Which future would the children like? Helping schools calculate their ecological footprint
A World of Science: We shall sink or swim together (Vol. 11, No. 1 - January–March 2013) dedicates a story to the visit of Philippe Pypaert, UNESCO Programme Specialist, to some of UNESCO’s associated schools in Italy in 2010 and 2011 to show 11−14 year-olds how to calculate their ecological footprint. At Pio X Secondary School in Treviso, for example, he helped the class define an annual action plan for reducing the school’s ecological footprint for energy and transportation in particular.
The children learned that the first step would be for them to assess their current level of consumption, expressed in global hectares per pupil. This could be done by collecting basic data, such as the school’s electricity or gas bills. This information would then be stored in a database prior to being fed into a special online calculator designed to quantify their ecological footprint.
The next step would be for the children to propose ways of reducing their ecological footprint, such as by turning lights off when they left a room, encouraging the school to buy low-consumption light bulbs, or preferring public transport to a car on their way to school. Ideally, these measurements would be repeated every year, so that classes could follow the school’s progress and test the efficiency of proposed solutions over time.
Through these exchanges, pupils came to realize that local and national authorities could take similar measures on a grander scale, such as by improving the public transport system (local) or developing a clean energy policy (national). This realization should help prepare pupils for their future role as active, responsible citizens.
UNESCO Venice Office and Global Footprint Network have been inspired by the Scottish government’s Schools Global Footprint website to devise a platform of their own where schools from the entire region will be able to find everything they need to calculate their ecological footprint. Once up and running, this online platform will not only provide a calculator designed especially for the purpose and teacher’s handbook. It will also feature teaching resources about sustainable development in general. Via the platform, teachers and their pupils will be able to learn about what other schools are doing around the world and report on their own experiences. UNESCO is currently seeking donor support to launch the online platform in 2013.
The ultimate goal is to mainstream the ecological footprint concept in secondary school curricula across the region, in order to help prepare the young for the necessary transition to a lifestyle bound by the limits of our planet’s ecosystems. UNESCO plans to invite a group of international experts to translate the experiences of participating schools into generally applicable guidelines, methodologies and policy advice.
UNESCO is releasing an online handbook later this year on Education for Sustainable Development in Biospheres Reserves and other Designated Areas, for educators in Southeast Europe and the Mediterranean; the handbook includes a component on how businesses, individuals and groups can calculate their own ecological footprint.