Kitakyushu Urban Centre (KUC) has just released an organic composting manual for kids, which is titled "Organic Composting - How Great!".
The pamphlet, which is in the style of a comic, shows a family that tries to grow vegetables in their home garden. It doesn't go well at first, but by getting some advice from an imaginary character named "the fairy of the soil" they learn that composting is made from household garbage and makes nutritious soil for growing delicious vegetables.
This 16 page booklet was planned as supplementary reading material for the Junior Science School (JSS) seminar which was jointly organised by the Kyushu Institute of Technology and IGES this summer. KUC took advantage of this opportunity to introduce our research activities on community-based solid waste management in Asian countries/cities. Japanese elementary school children from age 6 to 11 attended the series of lectures and learned about composting and resource recycling.
The Contents of "Organic Composting - How Great!"
- Soil that is Friendly for Microorganisms
- Reducing Waste at Home
- How to Make Compost Part 1
- How to Make Compost Part 2
- Let's Use Compost
This booklet is mainly for lower grades of elementary school, however it is useful for teachers/adults who are trying to learn how to make compost technically.
The English and Japanese versions are available here.
Monday, September 30, 2013
The life cycle of a simple cotton T-shirt—worldwide, 4 billion are made, sold, and discarded each year—knits together a chain of seemingly intractable problems, from the elusive definition of sustainable agriculture to the greed and classism of fashion marketing.
The story of a T-shirt not only gives us insight into the complexity of our relationship with even the simplest stuff; it also demonstrates why consumer activism—boycotting or avoiding products that don’t meet our personal standards for sustainability and fairness—will never be enough to bring about real and lasting change. Like a vast Venn diagram covering the entire planet, the environmental and social impacts of cheap T-shirts overlap and intersect on many layers, making it impossible to fix one without addressing the others.
I confess that my T-shirt drawer is so full it's hard to close. That's partly because when I speak at colleges or conferences, I'm often given one with a logo of the institution or event. They’re nice souvenirs of my travels, but the simple fact is: I've already got more T-shirts than I need. And of all the T-shirts I have accumulated over the years, there are only a few that I honestly care about, mostly because of the stories attached to them.
My favorite (no eye-rolling, please) is a green number from the Grateful Dead's 1982 New Year's Eve concert. To me this T-shirt, worn for more than 30 years by multiple members of my extended family, is both useful and beautiful, not only because I attended the concert but because a dear friend gave it to me, knowing how much I would treasure it. The label even says "Made in the USA," which makes me smile because so few things are made in this country anymore, as brands increasingly opt for low-paid workers in poor countries.
Who sews those Tees?
And that takes me back to a day in 1990, in the slums of Port-au-Prince.
I was in Haiti to meet with women who worked in sweatshops making T-shirts and other clothing for the Walt Disney Company. The women were nervous about speaking freely. We crowded into a tiny room inside a small cinderblock house. In sweltering heat, we had to keep the windows shuttered for fear that someone might see us talking. These women worked six days a week, eight hours a day, sewing clothes that they could never save enough to buy. Those lucky enough to be paid minimum wage earned about $15 a week. The women described the grueling pressure at work, routine sexual harassment, and other unsafe and demeaning conditions.
They knew that Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, made millions. A few years after my visit, a National Labor Committee documentary, Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti, revealed that in 1996 Eisner made $8.7 million in salary plus $181 million in stock options—a staggering $101,000 an hour. The Haitian workers were paid one-half of 1 percent of the U.S. retail price of each garment they sewed.
The women wanted fair pay for a day's work—which in their dire straits meant $5 a day. They wanted to be safe, to be able to drink water when hot, and to be free from sexual harassment. They wanted to come home early enough to see their children before bedtime and to have enough food to feed them a solid meal when they woke. Their suffering, and the suffering of other garment workers worldwide, was a major reason the end product could be sold on the shelves of big-box retailers for a few dollars.
I asked them why they stayed in the teeming city, living in slums that had little electricity and no running water or sanitation, and working in such obviously unhealthy environments instead of returning to the countryside where they had grown up. They said the countryside simply couldn’t sustain them anymore. Their families had given up farming since they couldn't compete against the rice imported from the U.S. and sold for less than half the price of the more labor-intensive, more nutritious native rice. It was all part of a plan, someone whispered, by the World Bank and U.S. Agency for International Development to drive Haitians off their land and into the city to sew clothes for rich Americans. The destruction of farming as a livelihood was necessary to push people to the city, so people would be desperate enough to work all day in hellish sweatshops.
Their proper place
The next day I called on USAID. My jaw dropped as the man from the agency openly agreed with what at first had sounded like an exaggerated conspiracy theory. He said it wasn't efficient for Haitians to work on family farms to produce food that could be grown more cheaply elsewhere. Instead they should accept their place in the global economy—which, in his eyes, meant sewing clothes for us in the United States. But surely, I said, efficiency was not the only criterion. A farmer’s connection to the land, healthy and dignified work, a parent's ability to spend time with his or her kids after school, a community staying intact generation after generation—didn’t all these things have value?
"Well," he said, "if a Haitian really wants to farm, there is room for a handful of them to grow things like organic mangoes for the high-end export market." That's right: USAID's plan for the people of Haiti was not self-determination, but as a market for our surplus rice and a supplier of cheap seamstresses, with an occasional organic mango for sale at our gourmet grocery stores.
By 2008 Haiti was importing 80 percent of its rice. This left the world's poorest country at the mercy of the global rice market. Rising fuel costs, global drought, and the diversion of water to more lucrative crops—like the thirsty cotton that went into the Disney clothing—withered worldwide rice production. Global rice prices tripled over a few months, leaving thousands of Haitians unable to afford their staple food. The New York Times carried stories of Haitians forced to resort to eating mud pies, held together with bits of lard.
But that's not all
Whew. Global inequality, poverty, hunger, agricultural subsidies, privatization of natural resources, economic imperialism—it’s the whole messy saga of the entire world economy tangled up in a few square yards of cloth. And we haven't even touched on a range of other environmental and social issues around the production, sale, and disposal of cotton clothing.
Cotton is the world's dirtiest crop. It uses more dangerous insecticides than any other major commodity and is very water intensive. Cotton growing wouldn’t even be possible in areas like California's Central Valley if big cotton plantations didn't receive millions of dollars in federal water subsidies—even as some of the poverty-stricken farmworker towns in the Valley have no fresh water.
Dyeing and bleaching raw cotton into cloth uses large amounts of toxic chemicals. Many of these chemicals—including known carcinogens such as formaldehyde and heavy metals—poison groundwater near cotton mills, and residues remain in the finished products we put next to our skin.
Well-made cotton clothing—like my 30-year-old Grateful Dead T-shirt—can last a long time, providing years of service for multiple wearers before being recycled into new clothes or other products. But most retailers are so intent on selling a never-ending stream of new clothes to their targeted demographic that they quickly throw away clothing in last season's style.
And here’s one more problem with stuff: we're not sharing it well. While some of us have way too much stuff—we’re actually stressed out by the clutter in our households and have to rent off-site storage units—others desperately need more.
