Since Pat Armstrong and the late Eric Bottomley’s article was written 3 years ago, the Victorian Government committed $8.305 million over 4 years (2012-2015) to build on the existing ResourceSmart AuSSI Vic. Delivery was funded by Sustainability Victoria, and allocated to regional coordinators across Victoria, with CERES coordinating delivery in the Northern, Southern and Eastern metropolitan Melbourne regions. Our Grand Alliance Consortium was born, and consisted of over 80 partner programs working together to provide environmental education for schools in these 3 regions.
Today the framework is known as ResourceSmart Schools, and has reached 1,200 Victorian schools. In 2014-2015, environmental education delivery partners for Sustainability Victoria worked with 846 schools and early learning centres, and 90% of schools were successful in gaining certification. CERES delivered ResourceSmart Schools to 281 schools and early learning centres or 30% of Victorian schools engaged in 2014-2015.
In the 2014 calendar year alone the ResourceSmart Schools program resulted in savings of $3.8 million, comprising 1,800 tonnes of CO2-e saved, 17,000 cubic metres of waste diverted from landfill, 243,000 KL of water saved, and 5,500 trees planted! As these figures were only based on 400 schools, they are conservative. The savings from 846 schools and early learning centres involved in ResourceSmart Schools in 2014 would be far higher.
The program has come a long way since it’s early beginnings, and there’s no way from here but up! Congratulations to each and every school that has jumped onboard the ResourceSmart Schools journey. Our future generation will thank you for it!
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By Pat Armstrong (Pat Armstrong Consulting) and Eric Bottomley (CERES Education Outreach)
With a small grant from Nillumbik Council in 1999-2001, CERES let the first fish into the stream under the name Sustainable Schools. Now many schools of fish swim across Victoria. Naturally, this emergence came out of many great environment programs on waste, water etc. Quickly teaming up with Gould League, we soon attracted government and philanthropic support so that we grow into AuSSI Vic and then ResourceSmart AuSSI Vic schools. What a fabulous journey with so many organisations. This is the ‘real growth’ we need in society to keep the faith! Forwards! This article is a timeline summary and a potted history…
After twenty years of traditional Environmental Education, both the Gould League and CERES were looking at the results of their work and could not see long-term change occurring in schools. Separately and together, we discussed our experiences as educators, revisited the research and then redesigned our approaches going beyond the traditional boundaries of environmental education to areas that included the psychology of culture change, business management, systems thinking, governance, marketing and organisational psychology.
Like many educators worldwide, we discovered that the traditional Transmissive way (focusing on teaching, communicating ‘messages’ and with external control) of environmental education is not effective by itself. When we began the process of Transformative education or co-learning, the results were spectacular.
At this time, there was at least one program that had emerged and grown strongly; this was Sustainability Victoria’s (formerly EcoRecycle Victoria) Waste Wise Schools program. This program, managed by Gould League and assisted by CERES and others in delivery, seemed to strike a chord with the recycling Industry and the government and so had their support. It slowly expanded into an examination of a whole school approach to resource use, community engagement and curriculum initiatives. Some of the keys for its success were that there was long-term funding from the government and it was a collaborative approach by educators from many sectors. By the late 1990s, real achievements in schools were being demonstrated and these helped create the launch pad for Sustainable Schools.
A handful of other programs were also successful, such as Water Watch along a number of our rivers and Salt Watch in farming areas, plus small water conservation awareness programs run by separate and nominally competing water retailers, plus one-off curriculum programs and excursion visits supported by the Department of Education. However, the weaknesses of these programs were their small scale segregated approaches and narrow perspectives. There was also a dearth of resources from state energy providers and some from privatised energy providers. CERES was lucky to be supported by Citipower, but the main Energy Education visitors’ centre for Victoria was closed down. A short-lived Energy Smart Schools Program, providing excellent support by the Sustainable Energy Authority Victoria, later met the same fate.
