing the servers to recognize what is necessary and funneling the power for that purpose. No more turning on the entire school server system 24/7. No longer keeping everything on because there might be someone using Moodle at 3 am. 

Is if safe to say that as our school grows so does the energy it uses?  Though we are working hard to answer "no" to that, at the moment our data indicate that yes, it tends to. But that shouldn't mean we don't take the time to marry technology with sustainable decision-making for the future. In so doing we can become ubiquitous with 90% less server energy. Now that's a 'switch' worth making!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bringing Home Life's Lessons

I'm suspecting that when we were all in high school there was little discussion about sustainability. The Earth and its resources were so far form finite in our eyes that waste was not regarded as a problem and we all clambered to have more than our parents, and they more than theirs and so forth. Along the way we missed some critical learning that we are now trying to catch up with. Choices are an essential part of life that allow for people to establish priorities, determine directionality, make decisions and reflect. If you were like me you probably missed the lesson about ecological footprints. Thankfully our children are getting the education we missed, and bringing it home with them. 

Every few weeks or so I get an update from Rebecca Lemos or Everette Burke, MS Mathematics teachers. Their math 8 Algeo classes have taken on a wonderful environmental unit that lasts the entire year. Here's basically how it works: The students go home and identify an area of sustainability that they would like to focus on . The students, whose blogs grace our ISKL cyber world, follow through by establishing a baseline understanding of what it is that they use at home. The next step is to choose an indicator to follow and gather data. A project on electricity, for example, might use kWh units per month. The task then is to create an action plan on how to become more environmentally (and wallet) friendly with regard to the issue at hand. Continuous reflection as well as using mathematical concepts for ongoing curricular work (e.g. magnification) are an integral part of the process also. Often such actions mean that students need to engage their families in coming up with achievable solutions. 

Through the Algeo 8 environmental project, students are able to go back home and have frank and open discussions about the value or appropriate decisions. They are engaging in collaboration, planning, and systematic higher level thinking. In other words, they are engaging in real life learning and expanding that learning to those around them, the families. This is as powerful as one can expect an education to be and a true testament to the goals of the project through the authentic use of mathematics as an analytical and reflective tool.  From the point of view of service learning and sustainability education, projects such as these highlight the true potential of making learning come to life. 

So if you find your son/daughter sauntering through the door one day and asking you about your family's health habits, flying choices, consumer behavior or anything of that nature don't be alarmed or defensive. Instead celebrate the fact that they are utilizing what education often calls "21st Century Skills"; empowerment, communication, stewardship, collaboration and decision making. It's the kind of thing that - though potentially contentious at times - should fill you with pride in knowing that your child son is headed in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bio-Diegster Up and (almost) Running!

The new digester has finally been put in place and is "up and running", so to speak. Well, actually it will take close to a month for the gas generated from food waste to generate enough bio gas to provide enough energy for our pancake/omelet burner in Sam's at Melawati, but the hubbub of last week was hard to pass up. 

It's construction really did take a village: 
  • Two visiting experts (one from India and one from Singapore) here to supervise the installation, 
  • Over 15 external workers helping out with cutting, placing measuring, building  attaching and connecting all sorts of tanks and pipes, 
  • A number of ISKL staff members running back and forth ensuring that everything was working, 
  • A very supportive and flexible canteen staff who put up with invasions of their space as deliberations took place, 
  • Several fifth grade classes coming by for quick visits and discussions about what a digester does, how it works, where the food and gas go, making designs and taking pictures (not to mention plans)
The area around the back of the cafeteria was almost busier than the election stations in Florida for Tuesday's elections! But unlike the emotional back-and-forth of the US elections, at ISKL the digester brought with it just euphoria and learning!  

A big big thank you to everyone who participated in the construction, with particular kudos to Krish and his staff, Alex Wong, John Hollenback and the Sam's Snacks cafeteria crew for their support in bringing the project to life!  Though the construction is mostly done (there remains just a bit of gas piping and plumbing to be completed) the process continues as we take baby steps to making it fully functional. During the next three months we will add increasingly more food waste, allowing the bacteria to grow accordingly and deal with the increased food supply. By January we are hoping that the bio-digester will be a fully-functional part of our community!

