Never has the word ‘strategy’ been quite so exciting! That’s because it is THE Sustainability Strategy.
A strategy is the plan, the road map or whatever cliché you want to use – lots are related to journeys. However, without a strategy we risk getting lost, stuck or not progressing; especially in an area that requires a leadership approach which is innovative, informed and engaged, willing to change mindsets to build a new culture across the organisation.
They are all interconnected but many organisations begin learning about sustainability through the environmental pillar which is often easier and more explicit to understand and operate. Ironically, I was worried that our environmental strand was weaker because being a social enterprise operating a triple bottom line of People, Planet and Profit, I spent all my time thinking about how to secure our economic and social model through our governance, pedagogy and operations. I started to sharpen up the environmental strand about seven years ago when I thought about scandalous waste, littering the planet with single use plastic and the increasing challenges to local biodiversity or as Thomas Weaver calls ‘connecting with the poetry of our own back yards’.
The thing about sustainability is that everyone starts their journey from their own point and small steps really do make a big difference. Some people are a bit preachy or show off about what they do and actually that is not a sustainability attitude. If you read some of the great works that came to the fore in the 1940’s (which were building on a whole cannon of interesting work going back decades), the tone of all those books was start where you can, collaborate, share and do everything you can to understand the big picture.
Some scary statistics may mean you think it’s pointless doing anything but that is just not true. The planet is very good at repair if we give it time and the attention it needs. Remember the ozone layer! These are big issues which our children will need to address so we need to find ways to mitigate them with every step we take. Just a few stats to make you think!
- Climate shocks forced 30 million people to flee from their homes and their home countries
- 90 million people were displaced by war and violence
- 77% of our land excluding Antarctica and 87% of our oceans have been modified by human activities
- 60% of wild animals have disappeared over the last 50 years, with a million further species currently facing extinction
- 11 million tonnes of plastic was poured into the city oceans every year
- 72% of global greenhouse gas emissions is caused by household emissions
- 80% of the world’s population live in countries using more resources than the Earth can regenerate.
If we continue current consumption and production patterns, we will need three planets to sustain the lifestyle of an estimated 9.7 billion people by 2050.
In order to understand the bigger picture, I read a great deal, studied some of the most important works and had lots of conversations across the organisation. In doing this, I found out who was interested and wanted to shape our approach. It led to a couple of significant actions:
Firstly, we agreed to complete the ISO14001 which shaped a sustainable approach to operations
Secondly, we appointed a Sustainability Manager to embed the principles of sustainability across our pedagogy, putting sustainability right at the heart of our inclusive quality education and measuring progress. This was supported by engaging staff and building a team of Eco Champions – all of whom attended our Level 4 Diploma in Sustainability for the Early Years, LINK
Thirdly we committed to build a strategy that engaged everyone from Trustees to apprentices, children, parents and partners. This is what we are sharing with you today.
Of course, some people are cynical about the sustainability debate. They are concerned about greenwashing as more business talk about their steps to net zero and count their carbon footprints. In case you’re unfamiliar, the term ‘Greenwashing’ is when a company deliberately misleads shoppers into thinking a product is more sustainable than it is and often is an irresistible bandwagon for brands. As a species, we are too inclined towards unsustainable consumption and production. We like things! Greenwashing or Greenhushing or Impact washing are all around. In addition, some of the language of sustainability can confuse you. For example, there is no definition for sustainable, offsetting is only meaningful if you planted trees 50 years ago, it doesn’t mean that your flight didn’t warm the climate. Carbon offsetting or carbon neutral means companies should be reducing their carbon footprint themselves to 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050 by rethinking transport, packaging, production, etc. Investors talk about providing data measured against the ESGs which is no bad thing, given many businesses have got rich by taking a cavalier attitude to wasting natural resources and failing to balance their negative impact on local economies, communities and the planet.
That said, we can help. If we mimic nature, we can find all sorts of solutions to producing enough food for the populations. Nature-based solutions provide huge positive potential for creating green jobs. Ecosystem restoration generates an estimated £5 to £22 in benefits for every £1 invested. We therefore need to manage our cynicism, stop inaction and take steps to make changes. Small steps lead to big changes and we must do this for the children -where better to start than the Early Years!
Our strategy is underpinned by our duty to our children, the global citizens of the future. We have to start from here and we shaped our strategy within the framework of the United Nations General Assembly (2015) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), those 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.
Our new strategy is designed to raise the importance of building solidarity for and with Early Years teachers and educators. It also celebrates the importance of our work with children to help create the conditions that enable their future success.
Please share the strategy far and wide and consider designing your own. Contact us to become part of our community of practice where we are encouraging conversations about sustainability whether it’s economic, social or environmental. All three are wrapped in a pedagogy for sustainability and leading with a social purpose.