Sustainability in Early Childhood: More Than Just Worm Farms

Sustainable practices are of such importance in the world right now that the United Nations have set goals to work towards future sustainability across all countries!

The UN announced 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that should be the focus of all countries’ work towards future sustainability from 2016 to 2030. In proposing ‘‘education for all’’ as an initiative for sustainability, the current UN General Secretary Ban (2012) also promotes a shift from education to learning.

Gone are the days where we can consider worm farms and recycling stations as the basics we can implement to meet centre sustainable requirements. Sustainable practices in early childhood need to be embedded into daily practices and be the basis for all future planning.

Firstly, the definition of sustainability from Unicef:

“Sustainability or sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This definition of sustainability comes from the Brundtland Report in 1987, which set the standard for sustainable development as we know it today.

For a sustainable future and creating a sustainable world for the future generations, Early Childhood Educators and Early Learning Centres need to be thinking about these things documented from the UNICEF reports and findings.

“Enough for all for ever, especially the most vulnerable”

Sustainability is part of all of our work for children and affects all aspects of a child’s life: health, access to clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, social inclusion and child protection. As a collaborative in the world, people need to work through an equity-based approach to make sure that all children have the right to these basic services and that no child is left behind

A report by Unicef states that in 2015, it was estimated that nearly 6 million children under the age of five – equivalent to 11 every minute  – would die because of lack of access to vital services. Sustainability in early childhood will help us ensure that these essential services reach every child, now and forever into the future.

“Building resilience, building back better”

Wars, conflicts and disasters, both natural and climate-related, undermine sustainable development and years of progress. These events turn children’s worlds upside down.

Agencies across the globe work towards reducing not just the immediate impacts of emergencies on children’s lives but also to make sure that children, communities and governments understand long-term risks and take action for sustainable development to help build back better for children and bring their lives back to normal.

“Prevention and preparedness are better than a cure”

Disasters, such as floods, droughts, earthquakes, landslides and typhoons, are responsible for untimely disruption and deaths. Unfortunately, children make up more than half of those affected and when a disaster strikes, children are the hardest hit.

In 2014, 87% of all disasters were climate-related, occurring overwhelmingly in developing countries that are least equipped to deal with them (UNISDR, 2015). It is also predicted that every year for next decade, over 175 million children will be affected by natural disasters caused by climate change alone. Children are the most vulnerable and have the right to be protected.

If children are empowered, they need not be victims but can be agents of change too. All generations but especially the young generation need to be educated about how the impact of climate change can be reduced. This starts with a conversation and a call to action  having a plan – and imagine if each person in the world population each took some responsibility and steps every day – this would make the world a definite better place and the environment has the chance to be around for more years than not.

“Looking ahead with the Global Goals”

This is an exciting time and the momentum is building to make sure that more children around the world have clean air to breathe, a safe and continuous supply of water to drink, and life-saving skills and services to help them to have safer, secure futures.

Sustainable development means investing in those who must carry it in the future – sustainable development means investing in today’s children.

The new Global Goals define sustainability as,

“a plan of action for people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.”

Thinking about these big items, how do Early Learning Centres and Educators use these topics as the basis to begin to make change in their organisations? Because we all have to start somewhere.

Some ideas to promote change and sustainability in early childhood:

  • Share the world message, have the “big” conversations with the children and parents, highlight the statistics and ask for their input. Don’t discount the children’s understanding and input, these conversations need to start.
  • How can you assist with climate change? What steps can you embed into your daily routines to start making change? Do some research into possible programs in your area? Learn and DO!
  • Does your early learning centre have a sustainable plan that you are working towards to make a difference with global goals? Set one of these, and celebrate your achievements each and every time you hit a goal!

‘Reduce, Repair, Recycle, Repurpose, Reclaim’