Growing gardens, nurturing worm farms, recycling and saving water are all a great start… but let’s ask ourselves, how they are impacting the bigger picture, the outcomes for children and overall community?

Sustainability: Program Priority or Area of Focus

The real question is what are we hoping to achieve holistically?

Growing gardens, nurturing worm farms, recycling and saving water are all a great start… but let’s ask ourselves, how they are impacting the bigger picture, the outcomes for children and overall community?

Don’t get me wrong these are all fantastic ways to introduce and work-towards sustainability embedment, but they are by no means the finishing line. I view these types of experiences as a prompt for deeper conversation and further investigation. They are starting points that assist us to meet some of the more practical aspects of the program’s NQF learning outcomes and NQS standards. But when considering the true definition of sustainability, ‘the capacity to endure’, we are far less likely to be succeeding within our daily practice and even personal lives. The planning undertaken, experience had and learning achieved from an ongoing program priority will almost always outweigh the more tokenistic types of approach of providing individual experiences based on specific areas of focus.

Excerpt from “Guide to the National Quality Standard

So let’s take a look at what we’re really aiming to achieve and then can we genuinely explore ways to implement a meaningful plan to help us move forward sustainably. The NQS “THREE – Guide to the National Quality Standard” requires services to take an active role in caring for its environment and contributing to a sustainable future. This means that sustainable practices are always occurring within service operations and that children are well-supported to become environmentally aware, responsible and show respect for their surroundings. So thinking holistically, this equates to embedment which is defined as the act of setting something permanently within something else’. Having a healthy balance and the drive to develop ourselves (as well as share a deeper understanding) is by far the most important aspect. When we accept that sustainability includes the consideration for all three pillars i.e. social, environmental and economic (people, planet and profit) we can then separate and measure each element by its own merit, to see if it really is sustainable in our setting.

For example… if I was to spend 30 mins a day washing a plastic pot in order to reuse it, we must ask ourselves ‘is this viable when it’s costing approximately $15 in man-hours’ and takes an educator away from directly supporting and supervising the children. When considering the three tiers of sustainability and by taking a balanced approach, the short answer is no. It is not sustainable due to inefficiency across the 3 tiers (socially – it takes an educator away from the children, environmentally – water-use, economically – money spent on water and resource/staff). Another view could be that it is meaningfully incorporated into the program by actively involving the children (they wash the pots while being supported to understand why/what and how) all the while bringing about a genuine learning opportunity via a planned educational experience. #Tip… If I were to personally find myself within the second option, I would use the task as a learning opportunity to discuss my reasoning with the children, educators and families in hope of raising awareness as well as supporting our collaborative partnerships with families and the community. By following this process we now have an informed basis for our decision making, can move forward confidently, and are better equipped to genuinely support children to understand why we must look after each other and better preserve our surroundings for the future.

It’s clear that developing positive attitudes, doing our research and sharing the findings with the people around us is core to us better supporting the community and children’s active participation in sustainable practices. I’ve spent much of my career supporting early childhood professionals of all levels to understand sustainability more deeply, and this was no easy task. It meant that I needed to understand it well myself, deeply and holistically. After spending a large amount of time unpacking it by researching, consulting with sector leaders, creating government-funded resources, developing and facilitating training sessions, I now realised that exploring the problems and solutions together (in a non-defensive manner) is the best way forward in order to make a difference. But only when we are willing and ready to, not only reflect on ourselves but actually work on becoming the change we so want to see.

Read Part Two in the sustainability series here!

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