QLD students look to the future of sustainability

Jarrod Brown
Jarrod Brown

A group of eco-warriors are putting sustainability into Queensland classrooms and preparing budding climate leaders for a future in environmental science.

Last week, QLD environmental mentorship group Tangalooma EcoMarines brought together student ambassadors from across the state to attend sustainability workshops by industry leaders.

The workshops raised awareness of future climate worries, taught students eco-friendly classroom strategies and opened the door for a potential career in the environmental sciences. 

“It was really interesting hearing from all the panellists and just different areas of sustainability,” Yeronga State High School student Aisha Gotts told EducationDaily. 

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“It was great learning about things you don’t really think about, like the fast fashion industry, and actually seeing the impacts of climate change on our environment.” 

EcoMarines work with 146 schools across the state to enact student-led “sustainability action plans” and are sponsored by the Queensland Government under the Organic Space Action Plan.

Head of education development growth Dini McCloud told EducationDaily the program’s main goal is to grow a national community of environmental leaders.

“We started in 2014 with just six schools based around Brisbane,” she says. “But starting this year, we have actually extended our reach into Cairns and Townsville and anywhere in between.”

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“We are very proud to say that we’re Queensland-wide now and looking to get more schools involved.

“The more schools we get, the more students there are being these sustainability leaders. So we’re going to start in Queensland and then take the program nationwide.”

Student-led sustainability

By giving young climate leaders “hands-on experience” with sustainable strategies, EcoMarines helps student leaders formulate, create and implement their own unique initiatives for the school and their surrounding community. 

“Students identify different environmental issues that they’re facing in their local area,” program coordinator Becky Shelford told EducationDaily.

“It could be that they don’t have a good recycling programme, or maybe they want to protect a local creek. It’s up to them to decide what is best for their school.

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“We then help them through that initiative, and they spread that sustainable message and get the whole school community involved to tackle those environmental issues.”

Students begin the program at a networking event with other like-minded young eco-warriors from across the state. After listening to industry experts, environmentalists and mentors, it’s then up to students to create a sustainable “action plan” to be completed throughout the year. 

From energy, litter reduction, waste reduction, gardens, composting and more, students are free to take any direction they see fit for their school. 

“We do try and sort of limit the number of initiatives they take because, at the end of the day, we really want them to succeed,” says Ms Shelford.

“But we are there to guide the environmental teacher and the ambassadors through the initiatives and the challenges that they have seen.”

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Two EcoMarine students doing a presentation, with one dressed in a high vis vest and the other in a recycling bin

For program newcomer AB Patterson College, this action plan is already shaping how students think about sustainability.

Having run a successful “ten cent recycling campaign,” garden projects, tree planting, awareness campaigns and much more, passionate eco ambassadors are leading the charge to make the school “go green”.

“I think every single little thing we do has a big impact,” year 12 ambassador Amity Fielding told EducationDaily.

“Whether it’s the choice to recycle something or buy a certain product, it all definitely has a big impact on our environment for sure.

“I think it’s important that we, as the future leaders of tomorrow and as students and schools, definitely come together to keep our world together.”

Evolving education

With programs from early learning to secondary school, Ms Shelford says students can evolve with the team and slowly incorporate sustainable learning into everyday life. 

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“The primary program is a little more structured in that we offer a lot of support to them and really guide their learning towards all the crucial topics,” she told EducationDaily.

“But it’s our secondary school program where we like ambassadors to be a little bit more independent. Initiatives start to lean towards more of a community outreach focus and tackle larger climate issues outside of the school.”

Covering state, private and now home schools, Ms McCloud told EducationDaily they would love to see their sustainable resources in every classroom across the country in the future. 

“We are looking to grow and grow and grow, with hopes of helping up to 210 schools next year,” she says. 

“After piloting our first homeschool group this year, we are now looking into things like distance education and expanding our online resource offerings.

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“Thanks to the Queensland government, we will take all schools who want to join us and work hard to make sure EcoMarines is flexible enough to work within any school environment.”

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. Jarrod established his journalism career working on the education news and information site The Bursar. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.