For those of us in the overconsuming parts of the world, it's increasingly clear that more stuff doesn’t make us more happy, but for the millions of people who need housing, clothes, and food, more stuff would actually lead to healthier, happier people. If you have only one T-shirt, getting a second one is a big deal. But if you have a drawer stuffed with them, as I do, a new one doesn’t improve my life. It just increases my clutter. Call it stuff inequity. One billion people on the planet are chronically hungry while another billion are obese.
Citizens, not consumers
The problems surrounding the trip from the cotton field to the sweatshop are just a smattering of the ills that not only result from the take-make-waste economy but make it possible. That’s why striving to make responsible choices at the individual consumer level, while good, is just not enough. Change on the scale required by the severity of today's planetary and social crises requires a broader vision and a plan for addressing the root causes of the problem.
To do that we must stop thinking of ourselves primarily as consumers and start thinking and acting like citizens. That's because the most important decisions about stuff are not those made in the supermarket or department store aisles. They are made in the halls of government and business, where decisions are made about what to make, what materials to use, and what standards to uphold.
Consumerism, even when it tries to embrace "sustainable" products, is a set of values that teaches us to define ourselves, communicate our identity, and seek meaning through acquisition of stuff, rather than through our values and activities and our community. Today we're so steeped in consumer culture that we head to the mall even when our houses and garages are full. We suffer angst over the adequacy of our belongings and amass crushing credit card debt to, as the author Dave Ramsey says, buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have, to impress people we don't like.
Citizenship, on the other hand, is about what Eric Liu, in The Gardens of Democracy, calls "how you show up in the world." It’s taking seriously our responsibility to work for broad, deep change that doesn’t tinker around the margins of the system but achieves (forgive the activist-speak) a paradigm shift. Even "ethical consumerism" is generally limited to choosing the most responsible item on the menu, which often leaves us choosing between the lesser of two evils. Citizenship means working to change what’s on the menu, and stuff that trashes the planet or harms people just doesn’t belong. Citizenship means stepping beyond the comfort zones of everyday life and working with other committed citizens to make big, lasting change.
One of our best models of citizenship in the United States is the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It’s a myth that when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus it was a spontaneous act of individual conscience. She was part of a network of thousands of activists who mapped out their campaign, trained to be ready for the struggles to come, then put their bodies on the line in carefully planned civil disobedience. Consumer-based actions, such as boycotting segregated buses or lunch counters, were part of the campaign, but were done collectively and strategically. That model has been used, with varying degrees of success, in the environmental, gay rights, pro-choice, and other movements. But consumer action alone—absent that larger citizen-led campaign—isn't enough to create deep change.
So yes, it is important to be conscious of our consumer decisions. But we're most powerful when this is connected to collective efforts for bigger structural change. As individuals, we can use less stuff if we remember to look inward and evaluate our well-being by our health, the strength of our friendships, and the richness of our hobbies and civic endeavors. And we can make even more progress by working together—as citizens, not consumers—to strengthen laws and business practices increasing efficiency and reducing waste.
As individuals, we can use less toxic stuff by prioritizing organic products, avoiding toxic additives, and ensuring safe recycling of our stuff. But we can achieve much more as citizens demanding tougher laws and cleaner production systems that protect public health overall. And there are many ways we can share more, like my community of several families does. Since we share our stuff, we only need one tall ladder, one pickup truck, and one set of power tools. This means we need to buy, own, and dispose of less stuff. From public tool lending libraries to online peer-to-peer sharing platforms, there are many avenues for scaling sharing efforts from the neighborhood to the national level.
We can't avoid buying and using stuff. But we can work to reclaim our relationship to it. We used to own our stuff; now our stuff owns us. How can we restore the proper balance?
I remember talking to Colin Beavan, aka No Impact Man, at the end of his year of living as low impact as he could manage in New York City: no waste, no preprocessed meals, no television, no cars, no buying new stuff. He shared with me his surprise at journalists calling to ask what he most missed, what he was going to run out and consume.
What he said has stayed with me as a perfect summation of the shift in thinking we all need to save the world—and ourselves—from stuff.
"They assumed I just finished a year of deprivation," Colin said. "But I realized that it was the prior 35 years that had been deprived. I worked around the clock, rushed home late and exhausted, ate take-out food, and plopped down to watch TV until it was time to take out the trash, go to sleep, and start all over again. That was deprivation."
Fortunately for the planet and for us, there is another way.
Republished with permission. Annie Leonard wrote this article for The Human Cost of Stuff, the Fall 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Leonard’s “Story of...” series started with the 2007 “Story of Stuff” and now includes eight titles.
True waste reduction starts with, well, reduction, the first R. Avoiding buying something, or buying less of it, uses the fewest resources and saves you from having to seek out end-of-life options. Granted, waste reduction is harder to measure than recycling – you can’t see the things you didn’t buy in the same way as you can see how much you’ve filled up your recycling bin. But it’s real all the same. So how do you reduce?
- Don’t browse in stores. Identify what you need before you make the trip, or even order it – that way you don’t get caught buying other things you don’t really need. Retailers are skilled at displaying items to encourage impulse buying – resist! A rule of thumb – if you didn’t go to the store with the intention of buying it, consider the possibility that you don’t really need it.
- Simplify your life – declutter (give it away!), and remember “he who dies with the most toys still dies – and leaves his kids to deal with all the junk!” As Oprah said, if you don’t need it or love it, get rid of it! Just because you get rid of a memento doesn’t mean you lose the memories!
- Look for ways to use fewer things, and thus create less waste. You’ll save yourself time and money.
Buy only what you need. Before you buy any item, ask yourself if you really need it, or could you make do with what you already have?
- Choose products that do as many jobs as possible – printers that also scan and fax (if you need all three functions), all-purpose cleaners, rather than specialized ones for each surface or type of room. This reduces the number of products you have to deal with, decreases packaging and cuts down on clutter!
Many items can be recycled in Saskatchewan, such as beverage containers (cans, glass, plastic, milk jugs and juice boxes) through SARCAN, used oil through the Sask. Association for Resource Recovery Corp, Paint at SARCAN, just to name a very few. See our “Where do I recycle my…?” database to check out options in your community.
The "throw-away" convenience of some products is not worth the environmental price that is paid. Whenever you can, look for non-disposable options. Avoid paper towels, plates and cups, throw-away lighters and razors, and disposable diapers. Purchase the multi-use alternatives instead. Advertisers would have us believe that our busy lives demand items that we use once and throw away. But disposables have time costs too. You have to go and buy more things to replace all the ones you’ve thrown away and you have more garbage to take out. Even if you are someone who recycles, disposable items will have more packaging to deal with because each item is used only once. Most disposable items have a reusable counterpart -- washable floor pads for Swiffer-type mops, reusable coffee filters, cloth towels, razors where you just replace the blade... they’re out there and they reduce a lot of waste.
Also, consider reducing or eliminating your purchase of disposable fast food packaging.
Buy durable, long-lasting goods. Initially the cost may be higher, but in the long run you can save. Consumer magazines and organizations can help you make an informed choice. If you don’t need an item for its full life-span, no doubt someone else can make use of it when you’re done with it.
Rent seldom used items, such as tools or party ware.
