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Linking knowledge and action on sustainability by focusing on consumption and utilizing schools as hubs for social change on community level



This proposal builds on intense two-years of learning and experience gained through practically developing an innovative environmental education program for urban schools in India. The idea of this project is based on the assumptions and propositions drawn from four years of empirical research in the emerging megacity of Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh, India). The project already materialized as a pilot project (ESL 1.0) in the context of the interdisciplinary research project “Sustainable Hyderabad”, funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

As part of a first pilot phase of the project, new learning methods for education for sustainable development have been tested in five schools in the city of Hyderabad. In an interactive and playful way, students of grades 8 and 9 have been invited to assess the environmental footprints of their schools and explore their individual consumption patterns. Through this advanced environmental learning approach, students gained new perspectives towards their own behavior. It encouraged them in terms of developing own ideas to reduce their environmental footprints and empowered them to also draw attention to their community (peers, parents, neighbors, etc.) on the topics sustainability and climate change. Through ESL the young generation can become a driving force behind the transition of Hyderabad towards a low-carbon city of the future.

Very unique and most critical is the approach of building an active community stakeholder network in the schools’ surrounding neighborhood consisting of e.g. religious organizations, active citizens, Community Based Organizations (CBO), and local businesses. In any community, schools are highly visible. By their nature, schools implicitly mediate change and optimism towards the future. Through the involved students, the schools are transformed  into hubs for bottom-up community development and civil society participation with aiming at domestic action towards sustainability.

Category of the action

Changing public perceptions on climate change

What actions do you propose?

The objective of this project is not only to raise awareness on the human-environment relationship. It goes much beyond this common approach, as it aims to mediate sustainability thinking as an integrated life-skill.

By allowing school children, school management and teachers to reflect on and change everyday practices, the project links the subject of environmental education to the direct lifeworld of the students and encourages them to internalize their newly gained knowledge about the impacts of personal behavior and consumption (lifestyle). Hence, although the project focuses on climate change and climate impacts, it deliberately puts climate change into a much broader context.

Even more than in the previous pilot phase, ESL 2.0 emphasizes the inter-linkages between the school and its surrounding community. The participating schools are encouraged to involve local community stakeholders, such as Community Based Organizations (CBO), Resident Welfare Associations (RWA), local businesses, religious organizations (temple, church, mosque), active citizens and other participating schools.

With this approach, ESL 2.0 gains significantly in its outreach as one of its main components builds on developing an active network of committed people and organizations around the participating schools that mutually work towards sustainable development on the community level. The rather holistic character of the project allows us to link curricular and environmental learning with social learning.

The first pilot run of ESL had a limited outreach with only five schools being involved. This small scale target allowed us a very close and intensive exchange between ESL team and the class room. It helped us to get a sense for the level of understanding and the effects of teaching, and explore and experiment with very new learning methods and the applied tools. It made us gain important insights into methodology of learning for sustainable development and it has contributed to developing new tools and techniques to directly and holistically involve students into the process of learning by doing.

For reasons of dissemination, we had to further develop the structure of the ESL project by maintaining its flexibility (e.g. integration of the socially most different kinds of schools) and at the same time reducing the amount of external supervision to a minimum. The upgraded version of ESL can now easily be transferred to other cities, it works with very limited financial and human resources, and it emphasizes a rather new component, the involvement of the schools neighborhood.

Environmental education already today constitutes an integral part of the secondary education’ curriculum in India, but as shown above lacks the necessary impact. In order to address climate change and sustainability issues more meaningfully and practically, ESL emphasizes the human dimension of these topics, basically consumption and lifestyle. During a Green Week, which is a week-long project oriented learning module, students practically assess the environmental impact of everyday practices in their school, neighborhood, and at home. Carbon footprinting, energy auditing, and transect walks are the practical tools at hand. The underlying concepts that build the theoretical foundation of this practice oriented learning approach are taught rather playfully and interactively supported by animated short films.

ESL provides the school with a data base of comprehensive learning material (collection of animated films, PowerPoint Presentations, and text material). It offers a tool kit for carbon footprint calculation with all the required emission factors, a web-based calculator, and simple paper based calculation sheets. ESL also provides tools for conducting an energy audit in the school with formulas, calculation sheets, and wattage of different appliances. ESL has developed an energy minimisation calculator, which works online and calculates the savings of GHG emissions and monetary savings obtained through technological improvements. ESL provides the schools and students a Manual, which explains the main concepts in very simple terms and it offers a clear guideline, how ESL can be conducted. It explains the tools and calculation sheets and it encourages students and teachers to become active towards more sustainability.

ESL involves the element of competition in order to raise the interest and successfully engage the schools, teachers and students over a year-long project cycle. Especially with the Green School Initiative, ESL involves the overall school management. During the Green Week, students from grade 8 will calculate the overall sector-wise GHG emissions of the school. In addition, through ESL Action Research Methods (e.g. transect walks, interviews with citizens in the neighborhood), students identify the most critical problems in and around their school. Based on this well informed documentation, students develop a comprehensive minimization strategy that is handed over to the school management in the form of a suggestive Impact Reduction Plan. This plan provides a detailed description of environmental impact reduction strategies, which are specifically developed for the particular school itself. The school management can then decide which of these recommendations are to be implemented. Additionally, the school can implement other projects that help the school to become greener, as for example through solar PV, a school gardening project or the promotion of walking and cycling.

All participating schools have the opportunity to compete for the Green School Award. Relevant for evaluating the most ‘successful’ school according to its activities and achievements are different qualitative and quantitative criteria based on the ESL Metric. A jury rates each school according to these criteria and so decides for the winning school.

The Green Jersey Initiative is another critical element of ESL, which creates an environment of teamwork within the formed groups, but at the same time raises a feeling of competition between the working groups. With the prospect of becoming the winner of the Green Jersey (in analogy with the Yellow jersey of the Tour de France), students are incentivized for their personal engagement and creativity. The Green Jersey Groups aim to mutually develop an understanding of the issue of climate change and sustainability, in order to reduce the groups’ environmental impact through changes of their own behavior and consumption. Successful strategies to change (consumption) behavior in order to reduce the carbon footprint also involves helping their school, their homes, and their neighborhood to do so. Creativity, developing own solution ideas and documentation of all involved activities are the most crucial criteria for the evaluation of the Green Jersey Winner.

Who will take these actions?

Where will these actions be taken?

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

What are other key benefits?

What are the proposal’s costs?

Time line

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