Five Questions: What’s Happening on the International Environmental Education Scene?

Debra Rowe, president of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, answers 5 questions from us on the latest trends in international education for sustainability:

CE: You just got back from the World Environmental Education Conference in Montreal. What stood out to you?

DR: What’s wonderful is that a number of countries have national curricula to help develop and create a green economy and a sustainable future. For example, Sweden has an integrated educational program that teaches about sustainability and the triple bottom line from kindergarten up through higher education. Australia has skill sets and competency sets for a number of green and sustainability careers in their technical and higher education, as well as professional development for faculty.

CE: What was your goal while you were there?

DR: I was there to meet with the sustainability affinity group of the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics, so we could compile these resources and make some of them available through the WFCP website. There will be a lot more coming in the next few weeks.

We found that it was exciting and stimulating to hear about the good things going on out there, but at the same time we need a lot more to make the literacy of our public-their sustainability literacy, I mean-more consistent and more comprehensive. We need to get everyone engaged in the solutions.

CE: Do you think the U.S. is leading the way in modeling these kinds of programs, or are we behind?

DR: No, I don’t think we’re at the head of the pack. Certain institutions are doing wonderful work, and there are some American networks that are doing a good job, but we need this kind of education to be much more consistent across the curriculum. Most schools don’t have sustainability-oriented principles, practices and real-world problem solving infused throughout their disciplines.

We have some strengths in terms of students getting involved through extra-curricular activities and student-initiated efforts, but while there are stellar examples, there’s much more that needs to be done, given what the science says about the threat to our eco-systems and the possibility of suffering for millions, if not billions of people.

CE: There’s been a ‘green jobs’ push lately, particularly with President Obama in office and Van Jones as the new green jobs advisor. Are other nations also increasing training for renewable and clean energy fields?

DR: We’re definitely seeing degrees on that, with new skill sets in green collar fields being offered. There are specific degrees and certificates, but we’re also seeing how the existing programs are starting to include green design criteria and requirements. There’s also a lot going on in the world in terms of updating existing workers. However, there’s a lack in terms of professional development for faculty.

CE: What do you see as good next steps for a college that wants to move in this direction?

DR: There are a variety of models to use, but the good ones tend to include sustainability in all degrees and all disciplines. They span the natural sciences, social sciences, the humanities, technical programs and other professions such as business; they tend to focus on real-world problem solving, they teach change agent skills, and teach students to build healthy self-concepts that include engagement and solutions for a sustainable society.

Published: May 6, 2009