Replace Hazardous Household Products With Non-Toxic Alternatives
Baking soda can be used as a scouring powder on tubs, sinks and ovens. Warm water and vinegar can be used to clean windows and mirrors, using an 8-to-1 solution. Twice weekly rinses with boiling water will keep drains open. Use a metal snake or plunger to unclog drains. For more suggestions, click here.
Be A Packaging Watchdog
- Buy for the contents, not the container. Some packaging is necessary — you can't carry flour home in your hand — but these days many products have unnecessary or excessive packaging.
- Buy fruits and vegetables "loose" rather than on a plastic-covered tray. If only buying one or two, they don’t even need the ubiquitous plastic bags. Pencils and pens are examples of items that can be purchased "loose" at stationary stores, rather than in a bubble pack at the corner store.
- Buy larger size packages of regularly used items. Buying two small jars of peanut butter creates more garbage than one large jar. Buy a large container of juice and send single servings in a thermos for school lunches.
- Buy in bulk to reduce packaging, but only for those items that you use frequently and in quantity. It doesn’t reduce waste if you buy a bigger package then end up tossing it out.
- Reuse plastic bags or containers from home for produce and bulk items.
- Avoid packaging made with two or more different materials, such as juice containers made of a paper laminated with plastic or foil.
- Ask store clerks not to double bag your purchases. Better yet, bring your own shopping bag to the store.
Be A Constructive Nuisance
Manufacturers and retailers are sensitive to consumers' preferences. Write the company to let them know you are rejecting a product because it is environmentally inappropriate. Complain to store owners.
Tips For Reducing Household Garbage...
Intro by Joanne Fedyk
As I write this, I am wearing a shirt that used to belong to my sister-in-law (very comfortable, one of my favourites), and a pair of sandals a friend gave me because they no longer fit. I've got a book borrowed from the library in my bag, a remanufactured toner cartridge in my laser printer, a used (donated) computer as our second work-station, paper with one side used in my laser printer, photocopier and fax machine. My office furniture is second-hand, and my calendar on the wall is the wipe-off kind that we use over and over. You likely can come up with your own reuse examples.
Generally reuse includes any activities that use an item over again without reprocessing.
Reusing benefits us by saving money. It benefits the community by creating businesses. Second hand stores for everything from music to cars, rental outlets, and repair shops all contribute to local economies. Globally, reuse saves resources and prevents pollution. Reuse mostly occurs locally, so transportation costs and effects are reduced. Reuse keeps things in circulation, so it avoids new items being manufactured. It also uses less energy and creates less pollution than recycling.
- Many things around the house can be saved and reused — string, plastic containers, glass containers, gift wrap, shopping bags. If there are things you can't use, consider giving them to others who can.
- Magazines can be given to friends, or donated to hospitals, nursing homes, or doctors' offices.
- Books can be given to hospitals, donated to organizations such as Salvation Army for resale, or resold in used book stores.
- Yarn and cloth scraps, buttons, wallpaper ends and samples, toilet paper rolls, small boxes, egg cartons, yogurt containers, apple baskets, etc. may be used by nursery or primary schools or day care centres.
- Eyeglasses can be donated to organizations such as the Lions Clubs International or sent to Operation Eyesight, 759 Warden Avenue, Scarborough, ON, M1L 4B5.
- Check out Freecycle.org, a great avenue for giving away things you no longer want or need.
- Use it again — buy used items.
- Refill — refill bottles and other containers. The same container can be used more than once for many things.
- Dismantle — dismantle objects into individual components for recycling or reuse.
Websites like Kijiji (and other reuse options) have become essential for selling/ giving things away, with all kinds of categories to list in, and it’s free! We recommend Kijiji frequently, particularly for odd items that don’t have obvious options. One caller to SWRC had four electric typewriters to give away. As they aren’t accepted by the SWEEP program, we suggested Kijiji, and he emailed back a few days later to say someone had taken all four of them for parts! Who knew?!
Mattresses are another item we get frequent calls about – they’re often past the reusable state, and with the bed-bug issue, even charitable groups often don’t want them. But they make excellent dog beds or truck bed liners, so once again – Kijiji!
Charitable groups such as the Salvation Army, Crisis Nursery and the Saskatoon Refugee Coalition, and organizations who collect for Value Village, (Saskatoon Institute on Community Living and Canadian Diabetes Association) will take many items off your hands, such as old clothes, toys, furniture and appliances. The Refugee Coalition in particular is happy to accept less-than-perfect items. They readily took an excellent folding chair that had a smudge of paint on it and an ugly couch that was in otherwise great shape from a staffer’s parents. Local churches or women’s shelters often need items. Some daycares/preschools/kindergartens take a variety of strange items for their craft centres – thread spools, small jars, good-one- side paper of any size, old calendars and magazines (for their pictures), and the like.
Instead of throwing it out, fix it up! Repair broken toys, furniture and appliances to extend their useful life.
Share with neighbours and friends those large expensive things that you use only once in a while, such as lawn mowers, other gardening equipment, and tools.
Cut Down on Food Waste
20% of the food we buy ends up in the garbage. Keep track of what you've got on hand so that you use groceries while they're still fresh.
Start a backyard compost with your kitchen and yard waste — vegetable trimmings, banana peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, leaves, grass clippings, etc. You will reduce your garbage by over one-third and will produce an excellent soil conditioner for your garden. See our composting page for information on how to start composting.
Search our "Where do I recycle my…?" database for information on materials that can be recycled in your community or in a community near you.
Businesses and institutions too can reduce. Study your processes and business practices and ask the question “how can we accomplish our goals using fewer resources?” Can you reduce paper use? Can you switch to non-toxic cleaning products?
One way to identify waste reduction opportunities is to look at what is in your waste stream -- what can be eliminated/used again recycled? Fewer inputs mean saved resources.
Review your equipment and procedures regularly. SaskTel told us a story once of realizing they were still driving large trucks designed to carry big pieces of equipment that were no longer used. They downsized to much smaller vehicles, saving fuel and money.
Mostly, for businesses (and individuals too), it’s about keeping waste reduction in mind, looking for opportunities to accomplish more with less, and then spreading the word to others!
Top R4R Picks
- Your Ecological Footprint Survey
- Composting Resource
- What should I do with...?: Waste reduction tips for consumers
- Wasting Less - A Consumers Guide
- Business Resource Kit
- Business Waste Audit
- Start a Recycling Program
- Enviro-Preferable Products
- Tools of Change
Resources for extending the learning
- Building a Vermicomposter (Elementary/Middle)
- Debris Dilemma
- Future History: Plastic Bottle Usage
- Judy Moody Saves the World
- Juice Boxes
- Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling Classroom Waste
- Reusable Bags (Secondary)
- Sandy's Incredible Shrinking Footprint
- The Gardener
- The Greens: Activity Guide
- The Story of Stuff
- The Story of Stuff-Bottled Water
- To recycle or not to recycle? That shouldn`t even be the question!
Teachers! Why not involve your students in an important week-long campaign that promotes waste reduction by encouraging Canadians to reduce, reuse and recycle. Built on the theme, Too Good To Waste, this week-long campaign is intended to help us all better appreciate the richness and beauty of our planet and understand the role that waste reduction can play in solving many of our environmental problems.
