Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

America First: education for sustainability benchmarks

📥  Comment, New Publications

The eponymous Jaimie Cloud, President of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, sent this message out the other day to her ESD/ EfS / LSD / SDE / etc collaborators on a Benchmarking project.  She wrote:

Dear Authors and Reviewers,

I am proud to attach the Education for a Sustainable Future: Benchmarks for Individual and Social Learning which will be officially published in the Journal of Sustainability Education on Earth Day—this Saturday April 22nd.   You all played a critical role in the development of these Benchmarks, and your unique contributions made it possible for this document to become synergistic.  This is the first time forty-two scholars of EfS/ESD have come together to attempt to define the field, and I hope it won’t be the last.  This document represents what we agree on right now, and what the field is saying is essential to educating for a sustainable future.  As our thinking evolves it will make sense to innovate them periodically to create Benchmarks 2.0, 3.0 etc.  Next time it won’t take us so long… I hope.

We used the grounded theory methodology to ensure that the Benchmarks represent as best they can, our consensus on what defines our field.  Each author sees EfS/ESD from a different point of view, a different discipline perspective, and a different set of experiences.  This is what makes the Benchmarks so rich.  None of the authors had all the pieces, but together, I would argue that it is the most comprehensive treatment of EfS/ESD to date.  Having said that, I am sure it is not perfect.  All the reviewers (some of whom were also authors) and I as Editor did our best to track the patterns, connect the dots, combine like ideas and question assumptions.  The section in the beginning called, “Insights’ will give you an idea of the struggles we had and the decisions we made to resolve them.  I do hope that when all is said and done, it is useful to you and to your constituents.  We would love to hear what you think of the Benchmarks, how you are using them and how your clients and students are using them.  If there is anything in the Benchmarks that you take issue with, please let me know and we will figure out how to handle that.  It will always remain a work in progress as all living things are, and once we see how the roll out goes, we will be in a better position to design a process for continuous improvement.  Just a reminder—the next step is the Call for Exemplars.  It is all explained below and in the EfS Benchmarks, and feel free to call or write me to discuss any and all aspects of this endeavor.

Cloud ended by pointing to "a Sample Press Release".  This is it:

Long Awaited Education for Sustainability Benchmarks to Be Released on Earth Day

Educating for a Sustainable Future:  Benchmarks for Individual and Social Learning will be released by The Journal of Sustainability Education on Earth Day, April 22, 2017.  This 70-page account is authored by, and represents the current and best thinking of forty-two of the major scholars and practitioners of the field of Education for Sustainability (EfS).  The Benchmarks include the Big Ideas, Thinking Skills, Applied Knowledge, Dispositions, Actions, and Community Connections that define Education for Sustainability.  They embody the essential elements that administrators, curriculum professionals, faculty, board and community members need to adopt Education for Sustainability; to align with it; to self-assess their own performance, and to intentionally and effectively educate for the future we want by design. In addition, The Benchmarks embody the consensus that the field needs to demonstrate the impact of EfS and to catalyze wide spread implementation.

Following the Benchmarks, are Supporting Instructional Practices and Perspectives, Organizational Policies and Practices, an Afterword and several Appendices that provide information about the topics often associated with EfS, contributing disciplines, aligned innovations, preliminary research findings on the impact of EfS, and a bibliography.  The next step is the Call for Exemplars.  We are asking educators at all levels of education to send The Journal of Sustainability Education the evidence they have of Education for Sustainability as defined by The Benchmarks.  We want to know what EfS looks like, how educators are achieving the results, and how they are communicating quality criteria at various depths of knowledge, grade levels and degrees of quality.  We are inviting curriculum plans, assessment instruments, performance indicators, quality criteria and exemplary student work, and we want to know which aspect(s) of EfS the authors designed for, and which ones they achieved.  We will build an open source data base of these exemplars so that the field can begin to calibrate the work for developmental appropriateness, continuity, creativity and continuous improvement.

Where to begin?

Perhaps with the fact that  38 of the 42 authors seem to be from the USA – an example of America First policies, perhaps, but then the USA always tended to think it has a monopoly of wisdom when it comes to environmental education (etc)?.  

