Written by: Julie Linn Teigland
The world is grappling with the pressing issue of climate change and our younger generations will bear the brunt of its consequences.
The first step towards meaningful change in anything – including sustainability – is education and a collective effort is required from corporations, governments, NGOs and educators alike.
Today’s younger generations undoubtedly hold the key to a more sustainable future, but channelling their enthusiasm into lasting change poses a significant global challenge for us all.
The global EY organization, in collaboration with JA Worldwide, recently published a report to find out ‘How can we empower the next generations to build a more sustainable future?‘. One of the report’s main findings is that the responsibility for delivering effective sustainability education lies not solely with educational institutions but with a collaborative effort from a coalition of organizations working hand-in-hand with educators around the world.
How can business leaders and corporations play their part in delivering truly effective sustainability education, both inside and outside the classroom? Here are five strategies to consider.
1. Host expanded learning opportunities
Our report found that hands-on learning experiences were critical in delivering truly engaging and effective sustainability education. There are many opportunities for companies and NGOs to get involved and collaborate with educators here by sponsoring workshops and activities, for example, that better engage students.
The Sustainability and Environmental Education organization’s ‘Young Changemakers’ course is an excellent example of this approach in action. The course inspires young school-age people by offering creative events and workshops that involve local businesses, charities and community organizations to bring sustainability challenges to life.
2. Provide educators with the tools to share additional context
Our report found that while social media plays a significant role in educating younger generations about sustainability, they trust teachers and schools more for this education. More than a quarter of Gen Z and Gen Alpha list schools and teachers as the top sources from which they would like to receive more information about sustainability.
With this in mind, corporations and NGOs should collaborate with schools to equip them with the tools to provide vital context to the raft of social media information younger generations are exposed to.
To give a practical example, the EY Future Skills Workshops, collaborating with EY, Code.org and Microsoft, have been established to help educate young people on sustainability topics not commonly taught in schools, utilizing innovative approaches and new technology. Programmes like these help empower educators and bridge the gap between traditional learning and digital-age awareness, ensuring that students can critically evaluate and apply the information they encounter on social media.
3. Strengthen ties with groups in local communities
Governments are seen as those primarily responsible for building a more sustainable world, but the reality is that real change happens with all of us at an individual level.
Corporations can make an impact here by collaborating directly with local community groups. The global programme EY Ripples is an example of this, fostering corporate responsibility by empowering individuals to use their skills for positive change. Through the programme, nearly 500 projects have been completed to date, each dedicated to scaling small businesses that contribute to one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with the ultimate goal of positively impacting one billion lives in our communities by 2030.
Initiatives like these support individuals to create meaningful change within their communities, helping to make sure that sustainability is not just a global goal, but a local reality.
4. Provide information to help consumers make better decisions to reduce their carbon footprint
A recent IBM survey found that 41 percent of consumers would buy more sustainable products if they had a better understanding of how their purchase made an impact. And yet, according to Euromonitor, only 10 percent of global companies believe their sustainability communication to general consumers in 2023 is highly effective.
Truly proactive corporations are not only redesigning their products to make them more sustainable, but they are also engaging consumers through transparent communication. By demonstrating the environmental benefits of sustainable choices, companies can empower consumers worldwide to make informed decisions that reduce their carbon footprint.
The reality is that Gen Z expects the companies they join to have such programmes in place and companies should be prepared to get ahead of the curve if they want to attract the best talent.
5. Work with local and national governments to promote sustainability education and environmental action
Policymakers can improve sustainability education through better communication of existing sustainability programmes, the creation of new initiatives and by better aligning priorities and actions.
UNESCO’s Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) for 2030 programme does great work to this effect. It is also encouraging to see the EU include skills development as a key pillar of its Green Deal Industrial Plan, with proposals for Net-Zero Industry Academies that will help roll out up-skilling and re-skilling programmes in strategic industries. Programmes like these not only prepare the workforce for sustainable careers, they also reinforce the importance of sustainability in education and professional development.
To conclude, it is the shared responsibility of corporations, governments, NGOs, and educators to empower younger generations with the knowledge and tools necessary to build a sustainable future, ensuring that they inherit a planet capable of sustaining life as we know it.
By expanding learning opportunities, equipping educators, engaging with local communities, providing information for informed consumer choices and collaborating with governments, we can work together to pave the way for a brighter and more sustainable future for all.
Republished with permission from World Economic Forum