Beyond COP21 symposium at Rendcomb College 

We love speaking to young people of all ages to find out what sustainability means to them. This month we spent a day at Rendcomb College, together with other organisations from the local community, meeting pupils from six Gloucestershire schools. The event included talks, workshops and exhibits designed to help pupils understand and take action on sustainability and climate change. 

We brought along our Cabinet of Sustainability Curiosities, displaying objects to provoke discussions about energy, biodiversity, food and farming, resource use, waste, equity and social justice, among others. The cabinet is eye-catching and attracted a good deal of attention. Each shelf contains items that can be discussed in different ways, depending on the age of the pupil. Some of the items are fun and practical, like the rolls of Who Gives a Crap toilet paper for example (in case you’re wondering, it’s plastic free, sustainably made and 50% of profits are donated to clean water and sanitation non-profits). Others are of a more philosophical nature, such as a mirror at head height with a sign saying: ‘is this the most dangerous species on earth?’ 

One nine-year old pondered the display of a kitchen compost caddy and glass jar filled with soil. What do you think composting and soil has to do with sustainability, we asked. “Our bodies are composted and become soil when we die” he ventured. An unusual and brilliant take on composting! Another student asked “Maybe we can make electricity with the compost somehow?” We were able to find out the answer at the neighbouring stall, where we learned that one small bin of food waste collected by Gloucestershire Council can be converted into enough energy to watch a whole movie. Interestingly, discussing a toy car and plane displayed in the cabinet revealed that some of the young people made the connection to fossil fuel and pollution, but did not know where petrol comes from. All visitors to our stand were encouraged to fill in postcards with items they would place in the cabinet.

We were pleased that most of the pupils were happy to fill in our Attitudes to Sustainability survey. The survey has been taken by over 3000 people already, helping schools to understand what young people know and think about sustainability. One of the top messages from the survey is that young people want to learn how to make a difference but do not feel empowered to do so. SEEd’s Young Changemaker programme addresses this beautifully. It is a facilitated pupil-led programme for 15-18 year olds, aimed at building skills and competencies and gaining hope and a sense of agency. 

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