The Green Academy Project proved to me yet again that if we as academics participate in co-designed projects with social enterprises and NGOs, we can create real community value as well as scientific papers! This project is also a milestone for SITE4Society for it is serving to train students from Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics, making them grow and providing them with splendid material for their Bachelor dissertations. Engaged education, i.e. SDG4, is required to nudge responsible behaviour for SDG11 (Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable) and SDG12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns). So, from Bachelor to Doctoral levels and beyond, I recommend action-research as a satisfying methodology.
— Prof. Shyama V. Ramani
Today, 22 April 2020, International Mother Earth Day, we at UNU-MERIT and SITE4Society would like to remind you of the countless signals that our Earth has been sending us – so many urgent calls to action, calls we are now answering in partnership with the UN Development Programme via the Green Academy Project in Ghana.
What kind of calls do we mean? Record-breaking floods, heatwaves and forest fires from the Australian coast to the Amazon basin; massive swarms of locusts across East Africa and South Asia; and now the COVID-19 pandemic – crossing all borders, showing how strongly interconnected we actually are. This global health crisis is now a systemic shock that has changed the world. But from our side, what are the common themes and threads? Put simply, these are our actions, behaviour and daily choices: How we manage our natural resources, the way we manufacture our products, what we choose to consume (and how often), and how we decide to dispose of our waste. In short, the way we choose to live has far-reaching implications!
Finding a vaccine for the coronavirus, building better flood defences, or upgrading our satellite systems to map heatwaves – they may help us tackle the symptoms, but they can do little about the root causes of these crises. Putting all our hopes in yet more new technologies won’t save the planet, as various scientists advocate. The safest and surest approach is to act in ways that are economically, socially and environmentally accountable. This means taking an attitude to development and the environment that considers the needs of both current and future generations. Clearly, wealth and prosperity are relative and fragile notions, heavily dependent on the ‘functionality’ of our planet — and the damage we cause it.
How are we working towards this goal?
Earth Day also serves as the perfect opportunity to celebrate our efforts for a more sustainable future! The Green Academy Project, recently launched in Ghana thanks to our partnership with the Friend in Need Trust and local NGO Environment360, represents a spark of hope and inspiration. This project aims to bring a ‘Green’ change to disadvantaged or low-income areas, through improved education.
Children are the change-makers of the future and schools are mainly where their capabilities, visions and values are built. We, therefore, start this transformation by engaging closely with teachers and education officers and empowering them to take charge of environmental education in their schools. By creating a teacher-training system, among various other initiatives, all teachers trained by the academy share their knowledge with their peers, thus making the project sustainable and scalable.
Behavioural change cannot, however, be forced. Through an interactive learning process, this project helps students to build the knowledge and skills required to address environmental issues and challenges they face in their schools, households, and broader communities. By co-creating textbooks and other educational materials, organising games, outreach activities and team-building events, we support a change in students’ perceptions and behaviour about Water, Waste, Sanitation and Hygiene behaviour (also known as WASH+). This, in turn, creates tangible and social value while making the school environment much cleaner and greener.
The Green Academy Project is an innovative training programme that can change the way people in developing countries perceive environmental education. It also demonstrates that scientific approaches can be integrated into local interventions to facilitate a shift away from unsustainable and harmful behaviours – generating knowledge for the scientific community and a transformative change for the targeted beneficiaries. The project is supported by UNDP Ghana, as part of their Waste Recovery Initiative.