Classes, families and individuals are welcomes to pop over and take a look. It won't impress you with the way it looks. But it sure is impressive with what it does. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Food (Waste) for Thought?

I could give next week the label of "ISKL Digester Week" but I'm not sure that anyone would relate to it very well. So instead, I will just make note of the fact that from October 29 to 31 our Melawati campus will be part of a new sustainable development.  By the end of next week we hope to welcome our very own composter!  How completely exciting, no?  I know what you're thinking right about now. "What in the world is a composter?"  It's a valid question. The answer might impress you.

The organization assisting us in setting up the digester, Drive Change, is one that works with a number of sustainable projects in the region. For this particular project we have been through two months of meetings, data collection (specifically with food waste at Melawati), design and now, finally, implementation. Once the digester is functional it will do the following:
  • Accept food and water waste from the Melawati Cafeteria - This will reduce Melawati waste by 9000 kg annually!
  • Go through a passive process of biogas generation from the food waste
  • Create biogas to be re-used in the kitchen for cooking
  • Create fertilizer for planting and gardening (we'll have plenty for everyone!)
But that's not all. The digester will also be used for on-the-spot teaching. The fifth grade students are currently covering a unit on energy and the digester allows a fortuitous teachable moment, so to speak. Our fifth graders will be given tours of the area not only when the digester is completed, but throughout the construction process. If a visit to Mrs. Williams' room on Tuesday was any indication, they will be thrilled to see how it works and what it looks like.  We are hoping the students will get to see the plans, look on as the construction takes place and, of course, recognize the benefits of the final result. 

I am not sure that the digester will be an impressive structure to look at. It may or may not make the Melawati campus tour "must see" list either. It's location (next to the compost site) might minimize the opportunity for the average campus stroller to run into it. But it will, none-the-less, be an excellent source of sustainable design. 

As the world continues to recognize the benefits of reduced consumption and waste patterns, it is important that our students not only talk about it, but have a tangible example to study and understand.  This isn't the kind of learning tool that you can leave in your closet. It's not the type of educational resource that you let gather dust. It's a functional, solution-based opportunity to let our students into little secrets with real life implications. What does it teach them? No, we don't need to generate waste just to be an excellent school. Not all waste is treated equally. We can do things - right here and now - to take care of this place. It is, after all, The Melawati Way.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Power of Service Learning

This past weekend I had the good fortune to make my way to the Jakarta International School and attend a workshop entitled Service Learning for Humanity and the Environment conducted by a front-runner in the world of service learning, Cathryn Berger-Kaye. It was one of those workshops that has direct implications on teaching and which empower you, as the participant, to walk away thinking that "wow, I can make the world a better place with this"!  

But even in this setting, with all of us service learning believers, conversations came up that could well have been placed in faculty meetings. Thoughts about whether this was a good model for higher level coursework (IB, for example) or whether using this model of educational approach would somehow sacrifice curriculum. Time and time again Cathryn put our concerns at ease by explaining exactly how the service learning format can be used from our prep reception all the way to our HL IB courses (Hint: According to Cathryn, the "IB people" love this!). The concept is simple. Put mindful, solution-based action at the forefront of learning. 

It's an empowering prospect. How many teachers would disagree that doing this is a more powerful teaching tool than traditional classroom-based learning. Every teacher training course instructs pre-service teachers to do what they can to "make it real" and to allow students a chance to recognize the age old "why do I need to know this"?  Service learning is essentially a way to get students to marry their skills and interests with community problems in a way that allows them to be part of the solution. 

The process is straight forward when you first look at it. Exactly at the center of the visual used to represent service learning is the word "curriculum" where the entire process begins.  A circular diagram of clockwise aiming arrows joining concepts surrounding "curriculum" includes "investigation", "planning" and "action". Between every one of those three steps are nestled the terms "reflection" and "demonstration" adding to the importance of those particular elements to ensuring a solid educational process. It is important to note, however, that service learning can be applied to many settings. It can be done in the classroom, in organized trips (like GAP and Malaysia Week) or within the context of clubs. What makes it powerful is the process. 

