Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates

Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.

Sustainable? At what cost?



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


8 comments on “Sustainable? At what cost?

  1. melissa
    October 30, 2013

    love it! we all need to think more deeply about our ‘sustainable’ practices and sourcing things locally to reduce that footprint. it all takes time and effort but its amazing what you can find, get donated, buy from opshops etc that all contribute to a more sustainable way of doing things

  2. Linda
    October 30, 2013

    This whole sustainability push has concerned me too. Educators talk disparagingly of all things plastic, calling it “plastic fantastic” – simply throwing it out is not a sustainable practice – how about using it until it is broken beyond repair/safe use? Or if you really don’t want to use it any longer in your environment, give it away. Also consider that there are some things that are not practical when made from timber (even if this is because they are cost-prohibitive) – eg. the dump trucks and diggers in my digging patch.

    Choosing toys and equipment for children involves more than simply purchasing the timber option; timber or plastic what matters the most is the value it has for children – is it a single purpose object? or does it offer open-ended learning opportunities for children?

    I agree with your concerns about the use of shells in the child care environment. Many years ago I attended a school excursion with my own child to a nearby beach location. The ranger leading the excursion explained that even when a shell has been abandoned by its original inhabitant we should not remove them from the seashore as they are used by other creatures as shelter on the beach. There is a whole ecosystem relying on the shells, much the same as in a rainforest the fallen leaves become the mulch on the ground to keep the trees and plants moist during dry seasons.
    When I discussed this recently with a group of Educators I was advised that the ones you can buy from the large hardware stores cheaply are only plastic so that wasn’t a concern. Huh???

  3. Tina Mac
    October 31, 2013

    myself? i struggle with bugs…but especially spiders. Especially indoor spiders. Especially indoor spiders in my classroom. uggggggggg! Sometimes there’s no graceful way to pick up the scrurrying thing and move it ever so gently outside to hopefully crawl up a water spout! so you’re not alone in finding it hard to respect bugs!

  4. T. Caine
    October 31, 2013

    Great post. I come across this all the time and so much of it revolves around a misunderstanding of what that buzz word “sustainability” actually means. It’s not the green labels, the cool gadgets and the bamboo soap dishes. Sustainability is not a technological fix to supplement a wasteful lifestyle.

    Sustainability is the lifestyle. It’s a mantra that revolves around the idea of balance and dynamic equilibrium. It is a notion that sits at the base of every action knowing that the result of anything and everything is still a closed system that will strive towards stasis sooner or later. Sustainability isn’t the hybrid car; it’s moving close to work and designing communities so that we drive less. It is not the energy efficient bulb; it is designing spaces with natural light so we use less energy. It is not the 3,500 square foot house with fancy tech; it’s the spatially efficient 2,000 square foot home.

    As long as we try to pitch sustainability as products that can “make” you green, the less real progress we’ll be making. Lifestyle changes are the ones that will actually bring results.

  5. Glenda
    October 31, 2013

    Fantastic and so true.

  6. Motria von Schreiber
    October 31, 2013

    Yes, you are so right! Thank you for zooming back and looking at the bigger picture regarding truly sustainable practices. Everything we consume, take or choose to use creates a consequence somewhere: wooden blocks shipped from the other side of the world, foods used in craft projects or even that beautiful piece of wood we take from the bush thereby altering an important habitat and micro-ecosystem.
    The lesson here is to live simply, to need less, to choose voluntary simplicity in our own lives and in our teaching. The most powerful resource is our imaginations, our minds.
    Our tips are full of discarded wood and other natural resources – why not source locally?
    Reduce, reclaim and recycle!

  7. Inspire Learning
    October 31, 2013

    Great post! Sharing on Inspire Learning, thanks. We spend a lot of money on ‘sustainable’ resources without always looking at the bigger picture & some of it really is just for show. Simply looking after our toys and resources effectively so that they last, is one part of being sustainable. 🙂

  8. Lisa
    November 7, 2014

    It really flabbergasts me when we are offered (and buy) natural materials via equipment companies.It is so totally crazy that now there is a market for natural things, and people are buying stuff that belongs in nature- yet again we are trashing and pillaging our natural environment. Now even ‘nature’ comes packaged in plastic-aaaaargh!!

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