Education in the New Environmental Economy

This is the title of the conference i attended hosted by the VEC, or Vermont Environmental Consortium.

The list of presenters was very impressive, with the keynote presentation by Dr. Grant Trump setting the bar very high. As president and CEO of Eco-Canada he put the eco-nomy in the environmental side of the discussion. In other words he demonstrated the amount the evironmental sector contributed to the economy of Canada’s GNP. What fascinated me about the approach the Canadians have taken is how distributed it is throughout their society: from Kindergarted through secondary schooling, higher education, certification and recertification. Of a particular interest was the ‘life span’ of a competency, the attention to metrics and assessment, the on-going committment and depth of educational integration and the relevancy and application to economic activity across the spectrum. Dr. Trump shared some interesting statistics in labor trends effecting the environmental industry in Canada. What was interesting to me was how the reasons that workers gave for leaving or wanting to work in the environmental fields were not primarily financial: other factors reflecting Richard Florida’s creative economy analysis were clearly at play. People wanted to feel they were contributing to the environmental cause and that they were challenged by advancement, training and creative opportunities.

One of the feelings I had hoped to come away with from the conference which i didn’t get was the excitment of the new ‘environmental economy.’ It was here and there in some remarks and in the passion of some of the people. But it needs to be made more explicit and explored. There was a call for a culture change and a plea for young engineers and scientists, biologists, chemists, lawyers and policy makers. But how is this done?

Another presenter, Gail Hall, Science Assessment Coordinator for the Vt. Dept of Education shared the state’s initiatives in this area, especially the 21st Century Skills Initiative. What i wanted to comment on is specifically the idea of
‘productivity centered service learning’. This concept thanks to Allan Baer CEO of SolarQuest really gets me excited. These ideas of ‘project based learning’ and experiential learning as well bring me to ask: why not put it all together? Rather than look externally for projects suitable for learning or off campus internships–let us turn the pedagogy upon oursleves.

here’s the idea in a nutshell: begin to transform all schools into a 210% Sustainable Model. Remodel and replace all school facilities into a green building that not only has a zero carbon footprint, but one that is contributing to the local economy through the ecological engineering of its systems. Initiate a Design/ Build/ Operate grant program that involves all constituents in the process. The goal is to create an educational facility that is a living lab of the ecological technologies that can sustain and support the community. These systems address the basic needs of each school: electricity, climate, food and transportation.— Now here is the key, that the ecosystems that sustain the school are themselves the subject of the ecorriculum.