That said, the question these Benchmarks were developed to address is this:

What are the essential elements that distinguish and define the field of Education for Sustainability?

More on this later on, no doubt, but my first reaction to the question is:

  1. it has contributed little to solving the world's problems over its 50 year history – and achieved less
  2. it's never been taken seriously by anyone that matters in core educational circles – largely because it's never really engaged with them


A coal-free day

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I was pleased to see that the UK didn't use coal to generate electricity for a full day last month – April 21st.  Climate Action said that this was "the first time since the Industrial Revolution" which is hardly the case, although it was the first time ever.

It seems that low electricity demand and a prolonged period of high winds meant the grid completed 24 hours without using coal.  Cordi O'Hara, Director, UK System Operator at National Grid, said it was "a watershed moment in how our energy system is changing”, although he also got confused about the industrial revolution point.  The National Grid expects more coal-free days throughout the summer, and days when, by the early 2020s, burning coal will become increasingly rare.

I wonder how long it will be before gas-burning becomes as rare.  I fancy I'll not live to see it which is a pity as it should be coming sooner rather than later if we're to undo the climate damage we've brought on.  Personally, I was pleased that the Semington A power plant has played a small part in this revolution – in fact a very small part, but we do the best we can with what little we have.



The first coal-fired generations of electricity were in 1866 in Germany (Siemens), in 1882 in the USA (Edison).  In the UK, according to Carbon Brief, it was also in 1882.  This was over 100 years after the Industrial Revolution got under way.


Higher Education for Sustainable Development – a review

📥  Comment, New Publications

Another paper!  Is this a trend?

This time it's my review for EER of Kerry Shephard's Higher Education for Sustainable Development [Palgrave Macmillan, 2015; ISBN: 978-1-137-54840-5].  You will find it here.

This is how it starts – and ends.

When I said that I was reviewing Kerry Shephard’s Higher Education for Sustainable Development for EER, someone said that I might read the last chapter first as this provides a neat summation of what the book’s about.  Whilst I have sometimes done this, especially with long academic texts, in order to see where an author’s meanderings have taken them, I always feel that it’s somewhat disrespectful as an Introduction and Chapter 1 are usually where authors, presumably, intends us all to start reading.  However, this time, I succumbed to temptation, followed advice, and began with chapter 7: A Way Forward, and I’m glad, in one way, that I did.


Finally then, I hope that anyone reading this review will have got the message that I think that this is an engaging book which is well-written, scholarly, accessible, and properly provocative.  And I say all that even though I don’t really accept the proposition which runs through the heart of the text: that there are only two kinds of academic: those advocating for sustainability and those not.  Actually, I don’t think that Kerry Shephard thinks that either, as large parts of Chapter 6 illustrate, but it was an effective heuristic which allowed him to make his valuable points relatively simply and very effectively.



📥  Comment, News and Updates

I see that NAEE had an article the other day about the merger of LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) and FACE (Farming and Countryside Education), and the combined charity is looking for a Director, Education & Public Engagement who will …

“lead and execute an Education and Public Engagement strategy that enables schools to enrich their curriculum and increase public understanding of and demand for sustainable food, farming and environment.”

LEAF Chief Executive, Caroline Drummond, said:

“We are really excited at this opportunity which comes at a time when it has never been more important to demonstrate and state the case for British agriculture.  The potential merger offers a real opportunity for our two organisations to work together even more effectively and efficiently to deliver multiple benefits to our partners and stakeholders.  The proposed merger will enable LEAF to further deepen our public engagement activity and allow the FACE team to scale up their work, nationally and regionally as the interface between agriculture and schools.  Such a combination will undoubtedly strengthen the impact of both organisations and improve the public’s understanding of farming, food and the environment.”

FACE Chief Executive, Dan Corlett, said:

“This is a very exciting moment for FACE.  I am very proud of all that the FACE team has achieved and the place we hold as a leader in taking agriculture into schools.  The exploration of this new phase, would allow us to maximise FACE’s expertise in creating systemic change in education and the potential for this newly expanded organisation to offer stakeholders and partners improved efficiencies, enhanced engagement and create even greater opportunities for educating and engaging the public.”

