The American School of Dubai’s Leadership in Sustainability
June 16, 2020, 10:34 am
By Laurence Myers, K-12 Service Learning Coordinator, American School of Dubai
On February 2, 2019 the Gulf News ran an article named Why this school was awarded a coveted $ 100,000 prize highlighting the American School of Dubai’s being awarded the Zayed Sustainability Prize (ZSP). To the UAE community this was, perhaps, the first time that the American School of Dubai (ASD) was associated with the term “sustainability” but the process toward ASD’s true sustainable culture began much earlier than that.
For many, sustainability is synonymous with facilities, operations and data. Certainly, this is a big factor in moving in a direction of sustainable development. But as the Sustainable Development Goals suggest, the true path to sustainability does not begin, nor end, with a new set of solar panels or a set of flashy recycling bins that might generate extra points in LEED award rubric. Alone, structural adjustments do not get to the heart of the need for systemic change in our decision making as a world community. Thus, sustainability needs to be both facilities and operations driven (after all, we can talk sustainability to death and never actually make quantitative impact) and mindset driven.
Thankfully schools sit at exactly the intersection of both those needs. As a school, ASD, well positioned as a not-for-profit educational institution, decided a while back that it was not appropriate to teach children to do good while doing “what’s always been done’. Our “why” had to be redefined, and so we created a new student-generated sustainability statement to guide our way forward. The statement, both lofty and practical, both future-oriented and grounded in the present, states “The American School of Dubai encourages sustainable habits and innovative change by spreading awareness and taking informed action to improve the present and future of our community.”
With the support of students in all divisions, administration, teachers, parents and our vendors we embarked on ensuring that ASD was no longer a school that only taught things, but one which ‘walked the talk’ by being the example – to the students and the community – of the world we want to co-construct. Around our “why”, we have created an educational program called Changemaker Education that focuses on sustainability (especially through Edible Education – gardening, pollinating, cooking, composting), global citizenship skills and dispositions required to make change (with the guidance of the JUMP! Foundation), and service learning, the process of learning through planning and making a positive change in one’s community.
Our journey included the creation of a Sustainability Committee, composed of the Associate Superintendent, the Director of Facilities, the Director of Finance and the Service Learning Coordinator, various sustainability-related student organizations as well as external memberships in organizations such as Eco-Schools UAE, Emirates Environmental Group and Green Schools Alliance. The combined forces of this multifaceted collaboration have put ASD “on the map” as a school focusing on sustainability and have also allowed us to establish goals to eliminate food waste to landfill, reduce by 50% the energy our campus gets from the grid and a community with over 75% engagement personally in one or more of the SDGs within the next seven years (or less).
A big step toward that goal has been the winning of both the ZSP and the Expo 2020 Sustainable Champions Awards. The ZSP has been integral in the setup of the UAE’s first School Bee Garden as well as the purchase and placement of an industrial composter that we expect will help us eliminate all food and landscape waste from the landfill and, instead, turn it into compost to be used around our campus on an on-going basis. We hope also to extend the composting opportunity to restaurants in the neighbourhood who might like to support the initiative. The Expo 2020 award has provided us with a 72kW solar array which, at current rates, accounts for an estimated 4% of our energy use on campus.
In support of UAE Vision 2021 ASD is moving boldly forward as an example of sustainability regionally and globally. We feel that a sustainable world is not only the appropriate vision for a school to have, but one which can quite literally shape the decisions of future civic and business leaders, our very students. In short, by providing a vision to our students we are helping to co-create the future now. Our students are internalizing the dynamic and multifaceted nature of sustainability, innovating, and applying service learning and changemaker education right now.
If the world is to steadily match toward that sustainable future we all talk about, it’s imperative that we start now, in our classrooms, on our roofs, in our waste collection sites, in our kitchens and in our gardens. It’s not enough to study something, but being able to look at things from different perspectives, to make the necessary connections characteristic of systems thinking, to think about “what ifs’, to innovate and make change. Sustainability is alive and well at ASD not because we’re setting up solar arrays or because we’ve added a unit about it in science class, but because we are analysing our behaviours, experimenting with new ideas, making change and, step by step, becoming the example we’ve been waiting for.