As the global crisis around consumption and waste continues to escalate, so too does the imperative for education. To that end, the Waste Wise Schools program has a longstanding history in Australia and has never been more vital.
Southern Cross University's Professor Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles has been there from the start, working to provide awareness, research, and strategies to ensure the students of today can be the environmental leaders of tomorrow.
"Waste Wise Schools is an action-based program that encourages schools to move toward zero waste through their curriculum and operating practices," said Professor Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, who also cites initiatives such as Sustainability in Schools and Eco-Schools.
"Programs like these are integral to ensuring the next generation can and will do better than those who have gone before. Waste Wise Schools demonstrates how important it is for educators to collaborate with researchers/scientists to translate their research and solutions around waste management for community and individual change."
Established in 1997, Waste Wise Schools has been implemented in hundreds of Australian schools. It has experienced tangible success in reducing schools’ waste through its approach of reduce, reuse, and recycle. Benefits include:
- reduced waste, litter and associated costs;
- free access to resources and ongoing specialist advice;
- enhancement of reputation and improved public perception;
- recognition and reward for achievements, and;
- improved compliance with environmental responsibilities and a sustainable future.
How better to enable a better, wiser future than to arm the next generation with the knowledge and resources to sustain it? And who better to provide guidance than someone whose work as an environmental educator is internationally recognised?
Professor Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles was just 37 when she became the youngest woman in Australia to be made a full professor. She is currently Executive Dean of the Faculty of Education at Southern Cross University.
Environmental respect and resolve began during her childhood in the Queensland Central Highlands township of Tieri. In a place purpose-built for mining, the young Amy revelled in places untouched by the pragmatism of industry.
“I had wild bushland all around me and I pretty much ran wild in it,” she recalled. “I would find myself kilometres from home and just loved the freedom and independence of it. I loved that feeling of exploration and discovery.”
Her appreciation was enhanced during a high school education exchange to the Northern Territory that allowed her to observe and absorb the knowledge, wisdom, and philosophy of Indigenous Australians in, and; relation to the environment. It was a major moment.
Today her work is wide-ranging and reputed, bringing honours including an OLT Teaching Excellence Award, Citation, and the Australian Association for Environmental Education Fellowship (Life Achievement Award). She is also a past Editor in Chief of the Australian Journal of Environmental Education (Cambridge University Press).
Most importantly, her work is future-driven, with the best-known example being Climate Change + Me (CC+ME), an award-winning international research program launched in 2013 and which empowers children and young people to engage in climate change research and action.
“We now have a generation of young people that has grown up in the era of climate change as a prevailing issue,” said Professor Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles. “They can and are setting the tone of the debate, policy, and practice that follows. And it will be informed by their lived experience.
“If we continue to believe ourselves superior to everything else, then crises like climate change, global waste, and species loss will only worsen.
“Young people understand that. They have grown up with the evidence. And through programs like CC+ME, Waste Wise Schools and other initiatives, they will continue to lead the agenda for change.”
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