We tend to focus a lot on the human side of sustainability, and how people, relationships, and inclusion are integral to seeing a healthier, more sustainable, and just future. Our inspiration is drawn from concepts and resources such as:
- David Orr’s Full Spectrum Sustainability, which is a compilation of conversations from people in all sectors and from all backgrounds. Sustainable change happens when people who usually work in isolation get together and make everybody a stakeholder. It is also necessary to create integrated plans that involve, benefit, and strengthen whole communities.
“The key to full-spectrum sustainability is to get people talking across boundaries.” –David Orr
- And Dr. John Francis, the Planetwalker, who explains that a human-centered approach is the key to getting people engaged in environmental and sustainability efforts.
“…people are part of the environment, not just caretakers, and we are at the core of our environmental troubles. Environment then, is also about human and civil rights, economic equity, gender equality, and from the standpoint of a pilgrim on the road, environment is about how we treat each other when we meet each other.” –Dr. John Francis
The homework from our November workshop was to create a Twelve Dollar Project that helps to foster a culture of belonging in every school. The Twelve Dollar Project is inspired by Wallace J. Nichols (a previous Inspire Speakers Series presenter), and is meant to feel small, doable, time-bound, and often create ripple effects to larger impacts and outcomes. Our schools–similar to many of us–often have grand visions that can feel overwhelming or very long-term, and inspiring action through Twelve Dollar Projects brings excitement, progress, and celebration of success. We often think that successful projects require great budgets, grant funding, or lots of time and resources, but the Twelve Dollar Project begs us to think creatively and use limited resources to enact smaller changes that can ripple outward in impactful ways. Below is a list of some of the projects the program participants, their students, and their schools implemented.
- One school had a goal of working on energy efficiency, so their School Sustainability Culture Program team sent an email to the other teachers asking them to be mindful of energy use and provided a list of ways they could do that, including turning off copy room lights, computers, and classroom lights when not in use. Additionally, the 5th grade classes have become the “energy police,” and they check lights in empty classrooms and remind other students and teachers to do the same.
- Another school wished to foster a sense of community, self-care, and mindfulness among the teachers, so in the weeks before their holiday break, they left elf-on-the-door notes on each other’s classroom doors. In the notes, they acknowledged good work they saw each other doing to give them recognition and show that they are appreciated.
- A map that shows where students live, as well as different Pittsburgh landmarks, is being constructed on one school’s wall. The map is meant to celebrate each student and help the students visualize the diversity of neighborhoods and places from which they come.
- One of the program participants wanted to create posters to show the impact of his school’s recycling program, and he decided to get his class involved. His students figured out the necessary statistics, like how much waste the program diverted from landfills, and they are working on creating a logo and putting the posters up around the school.
- For one of the schools, this small project was part of an effort to engage a diverse student body and promote support and inclusion. Several student groups and unions were working together to create an Equity Tree in the weeks before the holiday break. Student leaders got their peers to write statements that supported the diversity of the school on slips of paper, which were turned into paper chains that were used to decorate the tree. Shortly before the break, one of the students who was organizing the tree project was killed in an act of senseless violence, and the other students decided to turn the tree into a memorial for him. They made ornaments and wrote him promises, and during a memorial for him, they read the promises and put them on the tree.
The program participants and their schools took a small exercise, the Twelve Dollar Project, and created school-specific, impactful, and sustainable shifts in their school cultures. However, this type of project isn’t limited to schools. You (yes you, really!) can enact change in your office, home, network, and beyond with a simple project. Why not meet with a group of neighbors for a social justice conversation and use the $12 for snacks? Or buy a yoga mat for a stressed-out friend? Maybe your office buddies need some encouragement—an elf-on-the-door-style project could be a perfect start!
Have a great project? Send photos and a description of your completed Twelve Dollar Project to the Green & Healthy Schools Academy at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will reimburse the first five projects that send their photos and descriptions!