International Climate Champions

16 05 2009

About a month ago myself and the Head of Sustainability at Bishop Challoner School took one of our year 9 students to a conference in Birmingham organised by the British Council.  The student along with some of her peers from around the country had been selected to take part in a project whereby young people will devise initiatives that will help people adopt behaviours that will limit their carbon footprint.

On the British Council’s web site the initiative is explained thus:

Young people are at the heart of the British Council’s activity to combat climate change because they are best placed to highlight the effect of climate change for future generations.  Passionate about making a real and lasting difference, they are provided with support and training to help them take their climate change project into school, communities and regions.  Discussion and exchange of ideas with people from other countries also helps broaden their awareness of the problem.

Critically the ICC  initiative is driven first and foremost by the champions themselves. The British Council provides the framework in which ideas can grow and flourish but the direction comes firmly from the young people themselves.

The International Climate Champions initiative has already brought together young people from 13 countries to work on a range of practical projects.

The aim is to extend this activity to other countries and build a network of champions around the world dedicated to raising awareness and encouraging behaviour change in the area of climate change.

Over the weekend the young people worked extremely hard to articulate and develop their projects. The facilitators (Dr Laura Grant of Laura Grant Associates and Mary Stansfield from the British Council) had set up sessions to help the young people pitch and present their ideas as well as mind mapping to think through their ideas thoroughly. The weekend was all about the students not teachers or parents (some of whom had accompanied their children) and so I took myself off to explore Birmingham and had a look around the wonderful Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  The way the whole weekend was organised and pitched to the young people by Dr Laura Grant and was brilliant for the young peoples’ confidence and motivation. Our student said that she had really enjoyed and got a lot from it.

On the Saturday evening the young people went to Birmingham City Square where the Town Hall lights went out as part of the Earth Hour protest.  The young people stopped people in the street and entreated them to make pledges to alter their behaviour so they would consume less resources, be it through reducing, reusing or recycling.  After this a photographer, who had been arranged by Dan Tyte of Working Word PR (who also led a session on communications with the young people on Sunday), came and took pictures of the young people in the dark, their faces lit up only by torches.   These can be found on flickr .

Our student’s idea is to devise a website using the ning platform, which she has now done, called  ‘cool sustainable schools’ which will enable communication between schools across the borough of Tower Hamlets regarding sustainability issues:  and, as she put it on the ning site set up by the British Council:

My Short Term Goals are : 1 Contact Schools in Tower Hamlets 2 Design a Badge Competition to promote energy saving 3 Contact People who are going to help 4 Set up a website for the borough (Tower Hamlets) 5 Contact Badge-making Companies…(she goes on).

We also have help from the Tower Hamlets Waste Education Project who have been helping with pro-environmental projects at the school in conjunction with myself at the school for some years, and the team at the Professional Development Centre, also in Tower Hamlets, to enable us to liaise with other schools in the borough.  Finally, it looks as if the Head of Sustainability, Rhiannon Scutt, has managed to set up recycling at the school (we have had some great help here from Cassie Jeens Williams at the charity Global Action Plan), and our work with the Eco Committee is on-going, most recently I took students to see part of Alternative Fashion Week at Spitalfields Market.

Speaking of the ning platform, I heard last week that my paper on ‘Innovative Methodological Approaches To Pro-Environmental Behaviour’ was accepted by the Royal Geographical Society and I will be delivering it in Manchester at the end of August.  I will be talking about the ways social networking sites and associated web 2.0 technology can be used to enable the changes in behaviour that are necessary if we are to tackle the many issues around climate change, primarily focusing on the work I have carried out at the school. I recently spoke to Tessy Britton of Thriving who has also been carrying out research in related areas and she was very encouraging about this work, so I feel as if I am doing something positive even though there is little official sanction or reward for it.  Positively,  it looks like the British Council is ahead of the curve as they have a number of ning sites for various aspects of their Climate Champions project.  Ning is, most simplistically, a wonderful, flexible device that enables communication and sharing of ideas between groups of people quickly and easily.  This ease of communication is essential if we are to formulate the innovative ideas that will enable us to respond quickly to the challenges of climate change.

None of these ideas are policy, simply the result of my ongoing interest in Media and Communications.  As part of my Cultural Studies Masters dissertation at Goldsmiths College I have been reading a number of papers published by the Innovation Unit, a government think tank within DCSF, which explores the idea of disciplined innovation and ‘taking innovation to scale.’  I wonder if there is scope to embed what we are doing at Bishop Challoner as ‘good practice’ nationwide to facilitate the transition to Sustainable Schools (envisaged at present as happening by 2020).  One of the main problems mentioned by the think tank, and indeed something that I personally dislike about our secondary schools, is that they are so large and impersonal, giant exam result-producing bureaucracies.  The ning platform enables instantaneous communication across a large site where often members of staff rarely get to see each other to collaborate on initiatives such as sustainability.  It is also a form of networked communication that sidesteps the hierarchical nature of the school system.  In this way it enables innovation yet at the same time could be seen as threatening by those in power due to its ‘bottom up’ nature.  This has not really come up yet as an issue, but I plan to write to the Director of Bishop Challoner about the Royal Geographic Society paper and the use of the social networking site and bring what we are doing to her attention. I hasten to add that I have let the senior manager with responsibility for sustainability know what we’re doing, I am not an utter maverick!  Since there has been more pressure from government about the impending transformation to Sustainable Schools, no matter that this is not in fact statutory (much to the disappointment of Verity Zurita at the Government Office for London) such matters are at last in the sights of school leadership which did in effect lead to the opening of the Head of Sustainability post at the school.

Finally, this week we found out that recycling is due to begin at the Girls School (the school I work on is over three sites: girls, boys and sixth form).  It has been quite a battle to get it in place, not least having to liaise with the care takers and cleaners who will have to deal with the extra sacks of rubbish.  Okay so there shouldn’t be more waste, it is simply that we will be splitting what can be disposed of and what can be used again.  It was the man in charge of premises, James Rankin, who has given the final nod in terms of staffs’ willingness to deal with extra bags.  I can’t tell you the amount of angst this has been causing.  You would think that it would be a relatively straightforward matter but I know that Ms Scutt and the Eco Committee have worked really hard on it, not to mention Cassie Jeens Williams from the charity Global Action Plan!  It would be fantastic to take the whole sustainability agenda on from the lamentable ability of much of society to recycle, Bridget’s post on permaculture is, I think, timely.  Last I heard was opposition to the idea of the school children where we are having an allotment due to contamination in the soil.  Raised beds perhaps?  I did look into getting an allotment on Cable Street (they are next to the school), but was told that there is a waiting list of four years.  It doesn’t seem so long now does it?



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