Alongside COP26, the UK government has launched an education pack for schools with information about climate change and sustainability. Some have argued that rather than hosting occasional conversations about the environment, sustainability should be taught as a standard part of the curriculum.
Kenny Wiggins, Board Advisor at The Verdancy Group, argues that meaningful environmental education needs to be contextualised. To curb behaviour and to reduce the impacts of climate change, everyone from young people to those in established careers must appreciate how sustainability applies to their lived realities, and how individually, they can make a difference.. Sustainability needs to be part of all aspects of our teaching across every subject: not just an optional standalone subject.
Here, we talk to Kenny about COP26, as well as his hopes and aspirations for the event’s impact.
What are your hopes for COP26 this year?
“Beyond the legislative changes that I hope to see accelerated by world leaders this year, I’m interested in the legacy that the event will leave, not just on an international level but on a national and local one, from boardrooms to local communities.
“When we think back to the London 2012 Olympics, the national conversation turned to healthy and active lifestyles. That’s something I think we’re now much more aware of as a nation, almost 10 years later.
“I’d love to see the UK’s hosting of COP26 achieve similar results. I hope to see sustainable practices becoming a part of our national consciousness in the months and years to come.”
What do you think about the government’s environmental education packs for schools?
“Education about the environment in any capacity can be no bad thing. I’ve seen criticisms of the packs in some outlets, arguing that these measures don’t go far enough; instead, we need environmental education to be a core part of the curriculum.
“While I agree that we need to be doing much more to educate our young people about the environment, I believe that many people making this argument miss out on one important factor: contextualisation.
“We can’t teach about the environment in isolation; every action that we take, whether it’s choosing how we take our children to school, the type of groceries we buy or even who we choose to bank with has an impact upon the environment and upon climate change.
“Teaching about the environment in an applied way therefore becomes important. In schools where vocational courses are taught, we can discuss, for example, sustainable practice in engineering, office administration and the environment, and green finance practices. We can also apply the same method to core academic subjects, viewing climate change through the lens of history, geography and even literature.
“This way, the idea of climate change becomes a lot less abstract to young people and the actions that they can take to protect the environment become a lot more concrete.
“This sort of approach can be applied to the world of work, too. When we’re training a workforce on sustainable practices, there’s little point in discussing other work contexts that don’t apply to them. Instead, we need to keep things relevant to their roles, tailoring courses to their companies’ environmental policies and targets.”
What’s most important in the fight against climate change: education for young people, or curbing business practices?
“It’s no secret that corporations are huge polluters. We’re used to seeing shocking statistics, like the fact that just 100 companies are responsible for more than two-thirds of the world’s total emissions.
“When it comes to mitigating the impact of climate change, we need to apply a zoomed-in, zoomed-out approach – something that is not easy to do.
“Yes, corporations are making decisions that are damaging our environment. But who makes those decisions? Individual people. In 20 years, today’s primary school-age children will be the ones making those decisions in boardrooms. That’s why educating them now and making sure they understand how everyone’s actions can impact the environment is crucial.
“I’m hoping that COP26 will give rise to a more joined-up approach in the UK, where our leaders, law makers, councils, businesses, schools and academic institutions all get on the same page about reducing climate change.
“We need this integration now, so that we are focusing on today, rather than some distant abstract future. While individuals need to have accountability for their environmental impact, we must surely hold businesses to the same or even higher standards. Triple bottom line accounting, focussing on People, Profit and Planet would certainly aid that focus, with Senior Executives’ remuneration based on this combined approach.”
How optimistic are you about that?
“I am optimistic about the future: it’s the only way to be. Pessimism just leads to inaction. Optimism drives proactivity and momentum.
“That’s exactly what hosting an event like the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow could achieve. I’m optimistic that it will start a snowball effect of widespread positive action on climate change.”
The Verdancy Group provides bespoke environmental training to students and employees through their respective learning institutions and companies. Explore our courses, or arrange a discovery call.