Having recovered from putting in my eleven hours at GIBU on Thursday (yes, 8AM – 7PM thank you), I wanted to offer some reflections on what came out of it.
For those not in the know, the GIBU is an amazing workshop that travels to multiple cities throughout the US which allows participants to discuss sustainability issues that are relevant to them and work collaboratively towards their solutions. This was year two for GIBU, and for me (which qualified me as a wily veteran, I suppose). I frankly favored the format this year over last years – primarily because we were given the expectation of a final product at the end of the day which helped drive fruitful, goal-oriented discussions.
(what’s an unconference?)
As a brainchild of the Ashoka Foundation and EDF, the focus of the workshops is on innovative solutions to real challenges. I spent my day facilitating a discussion on Sustainable Education (which should come as no surprise, really). What was particularly interesting is that it evolved from a high-level focus on training at all educational levels (from kindergarten to professional) into a project designed to radically reinvent public education at the K-12 level. The idea that came out was a “School without Boundaries” – a learning lab that would teach environmental science, Green practices, local farming, energy system maintenance in addition to the core curriculum of math, English and the like, but that required no school building.
Essentially a potentially mobile learning environment, localized within a community, that would inculcate the skills necessary for the students to effectively participate in a resource, energy and ecologically constrained 21st century. With a heavy emphasis on learning through service, students would help improve their own communities ecologically and economically. Furthermore, it would also equip the students with the necessary skills to actively compete in a global Green economy – which is particularly crucial when we realize that over 60% of all American students never receive a college degree. All in all, such a school is a hands-on, collaborative engine for the rapid dissemination of sustainably-oriented learning into society that would also make the communities in which it was embedded more sustainable.
I’d say that qualifies as an innovative solution to a real challenge.
The question that struck me was how to take such a model and apply it to a professional environment. Yes – it would be easy to dismiss such a notion as impossible, until you realize that in order for businesses to stay competitively sustainable in the 21st they must have methods to on-board near-continuous improvements in their ecological impact.
The business of staying-in-business is already highly dependent upon skill improvement and professional development – and the demands to adapt are quickening even for “traditional” skill sets. Add the critical need for sustainable or Green skills and knowledge, and business of staying-in-business will require a significant on-going commitment towards sustainability education; whether it’s bringing training in from outside the organization, or from the company-wide implementation of ideas developed internally. Human enterprise must make strong investments in its own survival in order to last during the difficult times of the 21st century. And in an Age of Information, levels of knowledge enterprise-wide will differentiate the fit from the also-rans.