None of these words are new. The concept seems so simple. Yet the end result can be so powerful.   Time and time again examples were shared of students making positive change in their communities. Time and time again the participating teachers were impressed with the power of student thinking and the variability of solutions that students can find in addressing community concerns. 

Why does this matter to ISKL?  Well, apart from my position being established, we are all on board with the concept that 21st century skills (our SLRs are based on many of them) are important to being successful in life. The new educational paradigm is that students actually address problems here and now. Why study about them from a book and come up with hypothetical situations when you are actually able (and so often willing) to do something about them now? Whether it's the environment, social inequality or health-related issues (note the strong connection to ESD) students are being asked to come up with solutions in their future. The best way for them to make a difference is for them to try and try again. Even failure is success sometimes, because it allows one to re-evaluate, to reflect, and to address an issue from a different angle. This is what service learning has the power to provide in our students.

The world's adult population is a sign of how people can be successful. Imagine how successful the world would be if students were allowed the possibility to engage here and now. It brings solutions into the hands of so many more people. It empowers us all. It generates the realization that, yes, every one of us is part of the change we want to see in the world. It also allows our students to recognize the power in themselves to make positive change and, in so doing, makes them better world citizens: Our mission as a school.

Monday, October 1, 2012

From Green Pages to Sustainable ISKL: A New Website Arrives!

For a few year's now we've come to know the Green Pages as the portal for all things "green" at ISKL. It has served us well and has been an excellent resource for our community. With the passage of time, and with my position changing from Environmental Coordinator to Sustainability Coordinator it was felt appropriate to also change the name of the Green Pages to Sustainable ISKL.

You'll find that the site is largely the same, though it already has a few subtle differences in format and style. Over the next year and beyond work will continue on things sustainable on our campuses and, with that, you can expect that the site itself will become an even bigger source of information and resources. 

So, what's in that Sustainable ISKL website anyway?  The first thing to remember is that it's an internal site, so finding it from outside the ISKL cyberspace will require you to sign into your ISKL account. Once there, though, there is some pretty good stuff.  The site is divided, for your reference, into sections as below:
    • Welcome page
    • Vision & Goals
    • Environmental Indicators (how we know how we're doing)
    • ESD (Education for Sustainable Development)
    • Earth Week
    • Eco Schools
    • Archives (for older information)
    • Calendar
    • Blog
    • Green Council
    • Teach & Learn (resources for teachers & students)
    • Useful Links (nature trips, organizations, etc.)
The site, of course, also features links to our environmental and sustainable clubs on campus as well as our environmental initiatives. Expect those too to be updated and new initiatives shared on an ongoing basis!

We hope the Sustainable ISKL will be a clear indication of ISKL's commitment to sustainability in how we function, how we teach, how we behave and in the decisions we make each and every day. Naturally we would be thrilled to have your feedback and comments on the sites form and function, thoughts on how to make it better and any additional ideas you might have!  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

International Fest Going Green!

The International Fest is arguably the event of the year. Normally held in the latter part of the year, this year the PTA has opted to move it forward and create a bit of a community building event for families eager to share their culture with the rest of the world!  But wait! There's more!  What started three years ago as a small table offering reusable plates for the eco-conscious visitor who, none-the-less wanted to get a taste of all the goodies, the "Rent-a-Plate" initiative has grown, and grown, and grown.  Last year over 350 sets were 'rented', prompting the PTA International Fest organizing committee to request an expansion of the program. Here's what that means for this year's event:
  • We expect the event to be styrofoam free
  • We hope to minimize all single-use utensils and/or plates to biodegradable options
  • We invite countries to use reusable plates, bowls, cutlery and cups exclusively
  • We ask those thinking about taking food home to consider bringing their own reusable containers (but we'll have biodegradable containers just in case)
  • We ask country tables to consider minimizing packaging when possible
  • We ask that families bring some extra cash as a deposit for "rent-a-plate" sets. The deposit of RM 5 will cover the cost of a plate and fork (or bowl and spoon). Sets can be replaced at any time and the deposit will be happily returned when you're done for the day!  
  • You can find the "Rent-a-Plate" station conveniently located to all food outlets, just outside the cafeteria
Coordinated by Mrs. Anne Baillie (PTA International Fest Environmental Coordinator), Ms. Siew Thai (Assistant to the Director of Operations), Dahlia Zailani (HS Student and HS Earth Club member) this initiative is a true community effort bringing together all country coordinators, our Ampang campus cleaners, our grounds crew and a host of others who are working diligently to make this a showcase event for sustainability!

