A small act is worth a million thoughts
– Ai Weiwei
As an IB World School, NIST teaches all students about the environment and how we as global citizens share our planet with other communities. However, does all of this learning add up to a school that meets its own current needs without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to do the same? This was the question Head of School Brett Penny posed to the new NIST Sustainability Committee in September 2016.
NIST, like many other organizations around the world, has increasingly become concerned with its efforts to become more sustainable. Rather than focus solely on the “bottom line”, the school has expanded to a focus on the triple bottom line of profit, people and planet (Triple bottom line, T. Hindle, 2009), representing a concern for responsible operations and systems that not only support continued growth, but also concern for the welfare of the community and the environment.
Consequently, at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, a group of students, parents, teachers and staff met to discuss how to begin making our school a more sustainable environment for both work and learning. Due to the widely varying definitions around the globe, as well as our own diverse community, one of the first tasks for the committee involved the creation of a working definition of the word sustainability as it applies to our context. After exploring several options, they created working definition that views sustainability as “a set of systems and conditions in which people and planet can flourish indefinitely”.
This committee convened regularly to research and discuss what was already being done to promote sustainability at NIST against a framework linked to the school’s five key strategic pillars: learning, human resource development, community engagement, operations and infrastructure, and governance. Indicators to measure baseline data in each area were prepared using various sustainable schools documents such as those used by Eco Schools and The Sustainable Schools Alliance.
The research into sustainability efforts within each pillar indicated that there are pockets of good practice occurring throughout the school, such as systems in place to encourage water conservation and kitchen scraps being sent to the rooftop garden for compost. There are several areas in which education for staff and changes in policies could make a big impact. There is commitment from a high level with environmental concerns highlighted within the school’s values statements, particularly in the NIST Community Expectations, which include an expectation that we “Be attentive to environmental concerns and be a part of solutions”.
However, many practical improvements can still be made in operations in order to sustainability practice at NIST, and the committee will focus on these areas in the coming year. In order to drive these efforts forward from the top, the committee presented their findings to the NIST Executive School Board in October 2017. Though multiple isolated initiatives have been undertaken in the past, the oversight of the board can produce a more cohesive and long-lasting approach.
As a next step, the committee has recommended that an external sustainability consultant examine NIST’s current situation in order to provide professional experience, expertise, and knowledge necessary to identify potential areas of focus. This would also include the creation of a long-term plan that would gradually embed sustainability throughout the school’s systems and practices to ensure that all members of the community are working to contribute toward a better world.
The committee has concluded that the integration of sustainable policies and priorities will initiate a culture among all members of the community, inherently leading students to flourish during and continuously after their time at NIST. Moving forward, the annual report will include an assessment of our progress in building a more sustainable community through the lens of each of the five pillars.