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Saving the planet pays!

| March 24, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Amy Barr-Sanders

‘Green schooling’ is not a new idea.

It’s been on the edges of our societal awareness for years, and is usually associated with financially well-off ‘do-gooders’ who have the wherewithal to give more than just a passing thought to the well-being of the planet. This misses the point: that it is in the heart of every developing nation that the possibility for real change exists; it is in the marriage of need and green education. No incentive could be stronger than necessity – it is the mother of invention after all. When those for whom major financial constraints are a reality realise that there is something to be gained by conserving the planet, then the message becomes less about civic-minded self-sacrifice and more about mutual benefit.

Separating facts from fiction

Now that’s a concept that sells itself. Years ago, many dedicated conservationists realised that in order to protect natural resources they had to have the cooperation of the people closest to them, and that the best way to ensure success was to make sure that conservation paid. Similarly, the potential for ‘green’ jobs in a country with dismal unemployment figures has not even begun to be fully explored by either business or, more importantly, the South African government.1

In a country such as South Africa, where electricity and fuel costs spiral endlessly upwards,2 the search for more affordable energy solutions leads logically to ‘greener’ options – which, while sometimes initially more expensive to install, pay dividends in the medium to long term.3 A study in the United States found that green schools each save on average the equivalent of R1 000 000 annually and utilise 33% less energy and 32% less water per annum than traditional schools.4 Saving money while saving the planet? That’s what my teenage students would call a ‘no-brainer’.

Changing mindsets

So when an intrepid family of entrepreneurs looked to expand their privately owned school, Brylin Independent Learning Centre (Brylin ILC) in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, they combined their passion for the environment with the need to create the new campus on a budget. Eco-friendly building materials, skylight panels to provide natural lighting, borehole water to flush the toilets, water tanks to water the grounds and an organic vegetable garden are only some of the choices they made. A school built from the ground up with the planet in mind. The new campus is just over a year young!

However, changing the minds of learners began more than five years ago at the previous premises when, as a new teacher, I noticed, while gazing into a bin glinting with plastic cool drink bottles, how much rubbish even a small school produced. So began a recycling campaign that has grown to include 33% of the student body in an active monitoring and processing role. They volunteer their time to educate other students, collect litter from the grounds and process the six key items we now collect, sort and, if necessary, clean: white paper, coloured paper, cardboard, plastic, tin and glass. We are spurred on by our partnership with the Waste Trade Company.5

From ecobricks to enviro-lessons

Brylin has exciting plans for 2015. Some of them are as seemingly ordinary as running an ecobrick6 competition,7 upgrading the recycling station at the school and promoting alternative transport to school through a ‘green ride’ week – where learners will attempt to get to school using a cleaner, more sustainable form of transport and will be graded on the improvement, with the best-performing class receiving a prize and the school a new bike rack.

An even more substantial change will be the establishing of an outdoor classroom and performance space, which has been designed to incorporate an existing indigenous tree on the premises. This decision has been made because we read that children and adults in developed countries spend approximately 90% of their time indoors!8 Not an example one would wish to follow.

Promoting outdoor educational experiences is high on our agenda. We would especially like to explore integrating certain key ‘enviro-lessons’ into suitable learning areas, such as the sciences and tourism. As we are based in a coastal town, lessons that focus on the sustainable use of the ocean as a viable source of energy and which debate the potential benefits and drawbacks of algae biofuel, underwater kites and tidal or wave power, to name a few, are on the cards.

One day at a time

At Brylin, we believe that it just makes sense to focus on educating the youth about environmental issues. Their curiosity, enthusiasm and mental flexibility allows for an acceptance of new possibilities and ways of doing and being. These qualities make the youth of any country a crucial asset in changing the carbon footprint of an entire nation. However, it is often a task done simply, without fanfare, one day at a time.

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Category: Autumn 2015

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