So, expect this year's International Fest to not only offer fun for the whole family and a wonderful array of shows, sounds, tastes and colors, but to also provide visitors with the opportunity to be Earth-friendly while we're at it!  Come on over!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sustainability & Service Learning Goals 2012-2013

 Goals are interesting things. They provide direction;  serve as targets; they show you the way. But there are often many different paths to the same destination. Though lacking goals is probably not what one wants for a school, moving in a certain direction while maintaining a relative flexibility to deal with short term flows and ebbs are necessary elements. I am hoping that this year is one of progress, to be sure, but which allows for the variety of perspectives and positions in our community to be recognized, valued and incorporated into the direction we are moving. I am sincerely hoping that this year continues to be one of moving forward for all of us: Those who teach, those who learn, those who speak, those who listen, those who act and those who support. What about me, you ask? Well, here's my direction:
  1. Increase visibility of the Sustainability & Service learning efforts at ISKL
  2. Foster links with local organizations
  3. Support sustainable practices throughout the ISKL community
  4. Engage students in environmental initiatives that make positive impact
  5. Support teachers in planning and implementation of ESD/Service Learning
  6. Promote student ownership and leadership in environmental and/or service learning initiatives
  7. Reach Eco-Schools Green Flag status (by 2014)
  8. Lessen ISKL's impact on the environment
  9. Infuse ESD throughout the curriculum
  10. Ensure that designs for a new campus are environmentally sound, provide natural spaces for leisure and support on-campus environmental education
  11. Ensure that the curriculum prepares students for leading a sustainable lifestyle when they graduate
  12. Provide evidence of ISKL's commitment to environmentally-friendly practices on both campuses
  13. Engage members of the ISKL community in sustainable practices (through appropriate decision-making)
  14. Ensure that ISKL follows the CIS/WASC recommendations for environmental stewardship
  15. Identify and share best practices for service learning
  16. Develop guiding principles in service learning programming
  17. Establish a service learning philosophy, mission and vision
  18. Inventory service-related programming at ISKL
  19. Link service learning to curriculum and/or program where natural fits exist
  20. Provide service opportunities for the community
  21. Establish a service learning organizational chart

Monday, September 3, 2012

Educating for Sustainable Development

Quick test:  What are the eight themes that the United Nations has determined as important in humanity's move toward sustainable development? Okay, let's try something easier. What which years comprise the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development?  Oh, come on now. Don't tell me that you don't know those right off the top of your head!  How can that be?  Oh, that's right. When we were in school just a decade ago (right?) the concept was more theoretical than it was practical. Now, just a short generation later, we are standing at a crossroads of human history and environmental capacity. 

At ISKL we recognize that sustainable development is more than just a catch phrase. It's a necessary component of our students' education. The knowledge, skills and attitudes that they walk away with after their time at ISK will mold much of what they do. Post-graduation data indicates that 95% of ISKL graduates will go to university within two years. In all probability, they will end up in a leadership position and, in so doing, internalizing sustainable development practices is essential to defining what their life will look like. 

At all levels and disciplines we are working toward an interdisciplinary approach to infusing the concepts of ESD into existing curriculum in a way that should allow our students to recognize just how all inclusive and involved sustainable development is. Here's what it looks like:
  • Standard 1: Understand the importance and characteristics of Sustainable Urbanization.
  • Standard 2: Understand the benefits of Sustainable Consumption and the value of resources.
  • Standard 3: Appreciate the significance of Peace and Human Security whilst developing strategies to maintain them.
  • Standard 4: Appreciate the importance of Rural Development and how to enrich rural communities.
  • Standard 5: Recognize the importance and benefits of Cultural Diversity.
  • Standard 6: Appreciate the values of Gender Equality.
  • Standard 7: Appreciate the importance of Health Promotion and develop an understanding of how to improve it.
  • Standard 8: Recognize the importance of protecting the Environment and the role of individuals, communities and governments. 

