Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sustainability in K-12 education: Long-term goals to transform market demand for sustainable brands

We are currently seeing a remarkable increase in the demand for sustainability and social and environmental responsibility curriculum in undergraduate and advanced education programs.  College students entering the working world and current professionals going back to school recognize the value they can bring to the work place with an education in environmental management systems, sustainable business models, and systemic thinking.  In response to this demand, these topics are becoming increasingly more integrated into undergraduate majors, professional certificates, and business programs.  However, because this evolution of curriculum spurred from a demand for professional competence in a green economy, we are overlooking another longer-term goal that sustainability education can achieve – building the demand for the green economy.
If we integrate the value of sustainable consumption into K-12 curriculum, we can produce a generation of consumers with the knowledge, values, and influence this sustainability movement needs to really take flight.  When today’s kids become tomorrow’s consumers, we need them to support responsible brands. 
I am fairly out of touch with today’s K-12 curriculum, as I’ve been out of it for a few years now and I don’t have kids of my own.  I imagine that it is so institutionalized and under funded that it is resistant to change and still closely resembles my own K-12 public education.  Admittedly, I don’t understand the politics behind the institutional paralysis of public education.  However, I’d like to propose a solution to the issue of insufficient funding. 
Socially and environmentaly responsible companies can invest in education to promote awareness of the environmental repercussions of consumerism.  Businesses can fund training programs to educate teachers on appropriate curriculum that addresses the importance of responsible and sustainable consumption.  Obviously this would require an investment that won’t pay off until these kids constitute a significant portion of the consumer market.  But isn’t the value up front investment for the sake of long-term returns at the core of the sustainable business mentality?
Of course, there are already resources that can assist schools in developing this curriculum.  In my preliminary Google research, I found a “Students and Sustainability” section on the US EPA website.  It includes links to EPA’s Environmental Education Center, Green Teacher Magazine, and a curriculum development resource called “Going Places Making Choices.” is a similar initiative launched by the Illinois EPA.  And is another organization that addresses global issues and sustainability curriculum.  While these resources exist and are readily available, it is up the schools and teachers to learn the new curriculum, get it approved by the school board, and integrate it into courses. 
So my question is: Can responsible companies be the bridge between having those education materials available and getting that material into classrooms?  If we are to create a future based on a green economy where consumers support responsible businesses and value sustainable brands, I think this idea is worth considering. 

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