During Waste Reduction Week students and teachers from across Canada are encouraged to explore the social, economic and environmental impacts of waste and to participate in action projects within their own communities to make a positive difference.
Why Care about Waste Reduction?
- Across Canada it costs more than $1.5 billion per year to dispose of garbage
- There are well over 10,000 landfill sites in Canada.
- Landfill sites account for about 38% of Canada's total methane emissions
- A plastic bag will take approximately 400 years to break down in a landfill
- 70% of land-filled waste could be either reused or recycled
- 5 billion drink boxes are thrown away each year in North AmericaIn a lifetime, the average Canadian will throw away 600 x his or her adult weight in garbage.
- A 68 kg adult will leave a legacy of 40,825 kg of trash.
By the age of 6 months the average Canadian has consumed the same quantity of resources as the average person in the developing world consumes in a lifetime.
E-waste is the fastest growing source of waste in North America
Only 11% of e-waste is recycled
- Most e-waste is shipped overseas or land-filled, where chemicals such as lead and mercury can leach into the groundwater and soil.
Resources 4 Rethinking encourages students and teachers to participate in Waste Reduction Week and offers the following suggestions to support this year’s theme.
For more information and activities be sure to check out the Waste Reduction Week in Canada website at http://www.wrwcanada.com/
Engaging Students in Sustainable Action Projects Workshop is offered to teachers in conjunction with our Youth Taking Action Youth Forum program. Led by trained consultants, the workshop is designed to complement the student youth forums. It focuses on engaging the students in successful environment/social justice action projects students that are explored over the course of the youth forum. Specific strategies are developed to work toward creating change that is truly sustainable, not just for the Earth but also for students and for teachers themselves. Download the Engaging Students in Sustainable Action Projects (ESSAP) guide.
Teachers will be guided through what an action project entails and explore different strategies for success. Assistance with selecting and developing successful projects will also be provided. Teachers receive: A Teacher's Guide to EcoLeague: Specific Recipes for Taking Action. Teachers will have an opportunity to explore how action projects fit into curriculum units and various sample projects that can be carried out with their students.
- Receive a 50 page action project guide
- Explore action project ideas
- Learn about a 12 step process for successful action projects
- Participate in activities they can use in their class to help students
- Work together to identify problems in the action project process and move toward overcoming them
- Explore strategies for integrating action projects into the regular school program
- Identify specific action programs that complement curriculum units
Connecting the Dots - Key Learning Strategies for Environmental Education, Citizenship and Sustainability
Which learning strategies best contribute to students becoming engaged and active citizens involved in achieving environmental, social and economic sustainability?
Connecting the Dots focuses on learning strategies and the ways of organizing learning experiences; the “how to” of learning. These learning strategies involve students as engaged learners, learning within the context of their communities and addressing relevant, local issues.
The learning strategies advanced in this document are not new. They are common to environmental education and many other fields of educational research and practice. What is new is the means by which these strategies when used together, connect the many dots that are necessary to achieve an interconnected world view. These “dots” include:
- Linking environmental, economic and social issues within subjects and across subjects
- Linking students to each other, their home life, their schools, their environment and their community
- Linking knowledge, skills, and perspectives through student engagement and action
- Providing a meaningful context for the implementation of numeracy, literacy, character and other educational objectives.
The Seven Strategies
- Learning Locally - Community as Classroom
- Integrated Learning
- Acting on Learning
- Real-World Connections
- Considering Alternative Perspectives
- Sharing Responsibility for Learning with Students
Authors: Stan Kozak and Susan Elliot
Graphics and Layout: Anita Sekharan
Copyright © 2011 Learning for a Sustainable Future
Full version coming soon!
1. Learning Locally
"Learning Locally - Community as Classroom" is a strategy available at every school. The opportunities vary according to the school's location and the time of year, nevertheless there is a richness to enhance learning at some level outside every school door.
- Learning locally takes advantage of the natural, built and cultural amenities that exist in the community - just outside the school doors, often a short walk away.
- Using local experiences for learning expands the confines of the classroom to include the richness of the community and helps redefine learning as a life-long pursuit.
Read more about Learning Locally:
2. Integrated Learning
Integrated learning is a relevant and important strategy for all grade levels. Subject-based or organization of timetables and subject specialization in higher grades can make its application more difficult but not impossible.
Pursue any topic or issue and opportunities arise to address expectations across multiple subjects. Following and using these learning opportunities is the essence of integrated learning.
Read more about Integrated Learning:
3. Acting on Learning
When students act on their learning, the school experience is made relevant and the seeds of hope through active citizenship are planted.
Acting on learning: moves beyond investigation of an issue to identifying solutions and working towards a desired change—in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community, and on the planet. (Laing, 1998, 170) The premise is - if something is worth knowing, it is worth acting upon.
- Action projects are practical, real and are relevant to the students involved. They are not planned simply as a learning exercise.
- They include community service ranging from volunteering to service learning.
- Through action projects, skill, knowledge and value expectations are addressed.
Read more on Acting on Learning:
4. Real World Connections
Students want to be involved in important initiatives. Bringing real-world connections to learning takes advantage of this strong motivator.
Real-world connections draw from, or upon, actual objects, events, experiences or situations to address a concept, problem or issue.
Read more about Real World Connections:
5. Considering Alternative Perspectives
Bringing alternative perspectives to the attention of students is an invitation for critical thinking.
Consideration of the different ways of looking at issues, solutions, strategies, experiences, world views and ways of knowing in the process of forming opinions, clarifying values and taking an informed position.
Read more about Considering Alternative Perspectives:
Inquiry-based learning is most consistent with development of the skills for lifelong learning. It prepares students to know what to do when the options before them are not clear.
An approach to learning that is directed by questions that individuals and groups of learners work together to address. Both process and products of learning are assessed.
Read more about Inquiry:
By Suzanne York 6degreesofpopulation.org
If you want to have an impact on reducing carbon emissions and the effects of climate change, look no further than your kitchen.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), every year the world wastes a third of all food for human consumption – nearly 1.3 billion tons – equal to 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide. To put it another way, if food waste were a country, it would account for more carbon emissions than any country except China and the United States.
Image credit: UN Environment Programme
It comes down to overconsumption and inefficiency. In “The Food Wastage Footprint,” the FAO states that in the industrialized world, unsurprisingly, most waste is the result of consumers buying too much and throwing out what they don’t eat or want. In developing countries, it is primarily the result of inefficient farming and lack of proper storage facilities.
It is estimated that the cost of all that wasted food is $750 billion a year.
José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the FAO, said, “We simply cannot allow one-third of all the food we produce to go to waste or be lost because of inappropriate practices, when 870 million people go hungry every day.”
Poverty, population growth, and rising consumption are all parts of food insecurity. The report’s authors note the following:
Food security is a major concern in large parts of the developing world. Food production must clearly increase significantly to meet the future demands of an increasing and more affluent world population. … In a world with limited natural resources (land, water, energy, fertilizer), and where cost-effective solutions are to be found to produce enough safe and nutritious food for all, reducing food losses should not be a forgotten priority.
