Sustainability Education co-hosts first UMN Innovations in the Environment International short course
This summer, the Institute on the Environment’s Sustainability Education co-facilitated the pioneer 3-week international exchange course called Innovations in the Environment with ten Australian students. The program marked an intercampus cross-cultural exchange collaborating with UMN Global Opportunities,UMN-Morris Office of Sustainability, and Climate Generation.
From the UMN Native Medicine Gardens to Denco Biofuel LLC, Nice Ride MN, and everything in between, the program gave participants a peak into Minnesota’s leadership in sustainability in both urban and rural settings–showcasing innovations in technological, social, cultural, and educational spheres. Participants compared different models of sustainability in theory and practice, asking beautiful wicked questions along the way.
In their final presentations, students engaged many nuanced perspectives: how the differences between an indigenous-centered framing of sustainability from a more western approach might come into dialog and shed light on one another; how different levels of society, particularly business, might be incentivized to put sustainability measures in place; how individuals in their home-system might begin to push towards sustainability changes; and how sustainability education might offer an alternative to fear politics in the face of climate change.
In the jam packed 3-week course, students’ perspectives grew as they grappled with different worldviews and single stories in addressing climate change, sustainability, and problem-solution frameworks. Well, and they had a lot of fun!
Many thanks to all the collaborators and students!
Hear what the students had to say and how they’ll take these lessons back home:
My time in Minnesota taught me a great many things, it taught me to not rely upon future developments for progress and sustainability, but to take traditional perspectives into account, as there is often a great amount of wisdom instilled in initial land carers. I learned to take on perspectives of differing people and communities, so that “developments” don’t alienate or harm anyone. I learned that to conserve the environment, you must live within it, and understand it. The most important thing I learned however was that sustainability requires something from each of us, today, not tomorrow, yesterday would have been nice, but today will have to do. We must take all perspectives into account, even those we disagree with. We must take ourselves and everyone we know into a better future, not through any one person’s actions, but the actions of all humans cooperating.
One other aspect of sustainability that the course highlighted for me was the need for education and awareness. Before the course I would say I underestimated how much of a role education has to play in sustainability. I feel like with education comes awareness of the problem and if someone is aware of the problem then chances are they will begin to educate themselves.
Coming into this course I would have thought that recycling alone would be enough in some cases but it was humbling to see and experience how all these dynamic parts of sustainability interact. Whether it’s using chemistry to develop a new plastic from corn rather than oil, discovering how the politics of climate change play just as big a role as the science itself, learning how people have turned biomass and waste into sources of energy (which is awesome!), discovering the importance of a community spirit when it comes to sustainability, appreciating the importance of what we can learn from indigenous practices in our agriculture to ‘give back’ to the planet, or any of the other amazing lessons I have learned, sustainability truly is a dynamic task for the global community that is forever being defined.
Sustainability is doing today what is necessary to ensure a healthy tomorrow. Personally I have found that sustainability is not entirely dependent on the environment but rather all aspects of society, from the political, economic, social, as well as the environmental aspect. All of which play an important role in determining the future of this planet.
Sustainability cannot be described with one single word or action, but it is the combination of actions from every single individual on the planet that can make sure that life for all life forms is sustainable on earth for generations to come. Throughout this course we were subject to a wide range of definitions of what sustainability really was, each had their own advantages and disadvantages and all these viewpoints highly influenced me in what I eventually took out of the course as my own personal interpretation of sustainability.
This visit also emphasised the effect that policy can have in making companies change their viewpoint on sustainability. For example by the sustainability regulation and incentives that were implemented by the Minnesota state government the major power producer Xcel went from being one of the most carbon emitting companies to being one of the most energy efficiently companies in the state. This gets rid of the single story that companies cannot change their ways due to financial restraints. This shows that with proper support and regulation from government, even the worst emitters can make a change.
The development of my understanding of the concept of sustainability has deeply affected my personal and professional work. By acknowledging how sustainability affects humans and accepting that humans need to be a part of the solution I can see a path for further development…To be sustainable, one must always be questioning and developing new concepts that are more sustainable than the current ones we are applying. The system can always be made to be more sustainable and we should be considering each step forward as a stepping-stone.
One of the most important images that come into my mind is all of us, whether it’s the participants, instructors, teachers all enjoying each others’ companies, experiencing each others’ various cultures. We entered into the country as individuals, most of us not knowing a thing about America, coming over just to experience something new but we left knowing we are part of one big international family and that we have lifetime of memories to cherish and enjoy forever.