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 na├»ve 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!