What I know about sustainability - Verity McLucas

Today we're sitting down with Seedlings Program Manager, Verity, to ask about her work, her passions and her insights. I have the pleasure of being in the same team as Verity and her passion for working with children and educators is inspiring.   

What is the Seedlings Program?

It’s a holistic sustainability approach, which is guided by principles of 'Education for Sustainability'. The aim is to embed sustainability principles and actions into the curriculum and operations of Early Childhood Education and Care Services to the point that they become 'business as usual'. Seedlings runs in the partner municipalities of Port Phillip, Melbourne, Knox, Yarra Ranges and Alpine Shires - and we have plans for great expansion!

What’s your role?

I manage the Seedlings program's design, delivery, evaluation and budget. I love this role because I absolutely love children and all the positive thought and energy they have to offer the world. I believe their education is one of the most crucial elements in creating resilient and creative communities that understand the systems we all rely on. It is this understanding that will achieve prosperity, health and peace in our changing natural, social and economic environments.

I am also passionate about working with educators - in my opinion, they have the most important job in the world. Through Seedlings, they receive free professional development throughout the year, plus book and online resources. All their training is designed to be predominantly hands-on so they can take the learnings directly back to their service and work to embed the knowledge and practice. I spend a big chunk of my time out at Seedlings services working with educators to develop goals and actions to enrich their curriculum and decrease their service's impact on the environment. 

What sort of things would I see at an outstanding Seedlings service? 

It's very apparent when you walk into a service that is really invested in Seedlings. You'll see sustainability principles and actions are embedded in daily practices, activities, routines and conversations. Sustainability practices will have the full support and commitment from the director of the service. The majority of educators will have an understanding of 'Education for Sustainability' and the positive impact it has on children's education and the wider community.

All staff will know the key sustainability goals the service is striving toward and the actions required to reach them. Staff will take responsibility for their building, understand the impact of its operations on the environment (and the bottom line) and genuinely want to reduce this impact. Finally educators are supported to attend Seedlings professional development workshops and integrate what they learn in to their education program.

Why is it so important that Early Childhood Education and Care Services adopt a sustainable approach to their work? 

The quality of a child's earliest environments and experiences at different stages of development are critical in determining the brain's architecture. Embedding sustainability not only enriches a service’s pedagogy, but it helps to develop in young children an understanding about how their world works, how it supports them, and strategies and skills to create and advocate for a sustainable future.

A natural transference of these learnings and attitudes to the families connected to the service also takes place; and to the broader community when the service's activities reach beyond its front doors. Some Seedlings services have embedded excursions/outdoor learning programs which see the children visit community gardens, the beach, aged-care facilities, local shopping areas, Albert Park Lake, the Botanical Gardens, to name but a few.

Can you tell us about something you saw or heard when visiting a Seedlings service that highlighted the importance of the program?

Visiting a service I am always looking and listening out for signs that sustainability is or is becoming embedded.

I was walking through a service just this week and noticed children finishing their morning tea then going over and emptying the remaining water in their cups on to the garden. They then told me about the food they were growing in their garden and how they love to pick and eat it and make lunch with it. Then, they said, if there are any food scraps left over, they collect it, chop it up, and feed their worms with it. They then told me how the worms make ‘wizz’ that they collect and put back in to the garden to help grow more food. This information came direct from the children with no interjection from the educators.

At another service, even the cook is intensely involved in the education program. Every day, she involves the children in the preparation and cooking of the food. The children pick food from the garden, which she then incorporates in to the meals with the children watching her. She asks them to look in the fridge and they discuss ways they can use food that is starting to wilt, soften or over-ripen - rather than throwing it out.

Another Seedlings services has set a goal to become Port Phillip's first carbon neutral service by 2018. All the children and staff are on board with this goal and sustainability is a part of every educators practice, every day. For them, sustainability is not 'extra work', it is simply a part of their everyday operation and a central component of their overall wellbeing goals.

These are just three examples of the many small, yet vital initiatives that our Seedlings services are doing to lead enriched education for children.

Where would you like to see the program in 2 years time?

I would love to see all 43 ECECS in Port Phillip participating in the program. We are about half way there! I have also been working behind the scenes with our partner councils to 'lift and shift' the program into the public realm and make it freely accessible. At present, to access the Seedlings program, a council needs to invest in it and deliver it to their community. We are working to change that so the program is freely available for any ECECS to utilise. Port Phillip Council will be delivering the Seedlings program into the future with the added view to use elements of the program to enhance the sustainability of other community services.

Why should unregistered services participate in the program?

The Seedlings program makes so much sense. Embedding sustainability links strongly to the Quality areas of the National Quality Standards, so it's an efficient way to enhance a service's Education and Care delivery. Embedding sustainability also makes economic sense. A significant part of the program is developing an understanding of how your building works, taking responsibility for your building's impact on the environment, and setting goals to reduce consumption of water, electricity and gas and output of waste. Some of our Seedlings services have made significant, even drastic, reductions in their consumption. For example, one service, over 12 months, reduced their water use by 60%, their gas use by 60% and their electricity use by 24%.