Opinion: Rising to the sustainability challenge

Opinion: Rising to the sustainability challenge

by Dan French

This is an article about sustainability and what’s needed to create a better future. I could start by detailing how we are obliterating life on our planet and our future, but I am not sure that works.

We know all about these issues and have done for decades but for some reason we seem unable to fully conceptualise the seriousness of these threats, or conversely, how things could be better, and then respond appropriately.

I have been in this business for some time now though and I detect a change. Concern about the environment and our future is increasing, and the discourse is suddenly more urgent. People are realising climate change, pollution and resource disruption are upon us and that if we don’t change it may be too late.

In my experience, it’s not a lack of desire holding things back but a lack of process to make good decisions and develop solutions that measurably improve our current situation.

The solutions we to need solve these challenges already exist. We just need to act, and if we do, the opportunities are immense. The time is now to create higher performing, future ready schools that help youth access the tools they need to save our planet.

There is a method. We can follow leading organisations who know their profitability and success depend on meeting these challenges. This is how you do it:

1.         First, your team needs to understand and agree on what sustainability is, and how to get there. To limit climate change to 1.5°C, human induced CO2 emissions must decline by 45% by 2030, reach a zero by 2050 and then go negative. We need to start doing this now to buy time to reverse the damage already done. At 1.5°C, 70-90% of coral reefs die. At 2°C, 99% of corals and ¼ of arable land globally is lost. Every increment counts. We also need to halt and reverse habitat and biodiversity loss and stop polluting our environment.

2.         Get inspiration from others and use it to develop your own inspiring vision. Many leading organisations have achieved much more than what they originally thought possible by being ambitious. Business as usual is no longer an option. Our youth need us to be bold and you will reap benefits across your entire organisation as a result.

3.         Benchmark your position. Evaluate your current level of awareness, planning, action and improvement across areas such as energy, water, waste, site development, procurement, education and outreach. Conduct a rapid scan to gain an understanding of where your risks and opportunities lie and where more detailed investigations are required.  A quick review of three years of utility bills, management practices and current development plans can provide a wealth of insight.

4.         Evaluate the gap between your aspirational and current state and then form goals and an action plan to help you bridge the gap. Look to develop a sustainability decision making filter to keep you on track and metrics you can use to evaluate progress.

5.         Engage your community (staff, students, parents and stakeholders) to help identify creative solutions to meet your goals and targets. Prioritise solutions and test them against your performance metrics to evaluate their impact.

6.         Tweak and improve solutions with potential until they are fit for scaling. Roll them out, hit your targets and timelines, celebrate and then review your programs and consistently up the ante.

Schools can feasibly capture and reuse all water onsite, transition to 100% renewable energy, restore and offset habitat loss and more. You can become living sustainability labs where the power of STEAM is harnessed to provide hope, skills, direction and impact.

The world needs this. There is no in-between. We are either sustainable or we are not. Let’s hope for all our sake we can rise to the challenge.

Dan French is the founder of FrenchEnviro, an innovative team of experts with research, natural resource management, design, engineering and community engagement experience.