Why is sustainable innovation in education important? When you think about the global problems that the world is facing now and how those problems will be compounded in the future, it is easy to see that we need people who think outside the box. Teaching students how to solve real-world problems and apply what they are learning to create new sustainable technologies builds responsible citizen leaders ready to attack these problems. Teaching higher-level thinking skills is important for all students, whether they are at a college prep boarding school or just beginning their education in pre-school.
When you hear words like sustainable innovation, you often think of college-level courses in design or engineering. However, this kind of teaching really begins in elementary school. There is a push around the country to embrace these ideas and begin teaching students to think like this at a very early age. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education can be implemented from pre-school on up into college prep boarding schools. Teaching students to solve real-world problems in innovative ways is just one of the ways education is embracing sustainable innovation.
Wasatch Academy provides a 21st-century learning environment where students simultaneously gain knowledge and the capacity to critically and creatively apply the knowledge to problem-solving. This is accomplished through project-based learning applied across disciplines. The collaborative curriculum moves away from an emphasis on teachers lecturing in a 16-student classroom, to students undertaking projects and teachers facilitating learning through doing. Life-long skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity are learned in the process.
One of the major project-based learning opportunities at Wasatch Academy is the NetZero challenge. In 1994, the Wasatch Academy community took a positive stance to consistently look for ways to become more sustainable and invest in the environment that surrounds the campus. It is believed that “…as we work toward a sustainable future at Wasatch Academy that, by example, it will influence others to do the same.” This has resulted in the NetZero initiative to reduce energy use and the school’s carbon footprint, create biodiversity in the campus landscape, conserve water, and reduce waste.
Working toward Net Zero has been, and will continue to be, an enormous learning opportunity for the entire Wasatch community. It encourages project-based learning on a campus-wide scale and provides many opportunities to use the campus as a laboratory for critical thinking and problem solving, qualities that are foundations for learning at Wasatch Academy. In 2017, the school established a new position of Director of Sustainability and Experiential Learning to oversee student and faculty-driven sustainability initiatives, and to make information about the Net Zero Initiative and other sustainability projects on campus available to students, faculty, and staff. The director provides leadership by building a bridge between the technology and engineering aspects of net zero, with the goals of sustainability education.
Wasatch Academy students are passionate about the environment and have great concern for the future of the planet. They come from thirty-eight countries and nearly all 50 states; many return home to make a difference. Exposing them to how Wasatch Academy is working to achieve Net Zero and a sustainable future provides a point of reference for them to influence environmental quality in their time and place.
The latest cutting edge in business is sustainability-driven innovation. Although there is no precise definition for the term “sustainable innovation,” it basically embodies the idea that businesses are responsible to create new products and services that are driven by social, environmental, and sustainability issues that are present in today’s world. Many schools and education professionals are looking for ways to embrace this idea in their teaching, whether at the elementary school level or at college prep boarding schools across the country. As this idea changes the way teachers are teaching, the hope is that students are more prepared to solve the real-world issues that are facing them.