Providence University College considers how schools could better exemplify sustainability

What is the nature of the society we as Canadians – and Manitobans, more specifically – want for ourselves and for those who come after us? Narrowing that question: what are our values?
The things we teach children in their formative years provide a good indication, particularly when we look at the province’s high school social studies curriculum.
Between Grades 9 and 12, students are taught what we hold to be the vital tenets of our values-based society. And we must think so, or we wouldn’t be teaching it to them.
We explain the history of our democracy; we communicate the importance of diversity and pluralism; and we reinforce a person’s right to an identity in the world they’ll be entering upon graduation.
We also provide instruction in environmental matters through the Grade 12 Global Issues: Citizenship and Sustainability track.
Sustainability, then, must be one of those vital tenets as well.
But living sustainably and merely talking about doing so, even in a formal setting, are two different things.
What are we doing about the former? Is classroom instruction enough to prepare students for work in existing green industries, or those we hope they themselves go on to create? And what about the places where they learn? Could we be doing more to develop those spaces in a sustainable manner? Does a scenario exist where doing exactly that would also make a meaningful indent in Manitoba’s energy consumption?
These were the sorts of questions posed, and the line of thinking discussed, at the third annual Sustainable Energy Conference held May 27 at Providence University College and Theological Seminary in Otterburne.
As presenter Bruce Duggan, director of the Providence-based Buller Centre for Business pointed out, there are more than 29 million square-metres of space presently purposed for commercial and institutional means, including schools, in Manitoba.
And, he explained, we’ve not done much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in those buildings over the past 15 years.
“If there’s any issue we need to figure out as a society, it’s rising greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. Setting an example within schools would surely be a useful undertaking, both practically and inspirationally.
“Think of all the educational buildings in Manitoba – everything from the high school in St-Pierre Jolys to the University of Manitoba,” said Duggan. “How about we set targets for improvement – for heating and cooling – for the next 10 years?”
Adjusting demand, which can be done on a low scale by simply switching off lights and reducing the heating and cooling burden in unoccupied rooms, is a good start, however modest. But there are grander methods of achieving a better ratio of renewable to non-renewable energies as well.
Solar walls are one, especially when schools plan projects such as new classrooms or gymnasiums. Better windows and high-efficiency furnaces are others. Then there are the heating options that can augment, or even replace, fossil fuels, such as the biomass burner installed at Providence in 2011.
“At Providence, we’re somewhere around the 70 per cent renewables number,” said Duggan. “Ten years ago, we were somewhere around zero per cent.”
Meaningful, sustainable change can be made when paradigms are flipped on their heads – when sustainable options become normalized and are the de facto building strategies rather than the exception.
And, at a more personal level for many students, when paths are clear between high school training, aspiration, and the job market.
These are the challenges Gerald Farthing, deputy minister of Manitoba Education and Advanced Learning, believes will define our society going forward.
“If our job is preparing students for their future, then equipping them to deal with the future they’re going to live in is fundamental,” he said.
It’s a future, he added, that hinges on the natural environment’s ability to sustain the societies we create – societies with values, those vital tenets, that hopefully align with ecological realities.
“It’s our values that guide our decision-making,” said Farthing. “The school system has an obligation to engage in this conversation.”
Jerrad Peters is creative content specialist at Providence University College & Theological Seminary.

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