These mergers never seem to be a coming together of equals, and it looks to me as if LEAF has swallowed up FACE.  However, it's quite possible that this will prove to be a positive move.  A key question for me is this: will the education work they do enable and encourage a critical consideration of the intersection of UK farming, wider countryside practice, and nature and environmental protection – or will the emphasis be on promoting farming industry interests to young people?


EAUC Next Generation Sustainability Strategy and Structure

📥  Comment, New Publications

I got a report from EAUC last week: Next Generation Sustainability Strategy and Structure: Whole-Institution Approaches to Sustainability in Universities and Colleges.  This was the second sentence:

"We work to reposition the agenda at the heart of the leadership and structure of sector institutions and ensure it aligns as a delivery mechanism for member institution’s strategic objectives."

My sigh at such terrible English expression could probably have been heard from a hundred miles away – and the first sentence wasn't much better.  Who writes this stuff?  And does no one in EAUC care about such things?

I decided to soldier on, however, but gave up in exasperation when I got to this on page 5:

"Historically, activity has been limited to environmentally focussed activities based in Estates and Facilities Departments [sic], primarily driven over recent years by legislation, such as the HEFCE sector carbon reduction target in England and Scotland’s mandatory carbon reporting."

No it hasn't / wasn't.  This traduces decades of work by academics and researchers across many institutions where both social justice and environmental issues were focused on.  How could EAUC of all institutions write this?  Work in universities on environmental issues (viewed broadly) began in the mid-1970s, long before EAUC (or HEFCE) was dreamt up.  There are some facts that really should be got right.  You have to wonder if this nonsense gets written to serve a particular interest, or whether it's just plain old-fashioned ignorance.


The Greener Jobs Alliance

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The Greener Jobs Alliance has published its top 10 Election Demands:

  1. Keep the Climate Change Act 2008. Stick to the UK’s legally binding commitments to cut harmful greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 as a minimum. Ensure that UK energy and industrial policy is effectively aligned with the Committee on Climate Change projections and carbon budgets.
  2. Trust the people with a massive boost to energy democracy.  Support a new wave of community based solar and onshore wind projects with ambitious feed-in tariffs wherever there is local support. Lift the ban on onshore wind projects. Support for local authorities to set up municipal energy supply companies.
  3. Ban fracking and respect local democracy wherever fracking applications are opposed by local communities.
  4. Cut energy bills and carbon emissions with a nationwide home insulation programme.  ‘Retrofit’ poorly insulated homes and build new, low energy social housing, using as far as possible direct labour, and supported by high quality vocational education and training. Make ‘Energy efficiency’ a national infrastructure priority to create decent jobs, reduce fuel poverty and reduce fuel bills
  5. Make education for sustainable development a core priority across the education system. Prioritise research funding that will promote the implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
  6. Create a million skilled climate jobs: invest in all forms of renewable energy, low carbon jobs and skills, including electric vehicle manufacture, rail investment, and build a full supply chain to make and supply renewable energy technologies in the UK.
  7. Create a new Green Investment Bank in public ownership and with full accountability. Use the green bank to support Regional Development Board investment in green energy and transport infrastructure projects.
  8. Create a National Climate Service to oversee the transition to a low carbon economy. This to include a Ministry for Climate Jobs, Skills and Social Protection’ to equip the UK to a transformation of the world of work working across all Government departments and industrial sectors.
  9. Introduce an Environment Protection Act to incorporate vital European directives into UK law. Commit the UK to retain membership of the European Court of Justice to ensure that our citizens have the same environmental protection rights as all EU citizens, wherever environmental standards are at risk.
  10. Introduce a Clean Air Act to tackle air pollution once and for all. Place a clear legal responsibility on employers and businesses to address air quality and develop a network of low emission zones in pollution hot spots.

