Why Is It Essential To Teach Young People Sustainability?

sustainability-trainingSearching through the internet for sustainable business and how we can tackle inequalities around the world, I came across a speech by Simon Mainwaring. During his speech he quoted Bill Gates’ statement that:

‘…government and philanthropy can’t fix the world on their own and that the private sector needs to find creative ways to help.’

As the demand to become more sustainable grows, we are witnessing many multinational corporations invest money in presenting themselves as sustainable and caring about the environment. These corporations claim to be part of fair-trade schemes, taking care of farmers, advertising their new recycling programs, and so on.

However is this enough?

I believe that in order for business to truly embrace the values of sustainability, they need to implement it into their strategic agendas. As for most companies, their target is still ‘profit for profit’. I believe that we need new enterprises, where the directors and managers are familiar with terms such as sustainability, zero waste, closed loop production, local production, and so on. As a result, we can then have more sustainable companies, led by people who actually want to contribute to global efforts for a better environment.

Being aware of the need to strategically change their practices, some companies have adapted the way they gather their raw materials. Others have established schemes where they contribute in various ways to the development of developing world communities. For example:

  • Sseko Designs: This footwear company has pledged to help women in Uganda continue their education.
  • Liberty Bottleworks: A company that makes metal water bottles, by using 100% recycled aluminium, while using less energy, cleaning their waste water, and re-using their scrap metal.

However, I strongly believe we can do much better. For this, we need skilled people who know what sustainability is, and have the drive to exercise their knowledge. Based on a recent article by the Guardian, there seems to be a disconnect between the skills that young people are developing and those that companies require. A recent Future Leaders Survey by Sky discovered that 96% of respondents plan on being involved with sustainability in their careers.

Accenture is a company that has released this strong desire from young people and has taken the lead in training young people on sustainability, sustainability education gives them the tools to ‘get a job or build a business’. Their target is to provide 250,000 individuals by 2015 with the necessary skills.

Another interesting case is a company called Burt’s Bees who promote natural products whose main ingredients are based on honey. Burt’s Bees uniqueness lies in teaching ‘sustainability as part of the induction process for all staff’. Some of the topics included in the training process are ‘health properties of the honeybee, energy and water conservation, change management and sustainability for the workplace, the home and the planet’. The company’s goal is to reach 100% employee engagement in sustainability by 2020.

Another article by the Guardian shows that there have been requests for the addition of sustainability classes in the English schools’ curriculum. According to the document which was formed by an independent expert panel, there were 5 aims for the new curriculum, 2 of them relating to ‘wellbeing and sustainability’:

  1. Support personal development and empowerment so that each pupil is able to develop as a healthy, balanced and self-confident individual and fulfil their educational potential.
  2. Promote understanding of sustainability in the stewardship of resources locally, nationally and globally.

The induction of sustainability in the curriculum would be a wise step. The three realms of sustainability are society, economy and environment. In order to reach the desired outcome, these three realms need to be interlinked. Therefore we need a society that is aware of such issues, so as to contribute to the economy by transforming it from within. We should also be aware that young people are our future. We need to give them the knowledge and understanding of what the world needs right now, as well as the tools to be able to manifest it. Only then can we believe in a better future.

About the Author Charles El-Zeind

Charles El-Zeind is passionate about communicating environmental issues such as climate change and sustainability. Charles is currently involved in a grassroots community project with the Fiveways and Hollingdean Transition Network and writes regularly for the Sustainable Business Toolkit. He holds a bachelor degree from the University of Brighton in Environment and Media Studies.

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