Teachers and students constantly asked why there was no water, energy and biodiversity program organised like Waste Wise. We asked the same question and CERES and Gould League began to work independently on responses to these demands for a broader sustainability education approach.
NSW had already shown the way. Led by Peter Carroll and SCRAPS (School Communities Recycling All Paper), they had coined the phrase ‘Sustainable Schools’. By the late 1990s, several Victorian organisations were eager to follow this trail blazed by SCRAPS and developed further by Syd Smith for the Department of Education NSW program. One Shire Council (Shire of Yarra Ranges) in Victoria even imported the NSW model for its own use in 2001.
Some regional Victorian bodies, such as catchment and waste authorities, were also impatient and ready to move. A regional partnership: Calder Waste (Calder Regional Waste Management Group) and Goulburn Valley Waste Management Group) explained that the motivators that brought the two regions together were: the overcrowded curriculum; overwhelmed educators; demanding preparation tasks; and the need for balanced learning issues; the need for local support; and curriculum planning. The answer was seen to be a regional partnership and a regional forum to develop an approach that facilitated the implementation of all the various environmental programs currently offered to schools. A forum, organised by this regional partnership in the late 1990s, confirmed the need for such a regional and integrated approach.
In Melbourne, Joe Natole, who helped pioneer the CERES ‘Worming into the Community’ program in the 1990s whereby schools installed large worm farms and composting systems, was chewing on the bit. Unable to attract any real funding, he set off unilaterally to create ‘Schools for a Sustainable Future’. The lack of institutional support finally killed the program, but Joe had charted a path forward.
Through this period, CERES and Gould League were amicable ‘rivals’ in the environmental education field in Victoria. CERES, who had lost all its government funding, had to live on its wits to survive and build its action-based environmental education programs, while Gould League sought to enlarge its already significant range of activities. Both organisations had started planning for their own versions of Sustainable Schools. CERES started through a pilot at Eltham College that was founded on collecting baseline data for energy, water, biodiversity and waste. In the meantime, Gould League commenced a program, based on a pilot program developed for a school in Bega in NSW, called ‘Schools Environmental Makeover’ and then trialled in some Melbourne schools.
Out of all these efforts to create a school’s sustainability approach, CERES and Gould League formed a partnership in 2001 to work together and try to create major framework. (We called it a framework not a program). Our first support and recognition came through a Science in Schools grant – a minor amount of money ($25,000), but a breakthrough for the partnership. We little realised at the time how this would have to be the first of a score of submissions that would keep us busy raising money and conducting the framework in schools for the next eight years. This original project already contained the flexibility that would underpin our efforts to survive, but also in the process create the features of a responsive framework. These features were: links to contemporary curriculum initiatives; experiential and investigative approaches; rapid and wide-scale roll-out; professional development and mentoring; frugal use of resources; visioning and use of goals and targets; and a comprehensive whole school approach. The Sustainable Schools framework was based on a Core Module, supported by four resource modules – Waste, Water, Energy and Biodiversity.
Within a few years, the Australian government had shown interest and funded pilot projects in Victoria and NSW. Independent evaluation of these pilot projects demonstrated the effectiveness of the approach and in 2002 the Australian Department of Environment and Heritage rebadged Sustainable Schools as AuSSI (Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative) and announced funding support for all states and territories across Australia. At this time, Gould League and CERES were also active in mentoring and training educators in other states and territories in the Victorian approach.
For a number of years after this, Gould League and CERES continued to roll out AuSSI Vic to schools, although in recent years, only CERES has delivered the framework in partnership with several other partners. In 2007, Sustainability Victoria funded several projects, to be delivered by various consortia, to continue AuSSI in Victorian schools. CERES organised the Waste Module and was the main deliverer for the Core Module.
Little did we realise back in 2000 that our early efforts to bring about lasting change in sustainability practices and curricula in schools would have led to the phenomenon called AuSSI, and that in Victoria alone over 400 schools would be involved in this transformative approach.