Take a look at the list above. Study it. Combine that list with your everyday conversations, your thoughts and your decisions. See what you can do to assist us in making your son or daughter a truly prepared global citizen. It's time we got off the paper and into the daily discussions. It's time ESD wasn't a separate concept but one which, as we hope, will define everything we do as people and as a community. 

Now, no peeking. Want to to take that test again? :-)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Eco-Schools & Biodiversity: What is it all about?

As of March 2012 ISKL is a member of the Eco-Schools program ( We proudly post that tidbit on the Green Pages website and our TV monitors for all to see as we enter our campuses. We invest a good deal of time and energy in moving toward the highest level of the Eco-Schools program: The internationally recognized Eco- Schools Green Flag. One of our goals for the upcoming year and a half is to reach that standard of international recognition, a prize in and of itself, but much much more.

For those who don't know much about the program, let me shed some light on the set up. The Eco-Schools program is sponsored here in Malaysia by WWF Malaysia, an internationally-recognized entity in and of itself. In Malaysia, 27 schools are presently participating, of which only ISKL is an international school. There are two main elements to the program itself: The theme to focus on (one of nine themes determined by Eco-Schools) and a seven step methodology that needs to be applied in addressing the theme chosen. 

Here at ISKL we have a Green Council, the remnant of the teacher-led Green Team, which is presently organized and run by students, headed by Samantha Lee (the HS Environmental Officer) but which represents all elements of our community, both adult and student. The Green Council's job, for this academic year and next, is to move us toward that Green Flag status which represents the top of the Eco-Schools Ladder. To get there, we need to move systematically through the afore mentioned seven step methodology: Creation of a committee (the Green Council), carrying out an environmental review, creating an action plan, monitoring the progress, linking the theme to our curriculum, informing the community and, finally, creating a school-wide Eco-Code. In many ways ISKL is already well on its way in many of these elements and that puts us in a strong position to pursue the Green Flag.

This year the Green Council has chosen the theme of "Nature/Biodiversity". In doing so the Green Council has formalized its intent to work diligently on issues of biodiversity on campus and support of programs deemed important for conservation. The ideas area already flowing and students at different levels and in different capacities are moving toward creating action plans. The brainstorming has identified concepts of ecosystem conservation (on campus and locally) to educational programs in local parks to adopting the panther at Zoo Negara (given that the panther is our school mascot). Recognizing, of course, that this is a community affair, we invite classes, committees, clubs, organizations and community to share their ideas, and to assist us in moving toward that end.

But to reach Eco-Schools Green Flag status, ISKL needs to go through the process at least twice. Under the guidance of Angus Carmichael (the previous Environmental Coordinator) and Nathaniel Zacharias (last year's HS Environmental Officer) we have already gone through this process once... to deal with waste management last year. Last year's initial baby steps were essential to our learning the process and recognizing where our strengths and weaknesses lie as a community when dealing with sustainable issues. In learning from these we are working hard to move in a more engaged manner this time around and hope to engage the community in sustainable action!

So, being part of the Eco-Schools program is not only about the receipt of a nice Green Flag to wave at the entrance of our school campuses. It's about students and community learning and engaging in a systematic approach to problem solving, communicating their initiatives (as I am doing here) and about collaborating constructively toward a more sustainable future. The Green Flag is about building community and recognizing the benefits of positive change. It is about empowering our students (and the rest of us) to act for it. It is about helping all of us understand our relationship toward nature/biodiversity and do our part to move toward a sustainable tomorrow and beyond.  Come, walk with us! 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Sustainability of Numbers

Last week I discussed conversations and how meaningful they are. This week it's numbers. Normally there is a dual response to dealing with numbers. Those who love them tout them as the only true international language. The ones who are scared of them avoid them at all costs. While numbers might inspire some of us to action (e.g. to save, to plan, to argue) in others is creates a solid state of avoidance and confusion. 

Mr. Carmichael, who so ably held the post of Environmental Coordinator until last June, chose numbers as his focus. ISKL's sustainability efforts, in fact, are often scrutinized through the use of numbers.  For all intents and purposes numbers can become useful data which tell a tale of sorts. Over the past few years ISKL has followed a number of 'indicators' which would tell their own tale. The figures can be found nestled in the 'Indicators' section of our school's Green Pages (which, incidentally, are being re-organized to make them easier to follow).

