Eco-schools programme: seeding the future

The environmental education of our younger generation is the most rewarding investment and the eco-schools programme run by local environmental NGO Nature Trust, is one such fruitful investment.

In Malta, the eco-schools programme has been in existence for some 17 years. As a result, 76 Maltese schools are flying a Green Flag – a symbol of environmental awareness and commitment. This is an investment in our country’s future that will yield so much in the years to come.

Introducing this year’s ceremony, during which a number of schools were awarded a Green Flag for their environmental achievements, Nature Executive President Vincent Attard emphasised the fact that “The Eco-Schools programme is instrumental at providing students with tools to think about environmental issues and come to conclusions and solutions. This can be witnessed that, today, it is the younger generations that are questioning the actions of the country’s leaders and putting pressure on them. This awareness is growing each year and the sooner leaders take heed of these calls, the faster we will start mitigating not only environmentally but also socially and economically. Quoting the children themselves in the last EkoSkola parliament – We want to be heard not just liked.”

Eco-School is a global programme currently engaging 19.5 million young people across 67 countries. For nearly 25 years Eco-Schools have been empowering young people to improve their environmental awareness and, in so doing, receive the international Eco-Schools Green Flag award.

The Eco-School programme develops the skills of our younger generation, raises environmental awareness, improves the school environment and creates a whole host of other benefits not just for our educational institutions but, moreover, for our community at large.

The eco-school seven steps educational process targets a change of lifestyle and the guidelines available on implementing these seven steps is very informative.

The first basic step is to set up a participative democracy in our schools through which all stakeholders are actively involved, with the students taking a democratic lead. Assisted by educators, students interact with the different stakeholders and, in so doing, identify the environmental issues that need to be addressed in their own little world and beyond. They are then trained to think, discuss and ultimately arrive at conclusions and results.

Reading through the list of initiatives taken in our schools as a result of the Eco-School Programme is quite impressive. The programme has identified issues relating to water, waste, recycling, energy efficiency and climate change, heritage appreciation, and many more. The lessons learnt first-hand by our students are then taken from the school to their homes, their families and society in general.

Environmental education is about much more than a respect for nature. Nature is not something separate, isolated and compartmentalised during excursions: it also features in our way of life.

As a result of the environmental education which the eco-schools programme provides for our students, our younger generation is being equipped with the knowledge and awareness that environmental damage can be reversed. They are learning that they can be active agents of the change we so desperately require in halting – and eventually reversing – the accumulated environmental damage.

These are indeed the seeds of a bright future.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3rd November 2019

Towards a zero waste target

 

The linear model of our economy follows a take-make-use-waste path as a result of which we extract resources from the earth which we use and subsequently throw away. In contrast to this cradle-to-grave trajectory, the circular economy seeks cyclical sustainability.

In a circular economy, the management of waste is paramount.  It seeks to retain the resources used in our products in the economic loop as it is considered that they can be re-used to form other products. William McDonough and Michael Braungart describe this as a cradle-to-cradle process in their seminal book Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the way we make things. This is in contrast to the throw-away society which follows a cradle-to-grave path.

This is not only makes environmental sense, it also makes economic sense. Malta’s Waste Management Plan for the period 2014-2020 tentatively points in this direction by establishing a zero waste target that is to be achieved by 2050. Thirty-three years may seem to be too far away but, in reality, it may be just enough to change our mindset. A lot of hard work is involved but, at the end of the day, it will also be rewarding.

It involves the application of what is known as the waste hierarchy to different waste streams. Waste minimisation or prevention is always the preferred option. Ideally we should aim to prevent the generation of waste and in a number of cases this can easily be done. For example, we can prevent the generation of a substantial portion of organic waste by giving more thought to the food intake in our homes. We can also reduce the amount of food packaging by opting for more fresh food which is generally local.

Obviously, most of us have very little time to think about the consequences of our large number of small decisions which end up generating a lot of waste. Convenience generally wins the day, as we often opt for packaged and processed food. As a result, we not only generate avoidable waste but also end up eating less healthy food.

A pilot project related to organic waste is currently under way in 8 localities in Malta and Gozo. It has been going on for some time and although information as to the manner in which the localities involved have reacted is not publicly available, it is known through the grapevine that this has been varied but is improving.

Collecting the organic waste part of domestic waste, if carried out successfully, may well reduce the amount going to landfill by around 50 percent. There is also an added benefit: when the organic part of our waste is processed in a waste recycling plant, the resulting gases are used to produce electricity instead of adding to greenhouse gas emissions. This is surely a win-win situation.

Reducing 50 percent of our waste through the responsible management of just one part of it is very good policy. However, this requires much more investment in environmental education in our localities. Wasteserve, being ultimately responsible for waste management in the Maltese Islands, has taken a lot of initiatives in this respect, but much more needs to be done.  It is never enough.

