Kindergarten kids talking about sustainability, big banks sponsoring school excursions, park rangers sharing their ideas through the United Nations: they are all exciting possibilities coming out of a new UWA collaboration.
Australia has joined a United Nations initiative to promote sustainability through education, and UWA is the base.
Dean of Sciences, Professor Tony O'Donnell, is driving this initiative, after setting up a Regional Centre for Expertise (RCE) within this global project in Newcastle, UK, a few years ago.
But he is quick to explain that this is not a UWA project but one for the whole of Western Australia. It will bring together schools, universities, rural volunteers, environmental groups, corporate business including banks, nongovernment organisations and institutions such as Scitech and the Perth Zoo.
"After the UN summit in Johannesburg in 2000, a decade for sustainable development was mooted. A global network was recommended and a call went out for partners to share their expertise in community engagement," Professor O'Donnell said.
The initiative is administered by the United Nations University in Tokyo. WA 's RCE is the first Australian node. Planning has taken about 12 months and it will be launched officially at UWA next month.
"In Newcastle, our biggest financial sponsor was HS BC, the international banking corporation," Professor O'Donnell said. "It's a great way for big banks to use their corporate responsibility budget and I'm hoping we can attract some similar sponsors in WA . The fact that it's a United Nations initiative should help."
He said funding was needed to run school projects, to get children involved in the idea that development can be sustainable and that one does not necessarily preclude the other.
"It's about transforming the curriculum in schools so that they learn how to protect the environment within the need for growth.
"If we start talking about sustainability with five-year-olds, it will become part of their consciousness."
WA 's node has the theme of A Sense of Place, taken from UWA academic the late George Seddon's book about the Swan coastal plain.
"George picked up on the way that Western Australians tend to identify with their environment, which is a great starting point for understanding and appreciating the need for sustainability.
"One of our aims is to help our multicultural migrant population acquire that sense of place."
The idea of the global network is that all nodes will share their ideas and resources. "If one of our schools or agencies in WA comes up with a project that fits under our umbrella, the RCE will look to provide support, then the ideas, activities and outcomes can be shared with other centres around the world."
Sendai, hit hard by the tsunami in northern Japan last month, has a RCE and members of the network are putting their theories into practice to provide practical support for the city.
Professor O'Donnell sees the potential for more international sharing and support. "I like the idea of getting our local school children to link with Development and sustainability can go hand in hand students in, say the north of England, where conditions and the environment are very different, and to work on projects together," he said.
"I hope being part of this network will provide an umbrella for activities across the University and across the State, linked to education and its role in sustainability and sustainable development.
"We have already had inquiries from the University of Western Sydney about setting up a node in New South Wales. And we have received a lot of support and encouragement from the Chief Scientist, Professor Lyn Beazley, the Director of Excitement at Scitech, Malcolm Moore, and others in taking the initiative forward."
Professor O'Donnell acknowledged the work by Christine Richardson from the Science Faculties office, and Deborah Bowie (the project officer), from the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, in setting up the RCE .
The Centre will be officially launched next month. Further information on the RCE and how to get involved is available at the RCE website http://www.science. uwa.edu.au/community/regional-centre
Published in UWA News, 18 April 2011
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