One of the report’s key findings is that food that is produced but not eaten each year uses up a volume of water equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River.
The FAO addressed some of what it calls world food wastage “hot-spots”:
- Wastage of cereals in Asia is a significant problem, with major impacts on carbon emissions and water and land use. Rice’s profile is particularly noticeable, given its high methane emissions combined with a large level of wastage.
- While meat wastage volumes in all world regions is comparatively low, the meat sector generates a substantial impact on the environment in terms of land occupation and carbon footprint, especially in high-income countries and Latin America, which in combination account for 80 percent of all meat wastage.
In industrialized countries, food waste can be reduced by raising awareness among food industries, retailers, and consumers. One example of a successful voluntary initiative is Denmark’s Stop Wasting Food. This project “provides guidance to consumers on how to avoid wasting food by shopping according to daily needs of households, and promotes better household planning and shopping patterns in order to encourage a movement away from impulsive to rational food shopping and consumption patterns.”
The FAO also released a toolkit called “Reducing the Food Wastage Footprint,” which includes numerous ways to stop wasting so much food.
Sometimes it is the small and unglamorous efforts people can take that will make a difference. Just like choosing to go with a meatless diet one or two days a week can reduce carbon footprints, so can simply eating smaller portions, at least in wealthier nations.
It seems our parents and/or grandparents were right when many said: “be sure to clean off your plate, as there are starving people in [insert developing country].” Only this time, the fate of the planet hangs in the balance if we don’t clean our dinner plates, or put less on the plate.
You can also read and comment on the article on the Wiser.org collaborative network for sustainability!
Thursday, September 26, 2013
It was a tender, and exquisitely planned, teachable moment that reflected what a growing number of educators have begun to identify as a deeply felt imperative: To foster learning that genuinely prepares young people for the ecological challenges presented by this entirely unprecedented time in human history.
“Ecoliterate” is our shorthand for the end goal of this kind of learning, and raising ecoliterate students requires a process that we call “socially and emotionally engaged ecoliteracy”—a process that, we believe, offers an antidote to the fear, anger, and hopelessness that can result from inaction. As we saw in Wright-Albertini’s classroom, the very act of engaging in some of today’s great ecological challenges—on whatever scale is possible or appropriate—develops strength, hope, and resiliency in young people.
Ecoliteracy is founded on a new integration of emotional, social, and ecological intelligence—forms of intelligence popularized by Daniel Goleman. While social and emotional intelligence extend students’ abilities to see from another’s perspective, empathize, and show concern, ecological intelligence applies these capacities to an understanding of natural systems and melds cognitive skills with empathy for all of life. By weaving these forms of intelligence together, ecoliteracy builds on the successes—from reduced behavioral problems to increased academic achievement—of the movement in education to foster social and emotional learning. And it cultivates the knowledge, empathy, and action required for practicing sustainable living.
To help educators foster socially and emotionally engaged ecoliteracy, we have identified the following five practices. These are, of course, not the only ways to do so. But we believe that educators who cultivate these practices offer a strong foundation for becoming ecoliterate, helping themselves and their students build healthier relationships with other people and the planet. Each can be nurtured in age-appropriate ways for students, ranging from pre-kindergarten through adulthood, and help promote the cognitive and affective abilities central to the integration of emotional, social, and ecological intelligence.
1. Develop empathy for all forms of life
At a basic level, all organisms—including humans—need food, water, space, and conditions that support dynamic equilibrium to survive. By recognizing the common needs we share with all organisms, we can begin to shift our perspective from a view of humans as separate and superior to a more authentic view of humans as members of the natural world. From that perspective, we can expand our circles of empathy to consider the quality of life of other life forms, feel genuine concern about their well-being, and act on that concern.
Most young children exhibit care and compassion toward other living beings.
This is one of several indicators that human brains are wired to feel empathy and concern for other living things. Teachers can nurture this capacity to care by creating class lessons that emphasize the important roles that plants and animals play in sustaining the web of life. Empathy also can be developed through direct contact with other living things, such as by keeping live plants and animals in the classroom; taking field trips to nature areas, zoos, botanical gardens, and animal rescue centers; and involving students in field projects such as habitat restoration.
Another way teachers can help develop empathy for other forms of life is by studying indigenous cultures. From early Australian Aboriginal culture to the Gwich’in First Nation in the Arctic Circle, traditional societies have viewed themselves as intimately connected to plants, animals, the land, and the cycles of life. This worldview of interdependence guides daily living and has helped these societies survive, frequently in delicate ecosystems, for thousands of years. By focusing on their relationship with their surroundings, students learn how a society lives when it values other forms of life.
2. Embrace sustainability as a community practice
Organisms do not survive in isolation. Instead, the web of relationships within any living community determines its collective ability to survive and thrive.
This essay is adapted from Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence (Jossey-Bass), which draws on the work of the Center for Ecoliteracy.
By learning about the wondrous ways that plants, animals, and other living things are interdependent, students are inspired to consider the role of interconnectedness within their communities and see the value in strengthening those relationships by thinking and acting cooperatively.
The notion of sustainability as a community practice, however, embodies some characteristics that fall outside most schools’ definitions of themselves as a “com- munity,” yet these elements are essential to building ecoliteracy. For example, by examining how their community provisions itself—from school food to energy use—students can contemplate whether their everyday practices value the common good.
Other students might follow the approach taken by a group of high school students in New Orleans known as the “Rethinkers,” who gathered data about the sources of their energy and the amount they used and then surveyed their peers by asking, “How might we change the way we use energy so that we are more resilient and reduce the negative impacts on people, other living beings, and the planet?” As the Rethinkers have shown, these projects can give students the opportunity to start building a community that values diverse perspectives, the common good, a strong network of relationships, and resiliency.
3. Make the invisible visible
Historically—and for some cultures still in existence today—the path between
a decision and its consequences was short and visible. If a homesteading family cleared their land of trees, for example, they might soon experience flooding, soil erosion, a lack of shade, and a huge decrease in biodiversity.
But the global economy has created blinders that shield many of us from experiencing the far-reaching implications of our actions. As we have increased our use of fossil fuels, for instance, it has been difficult (and remains difficult for many people) to believe that we are disrupting something on the magnitude of the Earth’s climate. Although some places on the planet are beginning to see evidence of climate change, most of us experience no changes. We may notice unusual weather, but daily weather is not the same as climate disruption over time.
If we strive to develop ways of living that are more life-affirming, we must find ways to make visible the things that seem invisible.
Educators can help through a number of strategies. They can use phenomenal web-based tools, such as Google Earth, to enable students to “travel” virtually and view the landscape in other regions and countries. They can also introduce students to technological applications such as GoodGuide and Fooducate, which cull from a great deal of research and “package” it in easy-to-understand formats that reveal the impact of certain household products on our health, the environment, and social justice. Through social networking websites, students can also communicate directly with citizens of distant areas and learn firsthand what the others are experiencing that is invisible to most students. Finally, in some cases, teachers can organize field trips to directly observe places that have been quietly devastated as part of the system that provides most of us with energy.
