Earth Month:What Can We Do to Be More Sustainable
Earth Month:What Can We Do to Be More Sustainable

Sustainability is a core value of UWC. In UWC Changshu China, sustainability is one of the focal points of our co-curricular education programme. In this issue, we interviewed Emma Raaflaub, an Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS) teacher and a passionate advocate for environmental protection. She is involved in various projects focusing on environmental sustainability. This April, the Earth Month, is dedicated to environmental protection. Emma led the community to carry out a variety of environmentally focused activities aimed at improving the community’s environmental awareness.  

Content

Changing Mentality is the Key to Making a Change

Emma grew up on a nature reserve in Algonquin, northern Ontario, Canada. Thanks to her background, she always cherishes the beauty of nature and devotes her time and efforts to promote environmental protection and sustainable development.

 

When she came to UWC Changshu China as a teacher two years ago, Emma was not only attracted to the beautiful scenery of Kuncheng Lake, but also to the mission of UWC which aims to educate for peace and a sustainable future. Gradually, she found that while our campus is surrounded by the lake and greenery, it is not always a haven, because it is sunk in smog from time to time. She realized that protecting the environment still has a long way to go and it is important to raise awareness about the seriousness of the issue. Emma is passionate about taking part in projects for promoting sustainability.  Her focus is on raising awareness and engagement, because she understands that her own strength is limited. Unless she gets more people to care about their surroundings and involve themselves in practices, it will be impossible to address the many environmental challenges ahead. 

 

“You can’t make changes all at once. By forcing people to do something, you can never have that big step forward – if you change the mindset and people realize it’s actually not that hard to be conscious of the environment, then they will be more likely to join your mission and the community effort to make the world a better place." She emphasizes on the fact, that the act of one may be considered meaningless, but the acts of many will make the sustainable lifestyle impactful for the planet.

Everybody Can Make a Difference

In UWC Changshu China, student activities often become a way of making a difference in the local community, even when they sometimes occur spontaneously.

 

Plogging

Emma gives an example from a hiking trip she took part in, where the students together with their supervisors ended up taking all the trash they found on the ground down the mountain into plastic bags tied on their backpacks. In the end, each of them carried a couple kilos of  trash.  A similar thing happened during the first semester’s “Yushan Challenge,” when students of each block went camping for one night. When A block went first, they collected a bit of trash, B block collected a bit more, and  C block, trying to beat B block, everyone had trash hanging on their bags. “I think in a lot of ways we take for granted the little things we do as a community which can be very meaningful,” says Emma.

Veggie Week

 

Sustainability projects on campus are in all shapes and forms – some focus on eliminating plastic, some on decreasing meat consumption, while others on making our campus a greener place. A recent project of the Environmentalist Group was Veggie Week – students had the option to opt-in and eat all vegetarian food for a week. They were provided with a different meal in the canteen which would contain all the necessary nutrition. The Veggie week started off with 200 people who opted-in, by the end, the number grew to 350. Even though our community is still divided on whether people should have meat, those numbers were quite impressive. Emma shared that a student came to her and said “I never thought I could do it, but in the end I didn’t even realize I was missing meat.”

  • Veggie Week

Bhumi & Gardening

Another very successful Zhi Xing with an environmental focus is Bhumi. Bhumi started off as composting Zhi Xing and is now operating to help get fertile soil for the school garden. In order to compost, Bhumi put buckets to collect food waste all over campus. Composting involves the decomposition of organic matter so as to create a natural fertilizer. Bhumi is partnering with Gardening Zhi Xing to support the organic farming in the garden on campus. Another focus of Bhumi, which started from this year, is a collaboration project with a local NGO so that we can use more recycled paper in our School. Bhumi is also working on making eco enzymes from orange peels, which can then be used for making soap.

The gardening Zhi Xing is now also leading a house-based project on campus, in order to extend the greenness on campus not only in the open public areas, but also in the dorm common rooms, where students will create their own gardens and take responsibility to care for the plants and pot flowers themselves. Emma also has a dream to turn the rooftops of faculty residences into gardens. 

 

Reducing the Use of Plastic

The Environmentalists Group, led by Emma, started off as a group of people with similar mindsets, who wanted to work together to make small changes in the school. Last year, this group communicated with canteen managers to decrease the amount of plastic used each morning, by asking to serve yoghurt without small plastic yoghurt containers. This year they are expanding this project by working on eliminating plastic containers on campus. This project still has a long way to go, but the students are passionate about it and will work hard until they push it through.

Earth Month

April 22nd is the Earth Day. In UWC Changshu China, the whole April is dedicated to activities focusing on the Earth and environmental sustainability. Throughout the whole month, almost every day there is an activity, workshop, or event on campus which is designed to enhance the awareness of the importance of people having to act to save our environment from plastic, fossil fuels, and depleting freshwater. 

  • Earth Month calendar

Water March

Water March is an event happening for the second time in UWC Changshu China, during which students and faculty walk around Kuncheng Lake carrying the largest amount of water they can carry. While walking, they reflect on the struggles some communities in the world face with water scarcity and remind people that we shouldn't waste water.

Debates on Vegetarianism

A series of debates took place in order to provide a forum for discussing the arguments pro and against vegetarianism. The first debate was regarding whether pigs should be granted rights not to be turned into food. The two sides engaged in meaningful philosophical debate about whether pigs can be granted personhood or not. The second debate  was an open debate on vegetarianism between Emma and Max (philosophy teacher).  To make the debates accesible and meaningful, they conscriped the help of the students, and linked the topics to issues their students had studied in class. These debates not only raised awareness about the moral and sustainability issues surrounding meat consumption, but also helped the whole community learn how to disagree in a productive manner, especially when tackling such complex issues. 

  • Debate on Personhood of Pigs

Global Issues Forum

Two Chinese students Orlando Gu and Sam Ma hosted a GIF entitled “Air Quality Issues in China under a Global context.” They discussed with community members topics on what have been done to reduce air pollution in China, the obstacles we face in achieving  better air quality, lessons and experience China can learn from other countries to tackle pollution. There were also discussions on diseases caused by poor air quality and how that is a global concern. 

Swap Shop

Swap Shop takes place every couple of months. The swap shop is run by the moto “Bring what you can, take what you need,” so nobody takes advantage of the free stuff brought by the members of the community. The swap shop encourages everyone to recycle what they don’t need and to always be mindful not to stack on too much items they don’t use.

 

Sustainable living is not just about being 

environmentally sustainable

Emma believes that social projects in UWC Changshu China are just as important as environmental projects, when talking about sustainability. Sustainable living is not about being only environmentally sustainable, it is all about finding the balance in life. For example, GenEq, which held a series of events around 8th of March, the international women’s day, is also emphasizing sustainability: equality, balance, and peace are contributing to the environment from a social perspective. Within our school, the social projects teach those same ideas. In Gardening Zhi Xing, the focus is getting a garden starting from scratch, which is an enormous responsibility for those taking part. In the same way, ULAB Zhi Xing has an emphasis on teaching exploration within science, with the huge responsibility of teaching young students to be independent when making experiments. The Food Committee in school is comprised of students passionate about making sure that our health and nutrition are balanced. As Emma points out: "There is no ownership to the community changes we are striving to make – it does require a community effort. Within every single project it’s amazing to see how many people come together."

 

Emma emphasizes that: "As sustainable living is part of the UWC mission, here in UWC Changshu China we want to make sure that each year, the community is moving forward. Students and teachers cooperate and work together to create projects for raising awareness on sustainability and projects for directly tackling sustainability issues on campus. This way we grow and we get better as a community."

 


Interview and edit:Polly Genova