One of first tasks in putting together an action plan for our school was to look back on those indicators and see just where we've been and where we are. The Indicators below reflect the 2011-2012 academic year and represent only directly school-related operations:

      • Air Miles Flown: 8,284,450 miles
      • kWh of energy used: 3,479,444
      • Kg of non-recycled waste: 64,980 (est.)
      • Cubic meters of water used: 52,730
      • Sheets of photocopy paper: 3,672,572
      • ESD citations (used in unit plans): 232

I'm not a scientist, nor a mathematician. I haven't done a statistical analysis of this information and nor do I know if this is considered "good" or "bad" by international standards. I haven't checked to see how many standard deviations away from the mean the data is, to be sure. But I do know that it's a good starting point from which to venture forth. If my own education has taught me anything, it's that sustainability is not a specific destination. Rather it is a series of never-ending adjustments where successes, no matter how small. all add up. I, for one, am heading out to talk to the community. I've also learned that everyone has some pretty creative ideas on where to go from here.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Conversations Worth Having

 In my first two weeks on the job I’ve had the opportunity to engage in an array of excellent conversations. These are the things that bring about positive change. I’d like to share a few here in hopes that the reader recognizes the deliberations, brainstorming, thoughtful planning and interactions that make sustainability and service something to be proud of at ISKL. In the two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of working in this new role I’ve had conversations with…

·      … a board member regarding donating her childrens’ outgrown (but still in good condition) uniforms to others who might want one;

·      … the PTA executives in order to put the  student directory online and, in so doing, save thousands of sheets of paper and making the information more accessible;

·      … the HS art department about increasing the capacity for storing reused and recycled paper;

·      … The Director of Operations and Director of Grounds and Maintenance in regard to promoting the newly installed water-less urinals, dual flush toilets and paper-less hand driers at Ampang;

·      … the 1st season varsity and junior varsity coaches in order to establish a tree-planting day (lead by the HS Earth Club), giving our student-athletes a chance to actively participate in offsetting their carbon emissions from team-related travel;

·      … the composting coordinators and participants who make up a group of 76 families who compost regularly from home;

·      … the HS Earth Club regarding their involvement and organization of the Community Recycling program;

·      … the MS Activities Coordinator about the need for tournaments and the environmental costs versus the experiential opportunities our students are afforded;

·      … the 5th Grade class to brainstorm ideas for service projects that that go hand-in-hand with Eco-Schools themes;

·      … members of the Technology department about the manner by which we can ensure appropriate re-use of computers when they have outgrown their purpose at ISKL, while allowing low-income schools a chance to engage in educational use of technology in meaningful ways;

·      … with the head of security at Melawati, Sam’s Canteen and the ES administration to discuss the placement of a digester on campus;

·      … with the International Fest Coordinator on ways in which to ensure less waste during this school-wide event;

·      … with the new Ampang canteen vendor (Cheeku) in regard to reducing the use of single-use plastics, composting, cooking oil disposal and the possibility of introducing organic foods;

·      … with HS service-related teachers and administration regarding the organizational structure of the service programs;

·      … with a MS Global Issues teacher, and his Mont Kiara counterpart, who hope to establish cross-town cooperation with their classes and clubs, particularly as they relates to the upcoming Global Issues Network Conference in November;

·      … with Prep-Reception and Prep-Junior teachers in order to initiate a more comprehensive sustainability education program that will allow our youngest students a chance to engage in meaningful relationship with the earth, as well as become comfortable in the natural environment;

·      … with the HS Environmental Officer to ensure the smooth running of the student-lead Green Council which is responsible for moving ISKL toward the Eco-Schools Green Flag by 2014;

·      … with various members of the student body to establish unofficial ‘lunchtime brainstorming sessions’ on how best to reach our community and make a difference.

The list could go on, but I am hoping that in reading this we become a bit aware of what I do in my role as Sustainability & Service Coordinator and, more importantly, just how much is happening at ISKL by way of service and sustainability.

