Possible problems

The goal of working with Sustainable Footprint:
Students become aware of the influence they have on the living environment of people elsewhere or in the future.

The concept of a footprint has been developed to visually support this awareness. Walking causes a footprint; if you walk differently – if you are big or small, carrying a heavy load, running or walking slowly, etc – your footprint will look different. A footprint can end up in different places, be bigger or smaller, be longer or shorter and remain for a long or a short period of time. The same thing goes for life. In all sorts of ways you influence people elsewhere or in the future. Directly, by for example buying souvenirs in Thailand, or indirectly by polluting. You can think about this and maybe do something about it.

During the testing period of the class guides, we ran into a few problems:

1. Corny

Students have often heard all sorts of things about sustainable development and they know very well how things should be done. This has two consequences:

They don’t have the will to work with this corny subject again
They have the feeling they know everything and can’t learn any thing new in this field.

Altogether this results in an unmotivated, bored attitude. The cases already try to anticipate this, but it is important that the teacher pays attention as well. For example, set the discussion in motion by doubting accepted beliefs.

  • ‘Who are you to prohibit someone with hunger to sell protected animals?’
  • ‘Is a conference on the environment like the one in Johannesburg not a bad thing, if everyone goes there by plane?’
  • ‘How should a Thai family earn their money if their children aren’t allowed to work in sweatshops anymore?’
  • ‘If you want to do everything correctly you aren’t allowed to eat ANYTHING anymore!’
  • ‘Who decides that the environment is more important than making lots of money?’

2. Sustainable = environment

Especially if the modules are a part of biology lessons, students limit themselves to the environment. However, the goal is to make students aware of their influence on people elsewhere and in the future. Environment is one aspect of the life of others, but most certainly not everything. Try to make the students think on an economic and social level as well.

3. Someone else’s problem

Students know the correct opinions very well and often they back them up. The environment is important, the Third World as well. This is the so-called ‘wall of concept’. However, agreeing with everything and saying that something should be done is different from actually doing something about it. Donating to Oxfam or Greenpeace is not the same thing as minding at which stores you buy. Founding an environmental organisation is not the same as trying to fly as little as possible.

Try to break through this wall by asking provocative questions. For example:
‘Will the state of the environment improve if the entire world population becomes a member of Greenpeace?’
Furthermore the environment and foreign aid often clash. Then a choice AGAINST one of the two has to be made.

Also students often have the idea that they are not able to do anything and that the problems are just too big. This is partly true, but there are enough examples that show the opposite: Shell has for example, after extensive public protest and decreasing income, started an extensive sustainability program. The supermarkets of Ahold display more and more biologically produced products because of the increasing demand. There is always something you can do, however small it might be. Try to make clear that we really shouldn’t all become tropical doctors. Although doing that would be fun.