Waste is a collection of discarded resources and realising the value that we throw away is, in reality, what the circular economy is all about – hence the target of a zero waste society.

published in The Independent on Sunday : 29 January 2017

Il-Bandiera l-Ħadra : investiment fil-futur ta’ pajjiżna

Green Flag

Kien ta’ sodisfazzjoni kbir il-bieraħ nisimgħu l-aħbar li iktar skejjel kisbu l-Bandiera l-Ħadra, rikonoxximent tal-għarfien ambjentali tat-tfal u ż-żgħażagħ tagħna fl-iskejjel Maltin.

S’issa hemm 36 skola li kisbu l-Bandiera l-Ħadra u hemm bosta oħrajn li qegħdin fit-triq. Dan kollu bis-saħħa tal-proġett eko-skola.

Dan hu ċertifikat kbir għall-iskejjel tagħna kif ukoll għall-għaqda ambjentali Nature Trust Malta. Imma iktar minn hekk hu investment fil-futur. Għax l-għarfien ambjentali li kisbu dawn it-tfal u ż-żgħażagħ diġa qed ixerrduh: illum fil-familji tagħhom, għada fis-soċjeta. Huwa investiment fiċ-ċittadini ta’ għada li bla dubju ser ikunu f’posizzjoni tajba biex jikkoreġu l-iżbalji tal-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ qabilhom.

Prosit għal dan is-sodisfazzjoni kbir u għat-tama kbira għal Malta ta’ għada li tkun waħda aħjar minn dik tal-lum.

BOV’s CSR : The next step

This was originally published on the 5 January 2008 as an article in The Times

BOV’s CSR: The next step

 

Bank of Valletta is to be congratulated on the recent publication of its second Corporate Social Responsibility Report covering 2007.

In its mission statement BOV defines its commitment as being that of playing a leading and effective role in the country’s sustainable development “whilst tangibly proving ourselves to be responsible and caring citizens in the community in which we operate”. The objective of the CSR report is hence that of informing the community as to the manner in which the bank is acting as a responsible citizen. The bank’s CEO makes this even more clear in his statement on page four of the report. In fact, he rightly underlines that while the bank is responsible towards its shareholders it is also accountable towards society.

This is the crux of CSR: the accountability of business towards all stakeholders, the community at large. Profits generated on their own are not a measure of success, as the business of business is not just business!

The bank has ploughed back into the community 1.31 per cent of its profits (Lm350,000 or €815,500) through engagement in seven pillars of activity, namely the arts and culture, heritage, environment, sports, social, education and business sectors.

In particular, BOV has assisted Heritage Malta in preserving the Tarxien Temples. It has furthermore supported the restoration programme at Palazzo Falson, Mdina.

Reading through the BOV 2007 CSR report one encounters many a positive note as to the manner in which the bank is being eco-efficient. First on the list is its Santa Venera centre which, through both design and operation, is energy-efficient. Its Marsascala branch has, during 2007, been equipped with photo-voltaic panels, thereby contributing to an annual reduction of three tonnes of CO2 emissions as a minimum. The other branches await their turn.

BOV recycles its paper and has taken the first steps which will eventually lead to a paperless administration. Furthermore, it makes use of recycled toners and cartridges, not only contributing to less waste going to landfill but also paying less eco-taxes as a result. Reducing environmental impacts has a positive financial impact too!

The BOV report does not mention the environmental impacts generated by the use of transport (by both the bank and its employees). Nor is any reference made to the use of water in its branches, including the collection and utilisation of rainwater.

BOV has also sponsored a number of environmental initiatives aimed at the environmental education of the community.

While BOV is setting a good example which should filter through the business community, this should be seen as only a first step. In addition to improving the management of its direct environmental impacts, thereby reducing them, BOV can move forward, in the process retaining its leading role in banking CSR in Malta.

BOV should, on the basis of this eco-efficient experience, move on to new initiatives that address the eco-effectiveness of the banking system. In addressing its corporate responsibilities, BOV as any exemplary citizen would undoubtedly ask whether its services are being misused. In particular, whether any of its customers have used its services to contribute towards the ever-increasing national environmental deficit.

It would be interesting if in a future report we could read about environmental criteria applied in the consideration of requests for business loans, including those utilised to finance the construction industry. Additional interesting information would be whether BOV has refused its services to any client on the basis of environmental criteria.

The financial balance sheet on its own does not measure progress. It is only concerned with profits. The environmental and social balance sheets need to be addressed too, thereby having a “triple bottom line” approach to measuring progress.

Through its 2007 CSR report, BOV has proven that it is serious about managing its direct impacts. It now needs to move further by managing its upstream and downstream impacts. Managing its upstream impacts signifies addressing the environmental impacts generated by its suppliers – hence the introduction and maintaining of a green procurement service. Managing its downstream impacts would address the environmental impacts of those using its services. When this is done successfully BOV would be eco-effective, as a result contributing to a reduction of Malta’s environmental deficit.

BOV has taken the lead. I hope others will follow because profits and principles can co-exist.