4. Anticipate unintended consequences
Many of the environmental crises that we face today are the unintended consequences of human behavior. For example, we have experienced many unintended but grave consequences of developing the technological ability to access, produce, and use fossil fuels. These new technological capacities have been largely viewed as progress for our society. Only recently has the public become aware of the downsides of our dependency on fossil fuels, such as pollution, suburban sprawl, international conflicts, and climate change.
Teachers can teach students a couple of noteworthy strategies for anticipating unintended consequences. One strategy—the precautionary principle—can be boiled down to this basic message: When an activity threatens to have a damaging impact on the environment or human health, precautionary actions should be taken regardless
of whether a cause-and-effect relationship has been scientifically confirmed. Historically, to impose restrictions on new products, technologies, or practices, the people concerned about possible negative impacts were expected to prove scientifically that harm would result from them. By contrast, the precautionary principle (which is now in effect in many countries and in some places in the United States) places the burden of proof on the producers to demonstrate harmlessness and accept responsibility should harm occur.
Another strategy is to shift from analyzing a problem by reducing it to its isolated components, to adopting a systems thinking perspective that examines the connections and relationships among the various components of the problem. Students who can apply systems thinking are usually better at predicting possible consequences of a seemingly small change to one part of the system that can potentially affect the entire system. One easy method for looking at a problem systemically is by mapping it and all of its components and interconnections. It is then easier to grasp the complexity of our decisions and foresee possible implications.
Finally, no matter how adept we are at applying the precautionary principle and systems thinking, we will still encounter unanticipated consequences of our actions. Building resiliency—for example, by moving away from mono-crop agriculture or by creating local, less centralized food systems or energy networks—is another important strategy for survival in these circumstances. We can turn to nature and find that the capacity of natural communities to rebound from unintended consequences is vital to survival.
5. Understand how nature sustains life
Ecoliterate people recognize that nature has sustained life for eons; as a result, they have turned to nature as their teacher and learned several crucial tenets. Three of those tenets are particularly imperative to ecoliterate living.
First of all, ecoliterate people have learned from nature that all living organisms are members of a complex, interconnected web of life and that those members inhabiting a particular place depend upon their interconnectedness for survival. Teachers can foster an understanding of the diverse web of relationships within a location by having students study that location as a system.
Second, ecoliterate people tend to be more aware that systems exist on various levels of scale. In nature, organisms are members of systems nested within other systems, from the micro-level to the macro-level. Each level supports the others to sustain life. When students begin to understand the intricate interplay of relation- ships that sustain an ecosystem, they can better appreciate the implications for survival that even a small disturbance may have, or the importance of strengthening relationships that help a system respond to disturbances.
Finally, ecoliterate people collectively practice a way of life that fulfills the needs of the present generation while simultaneously supporting nature’s inherent ability to sustain life into the future. They have learned from nature that members of a healthy ecosystem do not abuse the resources they need in order to survive. They have also learned from nature to take only what they need and to adjust their behavior in times of boom or bust. This requires that students learn to take a long view when making decisions about how to live.
These five practices, developed by the Berkeley-based Center for Ecoliteracy, offer guideposts to exciting, meaningful, and deeply relevant education that builds on social and emotional learning skills. They can also plant the seeds for a positive relationship with the natural world that can sustain a young person’s interest and involvement for a lifetime.
This article is printed here with permission. It originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC). Based at UC Berkeley, the GGSC studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.
Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., is the best-selling author of Emotional Intelligence, Social Intelligence, and Ecological Intelligence. Lisa Bennett is the communications director of the Center for Ecoliteracy. Zenobia Barlow is the Center's executive director and co-founder.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Posted by sdreyerleon in Uncategorized July 6, 2011
Educating for Sustainability: A Mindfulness Practice!
A colleague recently suggested I watch a Youtube video of Ram Dass interviewing Thich Nhat Hanh. Both men have made substantial contributions to the American understanding of mindfulness over the past four decades. It’s a delicious little slice of insight between two beautiful minds. During the interview, Thich Nhat Hanh says something that cuts to the heart of what I see as the relationship between mindfulness and sustainability. He says, “It’s easy to get people to agree that things are impermanent. They may understand it completely, but they act as if things are permanent.”
In order to experience, truly experience the changing world around and within ourselves, we must cultivate the capacity to know, to intimately see and experience, impermanence and how we relate to the fact of it. For example, we here in New England know the seasons change. Do you have a favorite season? Are you acquainted with how you relate to its impending arrival? Do you savor each day greedily, be it warm summer swims or frosty ski runs? Do you mourn the passing of this season with longing, melancholy or outright sadness? Do you find yourself complaining to yourself or others when the expected weather conditions do not materialize. We KNOW that seasons come and go, that weather patterns change and yet, we plan and organize and react to these changes with grasping and resistance. And, we suffer for it in ways large and small. What would it mean to live our knowing of this impermanence and acting based upon it, unhooked from the cycle of desire, longing, and aversion? Would we love our “favorite” season less, or would we be more contented with the ever-changing flow of the natural world around us? I challenge each of us to experiment with this simple idea and see where it takes you.
It puts me in mind of the reasons why I believe so strongly in the development of the field of Educating for Sustainability. The need for the conscious development of a culture of sustainability is rooted in our default tendency to take as permanent our current conditions. As a species and as individuals, we do not act as if the health of the earth is urgently essential for our survival. We do not treat our planet as if every single thing we need to stay alive and every single thing we possess arises from it and it alone. But this is the case. Educating for Sustainability is rooted in the idea that we have to increase the capacity of individuals and groups of people to act in ways that will ensure survival for ourselves and the ecosystems on which we depend. It’s not enough to understand that our lifestyles are unsustainable, we have to do something about it.
In addition, those of us who live in this affluent, abundant culture of plenty, must understand that our situation is intimately connected to lives of others whose basic human needs are not met. We know this intellectually, but we do not act based on that knowledge. Or maybe more accurately, we do not change our activities based on that knowledge. And yet, we must know on some level, like the changing of the seasons, it’s only a matter of time until the affects of global resource degradation confront us at our own door step. Higher prices for food and fuel, being perhaps just the first small symptoms of much larger changes to come.
So, in developing our mindfulness practices, are we also developing our capacity to take on the challenges of creating a sustainable present and future? I hope that this post will be the first in a series of explorations of the link between mindfulness and Educating for Sustainability. Please add your thoughts and comments. We would also be very interested to know about work happening in the intersection of the fields of Mindfulness and Educating for Sustainability, so please feel free to send links and Thich Nhat Hanh, please follow this link!
Working to create a sustainable world hasn’t been easy. One reason for this is that people are highly capable of knowing something but acting as if they didn’t. It is epitomized by the attitude, “I know I should, but I don’t.” We know we should eat local, bike more, etc. etc., but so few of us actually live up to what we know.
In Buddhism, there is a huge emphasis on the different between knowing something intellectually and having the kind of understanding that leads to insight and transformation. Once we have that insight, we are changed by it and there is no going back.
So if we in the sustainability movement want to create this deeper type of understanding, we can see mere education won’t be enough. Instead, we can combine education about these issues with the practice of mindfulness that helps turn “mere ideas” into deep insight.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts, describes mindfulness as “purposeful awareness.” A more traditional definition would be that practicing mindfulness means that we are strengthening our ability to focus attention while remaining relaxed and letting go of our attachments to ideas. When we develop this capacity, we can more easily let go of strongly held opinion in order to be open to new information.