Though it would be naïve to think that each idea will be able to successfully reach fruition, the conversations in and of themselves should be proof enough that our community takes its ethical responsibilities seriously and, in so doing, pledges to make sure that the environment and the world around us are not overlooked. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Making our Campuses Eco-Friendly Learning Environments

There comes a certain amount of experimentation that goes in in trying to keep up with the times and shifting our old-style thinking processes to recognizing that a new sustainability consciousness is necessary in order to prepare our students for the rest of their lives. When we grew up with one family phone, they go through several just through their schooling years. Where recycling was something reserved for "tree huggers" in the old days, now the concept of recycling is common place on campus and around the world. Certainly a new paradigm shift - a new way of doing things - will leave some of us in the middle between old and new. This is the case for many of us adults who might be having difficulty grasping both the need for, and certainly the manner by which, we can be sustainable in our ways. 

But for our students we hope that it will be another matter altogether. The Melawati campus has garden areas where students are taught about gardening, growing and taking care of things. Their teachers are working on making them conscientious citizens by promoting recycling, reusing and reducing in their daily practices. The campus will, during this semester, welcoming a new digester to its repertoire of systematic environmentally-friendly facilities. The digester will essentially take cafeteria waste (thus eliminating it from the waste that goes to the landfill), and turn it into gas which will then be re-funneled into the cafeteria to provide energy for the cooking of food. It's the kind of systemic thinking that eliminates a large portion of waste that happens currently in much of what we do in our lives.

At Ampang we have solar power to run fans on the upper field, we have water harvesting that happens in the back, allowing for water to be used in the bathrooms in the art block. We also have vermiposting and composting that takes place, allowing for our waste (at least on the fields) to be reutilized in our grounds planting efforts. Our students likewise use parts of campus as labs and in gardening. 

The newest (until the digester becomes operational) eco-friendly facilities are the bathrooms of the Ampang campus nearest the cafeteria which were recently renovated, turning into water-less bathrooms. Using an enzyme the bathrooms are expected to do everything a bathroom should but with no water usage (except for washing ones hands, that is). This change might require some psychological adjustment on the part of our community, but goes a long way in terms of prioritizing local resources.There is a bit of experimental feel to this too, because they are considered a bit of a pilot study for when the new campus materializes. 

So, if you're using the bathrooms in Ampang or turning on the fans in the Upper Field, and have a meal at Melawati remember that you're not only doing what you always do. You are playing your part in teaching your sons and daughters that there is a better way to providing for human needs with a much reduced environmental cost. In short, you are experiencing the sustainability paradigm shift in real time. 

Of course, the shift can only really take shape if our minds follow what our eyes are seeing. And in this, we hope that you'll all join us in celebrating such opportunities to make a positive difference and being great role models for your children. Go ahead, shift!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Communication is Essential to Sustainability: Why is that?

It's been a long while since I've written on this blog, largely due to the fact that one thing lead to another and life essentially got in the way. In one sense that's great. It means that one is busy, hopefully positively busy - with life to worry about writing about it. It's the same reason that, for so many of us, writing letters is a thing of the past. The letters that once took so long to cross the world were often also longer, since they happened less frequently. They were gradually replaced by shorter pieces of information called e-mail. Then followed rules about how the emails had to be short to be read. Then came social media. Now communication happens in mere blips. Short. Fast. Furious. 

But communication is necessary to share a message, whether that communication happens in large amounts or in small uploads, whether there are words or not. For young adults it is a major form of personality sharing, socializing and being who they are. Communication is a necessary part of our community too. It's a way to ensure that we all know what's going on, so that we don't lose touch. So that people know we care. It's a way of being able to keep up-to-date with all that stuff going on week in and week out. 

No matter what the specific purpose of a particular piece of information, it is necessary that it's there. And so it will be with this blog and with the Sustainability and Service Learning programming in general. You can expect this year to be one where I attempt to 'get the message out there' as well as continuing to develop the wealth of information that Angus Carmichael, my predecessor, was able to put onto the Green Pages website. 

So, as the year begins and we all set about to our 'lives' in and out of school, keep an eye out for such communication on the Green Pages, on the Sustainable ISKL blog, on the Friday Flash (which hopefully you are receiving electronically) and soon through those ever-fun social media sites. Go forth and make this year a special one with less waste and more consideration for the environment. I'll keep in touch!