Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.
Sustainability is the current catch cry in early childhood education across Australia. This is due in large part to our National Quality Standards. You see it thrown about here and there across blogs, websites, training organizations, self-proclaimed consultants, resource retailers and good old Facebook groups and pages galore. Sustainability is not just about pretty shells and shiny stones. It’s not about ordering products that claim to be eco-this or sustainable-that. It takes work and effort and reflection to be authentically sustainably minded. It’s not as simple as making a few purchases or putting in a worm farm or growing a carrot.
So let’s look at a set of tree blocks stamped as eco friendly and sustainable from Germany. These lovely blocks are made from repurposed pruned branches from some fancy species of tree found in an orchard. Well for those blocks to come to us in Australia they have to travel a great distance and pass through many hands. They started in the orchard at the farm found in the peaceful countryside. Then they were processed most likely using electrically powered equipment. Then they were transported and attractively packaged at a warehouse. They sit at the warehouse which may or may not have artificial lighting which may or may not come from sustainable sources. The order comes in via the internet which powered by more electricity where they are then processed in the office.
The order is then placed in a box made from cardboard which is then transported to the post office where it’s stamped for its trip to Australia. Actually, go back to the box, is it recycled or made from sustainably certified wood pulp? And what about the power and water used to create the box? Where in fact was the box made? Did it come from China perhaps? Anyway, let’s go back to the blocks in the box – they go through the German postal system by vehicle to the airport, and are flown to say Brisbane. They go through the Australian postal system to your service’s doorstep in Camp Hill. Wouldn’t it be more sustainable to just buy some local tree blocks? Or even make them ourselves? Or simply use off cuts of wood from a local builder or member of the community or the hardware store?
Tree blocks are lovely. I like them. And yes they are more sustainable than plastic blocks that’s for sure. But when you really consider their origin and journey, not just the final destination, that’s when you get a true picture of sustainability. If we want to be sustainable, and have it embedded into our practice and service delivery we’re going to have to do better than buying German tree blocks. [Again, I think they’re lovely – I’m not anti-tree block, German or otherwise! I’m not a blockist!]
We should be teaching children a healthy respect for life – all life: other people, young, old, and inbetween, of all abilities, natural environments both close to home and far away, wild animals, companion animals, insects* – even the little creatures that once lived in the seashells that we artistically place on the play-dough table. Where do the shells come from? What are we teaching children? On one hand, we ‘intentionally teach’ them that shells are homes to sea creatures, and on the other we let them play with shells in a cavalier manner? How hypocritical is it that we have financially supported someone in the mass slaughter of sea life so that we can use the exoskeletons of little defenceless invertebrates for play? Even worse for craft which is often just discarded?
What about the rocks or pebbles from the affordable hardware chain? Where did they come from? What environment were they harvested from and was it sustainable? What about those river rocks in the garden? I could go on and on.
I challenge you to go deeper. People are living in fear of not being sustainable enough and there are companies and consultants and template peddlers all taking advantage of this. It’s going to take a great deal more than cartoon posters, or pretty pictures, some shells and a worm farm. What’s that old saying? Think global, act local? Well, do that. We need to stop being superficial in our quest for “embedded” sustainable practices.
Consult with children and families and make wiser choices as a community, but don’t slap some plants on your tables and call yourself life-respecting and sustainable.
Look at your practices. Really look, and act with thought and integrity. Don’t buy into the stamp of ‘sustainability’ … because you might just be buying some seriously expensive bits of branch and adding a whole bunch of carbon to your footprint.
* I need to confess that I struggle with respecting cockroaches. Especially those little brown shifty ones or those big ones that fly at you … And mosquitoes.
© Jeanne de Clisson aka The Lioness of Brittany
Anarchy and the EYLF Pirates