So how does one develop the kind of mindfulness that helps us let go of entrenched ideas? We start with basic mindfulness building exercises like “full awareness of breathing” and build toward exercises that help us see our deep interconnection with all beings and the planet.
Here are some instruction for “full awareness of breathing.” You can try this yourself:
- Stop whatever you are doing and assume a comfortable position.
- Bring all of your attention to the sensation of your breathing. It can be at your nose, chest, abdomen or your entire body.
- Allow yourself to really enjoy the sensation of breathing. It can be truly pleasant to be able to breathe freely. Give yourself permission to enjoy that pleasant sensation as breath moves in and out.
- When you realize that your mind has wandered, very gently and with no self-criticism, bring your attention back to your breath. It is entirely natural that your mind will wander because it has a lot of momentum from moving so fast. By bringing your attention back to your breath, you are letting it slow down naturally without trying to force it.
Just a few minutes of practicing mindfulness of breathing can help refresh our minds and create a sense of openness. As we develop this ability, we can use the same concentrated yet relaxed attention to contemplate interconnection and the consequences of our actions.
Tim Ambrose Desmond is a therapist and consultant. His website is www.phonecounseling.net
Could Mindfulness hold the key to unlock a sustainable future?
In the fifth and final part in the Sustainable Business Strategy series, Mike Townsend explores how mindfulness might help us unlock the transformation within ourselves - and in our businesses.
PART 5: GRACE UNDER PRESSURE?
"As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.” Mahatma Gandhi
The further we progress on our journey towards sustainable business, the more fundamental are the constraints and challenges that we encounter. We may improve compliance, and optimize our eco-efficiency initiatives, but then find we need to address our business models, our organizational and ownership formats, if we are to deliver more impact, more benefits.
We may go further still, and explore the need for systemic change, to drive the right behaviours and performance, that will enable our strategies to flourish.
But there is one constant, one common denominator in all these processes, organisations, and systems – people.
And so, we reach the ultimate barrier – ourselves – where the only way forward is to go within, and change our internal world. Only then can we move forward to drive the changes that are truly necessary.
Could it be, that for us to unlock transformational change in business, we must first undergo individual transformation? Could mindfulness help us overcome our deepest fears, as we wrestle with the deep and fundamental changes required, if we are to truly transform to a sustainable future?
Mindfulness has its roots in the Buddhist approach to increasing awareness of oneself and one’s surroundings.
As Thich Nhat Hanh describes in his excellent and very accessible book The World We Have, mindfulness is at the heart of awakening, of enlightenment, and is achieved through the practice of breathing and meditation; to be here, in the present moment, so we can recognise what is happening around us, and make conscious choices, so we can act in sustainable ways.
Thich Nhat Hanh describes mindfulness is being at the heart of awakening, of enlightenment, and is achieved through the practice of breathing and meditation
So, how does it work? On one level, mindfulness can sound deceptively simple; practitioners sit in a comfortable position, close their eyes, and note the physical sensations in their bodies and the flow of thoughts through their minds – they become aware, and in the moment – the aim is to observe these sensations, but in a non-judgemental way, without reacting to them. In time, this allows one to quieten the mind, which should lead to a calmer, clearer, and more focused state.
Although for some, this might sound like a bit too hippy-dippy, according to Professor Mark Williams, the science is now catching up – demonstrating repeatable and spectacular results. Mindfulness can improve wellbeing, and reduce the risk of depression by half.
Interestingly, the concept of mindfulness appears to be making inroads into the business world, and is almost, dare I say, becoming fashionable.
In a business context, according to Karl Weick at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, “mindful organisations are better able to manage the unexpected in a challenging, highly competitive environment”. This certainly sounds like a good idea, given the massively turbulent times we find ourselves in.
Into the mainstream
There are certainly some big corporate names that appear to think so, including AOL, Apple, General Mills, Huffington Post, Google, Nike, and Procter & Gamble.
Even Steve Jobs, Apple’s founder and former CEO, was a Zen Buddhist; and he spoke openly about how his time meditating in India shaped his worldview, and ultimately, Apple’s product design.
In her recent interview with Google's Rich Fernandez, Dr Bronwen Rees explores the link between the leadership agenda and wellbeing, mindfulness, and wisdom at Google. For Fernandez, what started out as a personal pursuit developed into something much greater. Mindfulness grew to represent a cultural shift within, and across organisations.
Fernandez started running a few sessions on mindfulness, expecting around 20 to 30 people to show, but 200 turned up. Clearly, he had tapped into something on a deeper level; perhaps a latent need to find a better way?
The team at Google then developed a robust set of mindfulness and wisdom practices and courses, including Mindfulness Based on Emotional Intelligence – a seven-week course, meeting once each week, and which includes a full day at a meditation retreat. Another course focused on Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction.
And some courses were designed by, and with specific business units in mind, such as The Software Engineering of the Mind. The mind boggles at the prospect of that one.
Google has also established Wellness Centres, where people can go for yoga, massage, or meditation. These sessions are now very popular, with long waiting lists. They also run a video-conferencing meditation group, they call “meditation hangouts”.
The approach has become increasingly popular, and over 4,000 of Google’s 35,000 employees have now taken some form of mindfulness, wisdom, or wellbeing programme.
But this is not just about wellbeing for its own sake.
Google is a high performance culture; expectations are high and this requires a robust performance management system. For Google, mindfulness was all about achieving peak performance and optimising productivity through more mindful practices.
“People at Google aspire to do world-changing things. So wisdom and mindfulness provide some strategies and tools that equip us to be able to sustain that level of performance.” Rich Fernandez, Senior People Development Lead, Google
Business schools are also starting to embrace the practice, including the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management in California.
In a series of four seven-week executive education classes, and a separate course for MBA students, Jeremy Hunter teaches what he calls self-management, “managing your insides so you can deal with your outsides better”. Classes start with a brief meditation, and cover topics like managing emotional reactions, and dealing with change.
Harvard Business School has also take the leap, where courses are run to help business people better understand their emotions, which involves opening up, to share with others their toughest personal experiences.
"People at Google aspire to do world-changing things - so wisdom and mindfulness provide some strategies and tools that equip us."
There’s something in it – but is it possible to quantify tangible benefits?
According to business professors Michael Porter, Elizabeth Teisberg, and Scott Wallace, investing in wellbeing just makes good financial sense. Their studies show that US employers pay 200-300% more for the indirect costs of health care – in the form of absenteeism, sick days, and lower productivity – than they do on actual health care payments. Their recommendation is for companies to "mount an aggressive approach to wellness, prevention, screening and active management of chronic conditions."
And then there is the relationship between happiness and productivity. The iOpener Institute carried out a study of a company with 1,000 employees; they found that increasing happiness in the workplace reduces the cost of employee turnover by 46%, the cost of sick leave by 19%, and increases performance and productivity by 12%.
On the face of it, these are very significant benefits – for businesses as well as individuals – and way beyond the diminishing returns we perhaps now experience from our often over-worked and mechanistic business efficiency initiatives.
