The Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI)

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The Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI) is a partnership of the Australian Government, all state and territory governments and the Catholic and Independent school sectors, that seeks to support schools and their communities to become sustainable. AuSSI provides practical support to schools and their communities to live and work more sustainably. It engages participants in a whole-of-school approach, to explore through real-life learning experiences, improvements in a school’s management of resources and facilities including energy, waste, water, biodiversity, landscape design, products and materials. It also addresses associated social and financial issues and integrates these activities with teaching and learning across the curriculum. By participating in a learning by doing process, students achieve a better understanding of the world in which they live, and have opportunities to help create a more sustainable future. The Initiative’s vision is for all Australian schools and their communities to be sustainable. Because of the holistic nature of this vision, a wide range of individuals and groups can play a valuable role in AuSSI’s success, including students, school leaders, principals, teachers, other school staff, parent groups, community members, businesses, local government and non-government organisations. AuSSI helps to build sustainability knowledge, skills and motivation by supporting training of school staff, whole school planning, development of teaching materials and use of tools for measuring and reporting on sustainability outcomes. Furthermore, AuSSI does not replace other environmental or sustainability education activities in schools; rather it links to and complements existing programs already being implemented within schools. Participating in AuSSI provides many benefits to schools, including:
  • the opportunity to fulfil curriculum requirements in key learning areas in new and engaging ways
  • reduced consumption of resources and improved management of school grounds and facilities
  • teachers and students working on real life problems with real outcomes
  • professional development opportunities for all school staff
  • the school becoming a model for sustainability within the local community
  • students being empowered to make positive change in their communities
  • students improving their understanding of the complexity of the world in which they live by developing their knowledge, critical thinking skills, values and capacity to participate in decision making about environmental, social and economic development issues.
AuSSI is coordinated by the Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. It is being implemented in each state and territory using a variety of different models and is currently operating in almost 3000 schools, in all states and territories. AuSSI involves an action learning cycle and a whole-school approach, both of which engage all members of the school community and ensure that sustainability is embedded in all aspects of the school’s operations and management. An AuSSI school typically engaged in an action learning cycle involves:
  • making a whole school commitment to become more sustainable
  • auditing and collecting baseline data on its use of resources, its management of facilities and grounds and its approaches to teaching and learning
  • developing an action plan, including targets (often called a School Environmental Management Plan)
  • actively implementing, monitoring and evaluating its plan
  • critically reflecting on progress and revising plans for the future.
Effective education for sustainability is not just a curriculum issue. It requires the involvement of the whole school and pervades all aspects of the school operations, curriculum, teaching and learning, physical surroundings and relationships with the local community. A whole school approach to education for sustainability emerges from the school vision and is articulated in all facets of school life in:
  • the way the school is organised and operates
  • building design (within the limitations of existing structures)
  • the development and management of school grounds
  • improved management of resources (water, energy, products and materials)
  • enhanced connections between the school, its community and other educational institutions
  • the conservation and protection of natural and heritage values in the school buildings and grounds
  • reorientation of the curriculum and teaching and learning methods towards sustainability.
AuSSI supports schools in their growth from awareness through to leadership in education for sustainability and sustainable living. It fosters school ownership and empowerment and focuses on student involvement, leadership and learning. The Australian Government provides support to AuSSI partners through national coordination facilitation and funding of networks. Support is provided to AuSSI schools by state and territory governments including:
  • best practice and quality curriculum support
  • the integration of sustainability activities and their outcomes into the curriculum
  • coordination and guidance in implementing AuSSI
  • audit tools to manage resources and track progress
  • ideas for projects and ways to involve the local community as well as encourage a shift in the broader community towards more sustainable practices and processes
  • networking and clustering opportunities for schools
  • professional development and mentoring opportunities for all school staff
  • strategies to develop an overall, long term plan for sustainability for the school
  • encouragement for effective community partnerships.
AuSSI is a broad framework incorporating a wide range of activities which help schools and their communities to become more sustainable. Individual schools may choose to focus on certain areas that are of most relevance and interest to their school community. Actions and projects in each of the areas below can be incorporated into a variety of curriculum areas including science, technology, geography, English, mathematics, history and the arts. Action areas which can be incorporated into AuSSI are: Energy, Waste, Water, Biodiversity, Climate change, Transport, Health and Wellbeing, Spirituality and Values, Indigenous knowledge, Teaching and Learning, Community, Sustainable purchasing. In 2010, the Australian Government evaluated the governance arrangements and the operational effectiveness of AuSSI. The Programme has made a significant impact on education for sustainability in schools over the six years it has been operating, with a modest investment from the Australian Government. There are common goals and a collaborative and cooperative approach to implementing the initiative, but with flexibility that suits the individual needs of different jurisdictions. AuSSI achievements include:
  • Almost 30% of Australian schools are now AuSSI schools, including public, catholic and independent schools (both primary and secondary).
  • AuSSI schools are achieving immediate and measurable improvements in their use of resources, grounds and facilities. Participating schools have reported reductions in waste collection of up to 80%, reductions in water consumption of up to 60%, and savings on energy consumption of 20% with commensurate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Schools are achieving broad social, wellbeing and educational benefits from increased school pride and interest in learning.
  • Families of AuSSI school students across Australia have been influenced by their children’s participation in AuSSI.
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