In this edition of ‘What Inspires Me’ we feature Ash Buchanan from Cohere, a social and environmental innovation agency catalysing the purposeful potential of people, organisations and developments. Ash guest presented at the Leading ResourceSmart in Schools workshop earlier this year, introducing teachers and educators to the Benefit Mindset, the strengthening of your capacity and capability for making a meaningful difference in an interconnected world.
1. How did you first get started with environmental education?
In a bit of a roundabout way. I’ve always had a big love for the natural world and have spent most of my career working in sustainable and wellbeing design. Most of this time was spent in board rooms, educating engineers and architects about the design of our built environment, or in advisory roles supporting organisational change.
However, over the past few years my work has been shifting from the board room to the class room. Nowadays you’re more likely to find me at the University of Melbourne where I tutor groups of young change makers who are discovering what social and environmental innovation means to them. I’m also increasingly finding myself working with primary and secondary school students who are passionate about wellbeing and environmental leadership.
2. What have been the biggest highlights of your journey so far?
My biggest highlight – and ‘aha’ moment came about 5 years ago. I used to think our sustainability challenges were something we could solve ‘out there’ in the world. E.g. more water tanks, solar panels and better waste practices. However, after completing a masters in wellbeing and human flourishing I’ve come to realise that it’s also an inner psychological challenge. E.g. our beliefs, attitudes and assumptions are just as important. Now, much of my work focuses on how we can address the sustainability challenge inside and out.
In line with this, I’ve recently launched a range of workshops for primary and secondary school students that centres on the inner and outer challenge of sustainability and wellbeing.
3. How do you engage with people that are not buying into the sustainability message?
To engage diverse groups of people, I try and create space for them to inspire themselves. An example of this was a workshop I facilitated a few years back at Carlton Gardens Primary School – where year 5/6 students reimagined and redesigned their school, taking inspiration from the things they love about the natural world.
A lot of today’s talk about sustainability is in terms of how we can be “less bad” – e.g. use less waste, less water, less energy. While this message is important, it’s not very inspiring to potential change-makers who are looking to create a world of “more good”. By framing the challenge around creating a future they want, we tap into their hopes and dreams which is a powerful way to engage.
4. Can you share a school sustainability project or story that you’ve heard about that stood out for you?
An inspirational project some of my colleagues are involved in is called Co-seeding our future: Children’s agency in rewilding urban spaces.
At the heart of this project is the question: “How can co-creating community green spaces with children enhance wellbeing and generate custodianship?”
The project supports children as co-creators and contributors of place with an aim for generating greater wellbeing and custodianship through the co-creation of two children’s gardens. The project and research will produce and evaluate two neighbourhood case studies (Carlton & Ballarat) where children (ages 8-12) contribute to having agency in their future, including their ability to catalyse environmental action, influence community, and build social cohesion.
5. What is your favourite environmental education resource for schools?
I have two psychological resources I’d like to share that are powerful in combination.
The first is the VIA Character Strengths which come from the wellbeing sciences. What are character strengths? Very simply, they are qualities of our character that represent moral goodness and human excellence. For example, are you a creative person? A curious person? A humorous person? A kind person?
Each of us has a unique set of signature strengths that we frequently use. When exercised, they tend to energise and excite – bringing us more fully alive – helping us respond to our social and environmental challenges in ways that promote health and wellbeing.
The second is a resource I’ve been researching and developing – the Benefit Mindset. It’s a simple framework for describing how we can promote wellbeing on both an individual and a collective level. The mindset of a student or teacher who comes to school every day and asks how they can be of value – and make a meaningful difference.
6. If you could be a sustainability superhero, what name would you choose and what powers would you have to make the world more sustainable into the future?
My super hero is nature. It’s everywhere, all around us. It’s our greatest teacher, our wisest mentor. Whenever I face a big challenge I ask myself, how would nature respond? To make a more sustainable future, I believe one of the best things we can do is look deep into nature and the pathway to a flourishing future will reveal itself.
Thank you Ash for sharing your story.
For more information, visit the Cohere website.