And going further, a key strategic benefit for business also lies in the ability of staff to make better decisions. David Gelles, in a very thorough and interesting piece for the FT, quotes William George, a board member with Goldman Sachs: “The main business case for meditation is that if you’re fully present on the job, you will be more effective as a leader, you will make better decisions, and you will work better with other people.”
This point is intriguing, particularly from the perspective of developing more sustainable business strategies. Better decisions; but better decisions for what, exactly? Can the more sharper, more effective employee deliver more mindful business decisions, for the greater benefit of people and planet, or will it merely increase their capacity to become even more effective capitalists and plunder the planet?
To address this point, we have to go deeper. Mindfulness is not just about meditation and relaxation – to develop sharper, more focused and energised employees – it also challenges some of our belief systems, including some of our most fundamental assumptions about what we do in business, and how we do it.
Let’s get back to Thich Nhat Hanh, and the important notion of conscious choices; through his mindfulness trainings, he calls us to make five deep commitments:
Cherish all life on Earth – cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect our people ad planet;
Practice generosity and social justice – become aware of the suffering cause by exploitation, social injustice and oppression, and commit to cultivate wellbeing of people, animals, plants and minerals;
Responsibility in relationships – cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society;
Loving speech and deep listening – to bring joy and happiness and relieve others of their suffering; and
Mindful consumption and eating – which involves recognising exactly what we need to consume (in all senses of the word), and what not to consume, in order to keep our bodies, minds and the Earth healthy.
If we were all to adopt these teachings in full, there is no doubt in my mind that the effect would be completely transformative. But this will have huge implications for all our businesses, and the ways in which we run our economies.
The consumption challenge
In particular, the notion of mindful consumption, presents a major challenge to our whole economic model and way of life, we have cultured in the West overt the last fifty years or more.
But as George Monbiot reminds us – we have to do this, anyway – we have to stop hiding behind our eco-efficiency initiatives and deal with the fundamental problem of consumption – it lies at the heart of our key sustainability challenges; of climate change, resource scarcity, and a looming energy crisis.
Can we shift towards a low/zero growth model and make the transition away from a damaging and wasteful economy? This is a major topic in its own right, and one that we will aim to explore in more detail in a future article. But, let’s explore a little further, here, how mindfulness might help.
Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, says there is a “proper size” for the company. "There are no three star French restaurants with fifty tables – it’s impossible"
As Professor Joes Magnusson, author of Mindful Economics, puts it “Mindfulness is calm openness, and at the same time piercing the layers of delusion that have been accumulating, collectively in our minds and institutions.” The implication being that it helps us see past the delusions of a consumer-based and materialistic society, to find a more meaningful, less material approach.
But this, we know, is somewhat at odds with the prevailing corporate business paradigm and our endless pursuit of growth. And while many may privately admit that the goal of endless growthis not sustainable, or even possible; we somehow find it too hard, to move to a different model. Growth pre-occupies our businesses, and our beleaguered governments. And as Jo Confino points out, the fear of radical change and failure holds us back.
Of course, we also know that the current system starts to unravel and ultimately collapse,if we don’t achieve continuous growth – a major inherent design flaw that we will have to address, one day. But another reason that makes it feel like a challenge that is just too hard to resolve. We have become addicted to growth.
But there is some great pioneering economic ‘design work’ by the likes of Peter Victor, Tim Jackson and David Korten, that can help us find a vision and a plan for a better approach. Although, there is less empirical evidence of businesses that have successfully made the transition to a low/no growth economy – optimising, rather than maximising growth.
And while there are an increasing number of businesses getting engaged in the circular economy approach, aiming to maximise the range of resources in use, many of these businesses are still broadly operating within a growth paradigm – still striving towards year-on-year growth in sales.
We may need to come at the challenge form both ends – optimising resource use, certainly, but also optimising growth, and the size of our businesses.
Patagonia, the Californian outdoor clothing company, is perhaps one of the best known examples of a company, that really seems to be engaging with a mindful approach to consumption – by taking the seemingly counterintuitive approach to encouraging its customers to buy less! And really pushing the re-use, repair and recycling business model – in pursuit of the company's mission of building the best product, causing no unnecessary harm, and using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, also sees that there is a “proper size” for the company, and as he says in his inspirational talk – The Education of a Reluctant Businessman – “There are no three star French restaurants with fifty tables – it’s impossible.”
Patagonia, based on its values and principles, simply cannot become a large company. As Schumacher urged us forty years ago, small really can be beautiful.
And what influenced the approach at Patagonia? Whether formalised or not, Chouinard points to his life-long study of Buddhist philosophies as being a major influence underpinning his work; a mindful approach to consumption.
Out of the crisis?
There is no doubt that the introduction of mindfulness can have major benefits for businesses and employees; through the reduction of stress, and generating the potential for greater wellbeing, creativity, performance, personal growth, and behavioural change. And, not surprisingly, at this time of stress and challenge, the approach is growing in popularity.
But also, mindfulness presents a way out of our seemingly intractable situations –really challenging the more fundamental and difficult aspects of our sustainability challenges, such as our consumption model of economy. Perhaps we can seek, find, and move to a better way?
Quite importantly, mindfulness helps us to overcome our fears of change and failure. And so, it also presents the key to unlocking the doors to develop and deploy truly sustainable business strategies.
Some businesses may not wish to engage with the deeper aspects of mindfulness – beyond the breathing, relaxation, and yoga – to explore with the five teachings, including mindful consumption and eating. Who knows what might happen if we open that ‘can of worms’, and expose the full range of radical shifts that might be possible?
But perhaps this doesn’t matter? It seems highly likely that by the introduction of mindfulness programmes, by their very presence, will set people on a path of personal discovery, that may then lead to more radical shifts, whether intended, or not.
Will mindfulness take off in business? Will the full implications be allowed to take effect? It remains to be seen where this will all end up, but I for one, will be watching and participating with keen interest.
- Take action – be the change
- Gandhi nailed it when he said, “Be the change you want to see”.Such a profound statement, on many levels; we all have the power to change what we do, and this can add up to a worldwide change.Through becoming more aware, and making more mindful choices – even if they can seem hard at first sight – we can achieve this. But what can we do today? Well, here are three things to get us started on our journey:
- Read Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The World We Have – for deeper learning and personal reflection.
- Look through the Pictures of Success and reflect on the associated Earth Charter Principles, and how these relate to what you do now, and what you would like to do.
- Perhaps visit Dr Bronwen Rees at The East West Sanctuary, near Budapest, and join one of the courses on embedding mindful practice in business?
For more in the Sustainable Business Strategy series, click here.
The Personal Sustainability Wheel will help you explore aspects of your personal sustainability.
You will be asked to reflect on aspects of your way of living, your sense of purpose, vitality, mindfulness and other elements that will open up new ways of thinking and help you uncover the things that truly sustain you.
When you complete this test, you will be emailed your unique result and a Workbook to help you positively shape your life, the lives of other and the environments that support you. Every person can make a difference. Complete your Personal Sustainability Wheel today.
The assessment is totally free and will take about 15 minutes to complete.