As far as I can see there are no figures attached to these proposals, and so it's unclear how much it would all cost.  Clearly, some are not expensive, but others seem to demand a blank cheque: "ambitious feed-in tariffs", for example.  And some make no sense at all: "invest in all forms of renewable energy", given that some forms (I'm thinking biomass) seem an environmental catastrophe.  I note there's no mention of nuclear power or tackling energy poverty.  The first is tricky; the second surely should be a priority.

There are some oddities.  Take No. 3: [a] Ban fracking and [b] respect local democracy wherever fracking applications are opposed by local communities.  If you do [a], there's no need for [b].  But suppose fracking applications are supported by local communities?  Where does that leave No. 2: Trust the people ... energy democracy?

Where indeed.  Still; these are much more coherent than some of the demands I've seen.


The week before WEEC in Canada

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The programme for the WEEC event in Vancouver in September is becoming clearer, and credit is obviously due to the organisers for taking Canada's rich cultural heritage seriously – at least as far as keynote speakers are concerned.  You can see the detail here.  It will be more of a challenge to ensure that participation in the rest of the programme reflects the breadth of Canada's communities, but then it always is.  I thought that the Durban WEEC was the most successful in doing this, but this WEEC might run it close.  Earlybird registration ends on May 31st.

As it happens, the other day I received an invitation to attend a two-day workshop in the week before WEEC that "will bring together international experts on sustainability competencies in higher education", although it's not yet clear what the purpose of the event is: maybe it will be a freewheeling kind of affair where streams of consciousness eddy, swirl and conflueure [sic].  I hope not.  Anyway, nice to be asked, but as I'll not be at WEEC, I'll not be going to this either.  Anyway, I've never considered myself an expert on such things – just too sceptical of the idea of competence / competency, I think.

Meanwhile, on this Canadian theme, a feature in the Economist caught my eye about how a liberal country with impeccable toleration policies struggles to cope with polygamy.  The story was about a Jack Morman with a lot of wives and over a hundred children.  It's not the man – women – children that Canada struggles to cope with, but the fact that the women are wives (though they may not so, fully legally).  This is how the article ends:

"Still, there is virtually no tolerance for multiple marriages within the boundaries of a single democratic state across the Western world.  It remains axiomatic that a person who enters a marriage ceremony while still legally wedded to somebody else is a bigamist. That rule invalidates the second marriage and renders the bigamist liable to prosecution.

Yet even that simple-sounding principle is not easy to apply.  What if the “ceremony “ is some new-fangled rite which has been dreamed up by a recently constituted community, with no real social or legal standing?  Does that make the situation better or worse than simply living with multiple partners, which is not illegal?  Such questions will remain hotly contested through this trial and beyond.

A hot topic for WEEC, maybe, though probably not for the competencies seminar.


Australia, education and the SDGs

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I mentioned the other day that the Australians had had an SDG summit last year.  Here are some of things the report had to say about education:

Page 5
Universities and the academic sector have a role to play through their teaching, research and organisational leadership roles. Young people, who are often excluded from the discussions, bring unique skills that are essential to addressing the challenges of the agenda.

Page 18  Academia

Universities and the academic sector have a critical role to play in achieving the SDGs through teaching, research and organisational leadership.

  • Through teaching and knowledge outreach they will equip both the current and next generation of leaders, innovators and decision makers with the knowledge and skills to needed to address the SDG challenges
  • Through their in-depth knowledge and expertise in every area of the SDGs – as well as capabilities such as research, monitoring, analysis, technology, data – they are well placed to identify what is needed to address the SDGs and contribute to the development of practical solutions
  • Through their organisational leadership, they can set an example to other sectors by supporting the goals in their own operations, governance and community leadership

Addressing the SDGs will require the research sector to put more focus on a partnership approach to research – within and among universities and with other sectors.  Achieving this will require addressing barriers in the current system, such as a narrow definition of academic impact, issues around intellectual property, and the highly competitive funding environment.

Page 19  Youth

Young people are critical to SDG implementation, both because the SDGs are their future and because they bring unique skills that are critical to addressing the challenges of the agenda.

