As we look forward to the end of the Covid-19 crisis, what does the future look like for our classrooms, businesses and communities? Instead of ‘returning to normal’, can we seize this moment to choose better ways of working and living, coming together to face an even bigger challenge still – the climate and ecological crises? Let’s create a better, greener future for UK ELT and beyond.
On 24 February 2021 we invited English language teaching colleagues to the first of our discussions to help us create a collective vision of a better, greener industry and were rewarded with hundreds of great ideas and insights.
We have compiled everyone’s contributions below and will continue to expand and refine the details of our collective vision of the future as the discussion continues:
We started the discussion with our most ambitious ideas and visions of an ideal future. What would ELT look like at its best and greenest?
This positive goal gives us something to work towards, a motivating picture of the future that captures all the things we have to gain from changing how we live and work. It contrasts and complements the threat of what will happen if no action is taken.
The discussion painted future for UK ELT where sustainability was embedded in the learning experience:
Sustainability at the heart of teaching
Students (and teachers!) will enjoy engaging, paper-free or paper-light courses with outdoor, environmental activities for everyone, and a syllabus that is rooted in sustainability. ‘The environment’ is not an added extra or an isolated section of the textbook but rather sustainable living is embedded across materials and practices.
Low energy, low waste centres
Students who are not learning online, will arrive at energy efficient and low waste language centres using low emissions transport.
Walking through the school you see low energy devices and well-used recycling facilities for the few single use items still in use. Good insulation and windows reduce emissions and costs. In the canteen, students expect and enjoy locally grown plant-based food. If they haven’t brought their own reusable mugs and bottles, teachers take students out to a local eco or charity shop for their first immersive language learning exercise.
Old office and classroom equipment, especially after summer courses, is donated to community groups and charities – extending its life, reducing environmental impact, helping others and tying our schools more closely with our neighbours. Outside the school the air is clean, green spaces are thriving and rivers run clear.
Online workshops and conferences
Industry events are mainly online, making them more accessible and affordable, especially to ELT centres farthest from London, and cutting domestic and international travel. Online conferences and workshops are increasingly innovative and crafted to give delegates a good experience without travel, while also keeping digital emissions as low as possible.
When events are in person they look different – there are no single use items, no mountains of waste packaging and promotion at the end of the day. Delegates bring tote bags and bottles from past events to use again, environmental projects are celebrated and the buffet is plant-based.
A collective, inclusive movement
All UK ELT centres have changed their energy suppliers and practices as part of a collective movement across the industry. And we continue to learn and gain confidence from each other. The process is inclusive and emancipatory, championing equality, climate justice and anti-discrimination.
Our partners mirror our environmental values and we work well with our local communities across the UK. We choose our summer school locations, publishers and suppliers for their green credentials and work together to improve our policies and environmental impact.
Future UK ELT looks different but is thriving as it reflects the values and needs of students, parents, staff and planet.
Who is responsible for creating this ideal future of UK ELT? Our first conversation emphasised the importance of everyone working together both as an industry and profession, plus with our partners and local communities. But there is a lot more detail we hope to discuss in future sessions.
If you are working with your local community, businesses or other partners to prioritise environmental sustainability, let us know via email, Twitter or LinkedIn – we would love to share case studies and good examples of positive change in action.
Further discussion about change makers
There is lots more to talk about in our next discussions, for example:
- The different roles for teachers or directors, schools or publishers
- The role of industry representatives (e.g. British Council, English UK)
- Ideas of how to motivate different people/ organisations
- Ideas for collective action or pressure we can apply for positive change.
What challenges and barriers must we overcome to achieve our vision? We didn’t have time to explore barriers to change in depth but delegates raised several important areas: attitudes, organisation structure and processes, financial restraints and, of course, that our industry involves a lot of flying. Here are our initial thoughts on these areas:
Changing attitudes and breaking habits is difficult for all of us, and suggestions to change behaviour are often met with resistance. On top of that, instead of uniting us against a common threat, the climate crisis has become politically polarised. We must be conscious of this and try to connect through shared values and hopes for a better future.