Half the world’s population is under 30, and everyone must be on board to achieve the SDGs.

Young people are creative, energetic, idealistic and optimistic about the future.  They are global citizens and want to make global, challenging and meaningful contributions.  These are unique and essential qualities for tackling the challenges of the SDGs, and can complement the knowledge and expertise of older people.

Many young Australians are doing great work, but they are often shut out of mainstream discussions.  We cannot afford to keep doing this.  We need to engage with young people and give them opportunities to be heard and participate.

The importance of embedding sustainable development and SDGs in education and supporting programs that help students to become global citizens was emphasised several times.


There's much to agree with here, and a few cliches to sigh at.  Some things to note:

  1. Whilst universities might begin the process of equipping "both the current and next generation of leaders, innovators and decision makers with the knowledge and skills to needed to address the SDG challenges", this is only an initial step and graduates do not leave universities as a finished product with nothing more to learn.  It's a pity that this is not acknowledged more widely as it might lead to a more realistic debate abound competencies.
  2. No mention of schools.  Why is this?  They cannot be dismissed as "and the academic sector".
  3. Is it inevitable that a focus on youth has to be vague and clichéd?  Compared to page 18, page 19 says little of substance.  Is this because there is nothing to say?


The first global citizens?

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been reading the latest report from the Varkey Foundation on what Generation Z thinks about life, the universe, Brexit, etc.  It's here.

Some of it is concerning:

  • only 17% of young people report good overall physical wellbeing
  • in 16 out of 20 countries, more young people believe the world is becoming a worse place to live than believe it is becoming a better place to live
  • only 89% of young people believe men and women should be treated equally

And some seems reassuring:

  • 68% of young people across the world say they’re happy
  • 84% of young people say that technical advancements make them hopeful for the future
  • only 42% of young people say that religious faith is an important part of their lives with 39% claiming that religion is of no significance to them at all
  • at least 89% of young people believe men and women should be treated equally

The Introduction to the report, by Vikas Pota the Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation, ends like this:

The future of global citizenship

The conclusion of this survey is therefore cause for cautious optimism. The ingredients are there for global progress.  It shows that young people everywhere largely agree on the threats and the opportunities the world faces, and are impatient for Governments to solve problems.  Most already have close friends from other religions.  The clearest division evident is between the optimism of the developing world and the pessimism of the developed world.  And despite the political turn inwards in many developed countries, young people everywhere place great faith in both technological advance and increased communication – which they hope will promote greater cooperation between peoples over the longer term.

Though many negative assumptions are often made about Generation Z – the first generation of ‘digital natives’ – this survey suggests, with hard evidence, that such assumptions are unfounded.  The generation now coming of age was born at a time when technology was shrinking the world.  They are more likely to travel, to migrate across borders, and to forge friendships in other countries than any previous generation.  They could become the first truly global generation for whom divisions across countries, cultures and faiths are not important.  In this darkening political landscape, where international institutions are under greater pressure than at any time since the end of the Second World War, it is reassuring to know that, in the minds of young people, global citizenship is not dead: it could just be getting started.

Whilst I acknowledge that there are some problems that only governments can address, I do hope that today's youth also thinks that it has a role in working together and with others to solve problems, and to prevent them.  It can't be all down to government.


Don't ask WWF or the Guardian how to grow food

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There was a picture in a recent Guardian of a boy with two potatoes firmly impaled on a garden fork.  The caption is:

"A pupil at Coastlands Community primary school in Pembrokeshire shows there’s a real appetite for growing food.  Schools are leading the way in promoting healthy eating, with 77% of children saying that they learn the most about food at school, according to a 2016 WWF survey of 500 UK parents and their children aged 7-12 years."

Whilst I don't really know what "learn the most about food at school" means – compared to where?  home, presumably.  One thing is clear, this hapless pupil doesn't know enough to avoid sticking his fork through the potato crop and hence reducing its quality and value.  Does The Guardian, I wonder?

Or was this a bright idea from WWF for a photoshoot?  If so, it makes you wonder how little WWF knows about food growing and harvesting.