Larger organisations can be difficult to change. Not only are there more people to get on board but there can be more restrictive structures and processes. Here working with a broad range of people from the outset will give your movement strength through a diversity of views, experiences and concerns. Use clear evidence and people power to achieve change.
While some changes will incur costs, many others will create savings through lower energy use, fewer materials and reduced travel. We will definitely discuss this in more depth in future events!
The most conflicted area of discussion was around flying. There was the general feeling that UK ELT will still involve students visiting the UK to learn and a some questions around whether flying should be a focus for a greener ELT.
At first the role of air travel can feel exaggerated as it accounts for only 3.5% of global warming (a little higher than its 2.5% global carbon dioxide emissions due to the effect of gases in the air). But aviation is a small portion of the global warming pie only because so few people fly (only around 5-20% of the population).
At the per person level, flying is an incredibly high impact activity. A return flight from Shanghai to London emits around 2 tonnes of CO2 per person – almost half of what the average person in the UK emits in a year (5.3t CO2).
So for the few of us who do fly, it is a significant portion of our contribution to global warming.
It’s also worth noting that there is little sign of a technological solution at the moment. Unlike renewable energy, aviation is proving hard to decarbonise. The solution for now is flying less.
Further discussion about barriers
There are a number of topics, questions and challenges that would be interesting to explore further with our ELT colleagues, for example:
- Bringing your team with you (thoughts around leading change ‘from above’)
- Convincing leadership to support/ prioritise environmental change (‘from below’)
- Overcoming restrictive organisational structures
- Sharing experiences – how I changed X in my life, family, school or community
- Reducing flying across the UK ELT industry
- Changing personal mindsets
The practical steps to building a better, fairer, greener industry are many. And our group shared lots of suggestions of how to move towards our ideal future UK ELT.
Together we noted that the current disruption is an opportunity to for change. And, while we must be mindful of the difficult situation UK ELT is in, we have also seen how dramatically we can change how we work, how innovative we can be with digital classrooms and conferences, and how we can change our behaviour to save lives.
We must build on this transformation to save lives, homes and livelihoods from the effects of climate and ecological disasters.
By this time next week…
Thinking about diving straight in and making changes immediately, the group said:
- Talk to colleagues about environmental responsibility
- Start/ continue moving towards a paper free environment
- Switch to refillable board markers (and mix inks for bonus colours!)
- Make sure we are recycling everything possible
- Dress for the weather/ avoid unnecessary heating and cooling
- Turn things off
- Quit cheap single-use merchandising
- Avoid single use plastics personally
And we would add:
Before two months have passed…
Thinking about the medium term, our group said they would:
- Share green activities to inform and encourage others (@ELTFootprintUK and #GreenELT so we can find and share it too!)
- Sign up for the cycle to work scheme
- Check if the canteen is working with local food surplus network
- Ask ELTons organisers to include a ‘green’ category
- Ask publishers to stop giving e-materials an expiration date
- Write a formal environmental policy
- Talk to the British Council about including environment impact in inspection
- Display information (posters, signs) in the school
- Involve students in decision-making
Here at ELT Footprint UK we are going to:
- Explore calculating the impact of the ELT industry on the environment
- Continue writing green how-to guides and sharing information
- Run further discussions and events
- Share and celebrate green examples from the industry
By this time next year…
Thinking about larger, longer term goals our group said:
- Audit our school – lighting, devices, behaviour, insulation, waste etc.
- Review our curriculum
- Make sure there are plenty meat free options/ days in the canteen
- Reduce travel emissions, e.g. encourage admin staff to work partly from home, share coach space with other schools, cycle to work scheme
- Connect with local environmental projects for school visits and collaboration
- Develop green policies together with all partners and suppliers
- Build meaningful connections with the community to support and lead change.