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JALT’s Environmental Committee

Writer(s): 
Brent Simmonds

In this issue, Brent Simmonds will showcase the JALT Environmental Committee and the work that they have been doing to reduce JALT’s impact on the environment.

JALT’s Environmental Committee

Since the early 1980s we have become increasingly aware how climate change caused by increasing greenhouse gas levels will affect our lives. Asian countries and the Pacific islands have recently experienced extremely strong typhoons and cyclones. The Philippines in 2014 and Vanuatu earlier this year have suffered badly. Japan, where the summers are getting hotter and the weather is becoming more unpredictable, is not immune to the impact of climate change.

There is a general consensus that it is primarily government action that is needed to reduce greenhouse gas levels but every one of us has a part to play. “Our generation has inherited an incredibly beautiful world from our parents and they from their parents. It is in our hands whether our children and their children inherit the same world” (Branson, as cited in Malone, 2012, p. 11). We as educators are no exception, as it is us who guide and teach the next generation, contributing to hopefully making the world a better place. Environmental concern led a group of JALT members to come together to form the Environmental Committee in 2013 to investigate ways in which JALT can reduce its carbon footprint.

Our initial success was to lobby for The Language Teacher (TLT) to be printed on recycled paper, but we soon realized that we needed to take the next important step and create clear tangible goals. We consulted several leading environmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth Japan, WWF, and Myclimate, Japan, as well as TESOL International and similar educational bodies. We concluded that we should focus on two areas; creating sustainable conferences and raising awareness of environmental issues in the classroom, always remembering the three Rs, reduce, recycle, and reuse.

Education conferences can have a huge impact on the environment, both directly and indirectly, some of which are beyond our direct control, such as transport and hotels. There is scope, however, for implementing and managing change. Conference plenary speakers are often flown in, which increases the carbon footprint created by the conference. For example, the carbon footprint of a return flight to Rome would be 3.73 tonnes of CO2. The JALT2013 and JALT2014 International conferences provided us with opportunities to research various areas of the conferences that we could reduce our environmental impact. From this we were able to submit a set of initiatives to the JALT board in January 2015, some of which were trialed at the recent Pan SIG conference in Kobe.

In February 2015, I was appointed Environment Chair for the 2015 Pan SIG Conference. With the assistance of Catriona Chalmers and the advice received from the GALE and the GILE SIGs, we submitted proposals for change including using sustainable paper, carbon offsetting, badge return stations, and organizing a green bar at the networking party. Firstly, we introduced a voluntary environmental lobby which is working towards offsetting the conference’s carbon footprint. Carbon offsets are projects that have a positive effect on the environment. We have selected certified projects in the Kobe area and are grateful to Myclimate Japan for their advice, and we are in the process of appointing an independent auditor to oversee future financial transactions. Our initial target is small; to offset the estimated 4 tonnes of CO2 attributable to air travel related to the conference. Secondly we attempted to run a green or environmentally friendly bar at the networking party. We sourced wine from a company that has invested in several environmental projects. Beer cups were made from sugar cane fibre, whilst some of the soft drinks came in packaging made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified material. Using environmentally friendly cups proved to be more expensive than plastic glasses. However, the drinks were reasonably priced. Our final small scale project was organizing badge return points to ensure lanyards (and plastic badge holders) can be used again and name inserts could be recycled. The committee gained a lot of experience through these trial initiatives. 

Quality and adaptable educational resources are easily accessible from NGOs such as Plan International, Save the Children, Oxfam, and WaterAid, whilst the United Nations is playing a central role. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have developed resources in areas linked to climate change such as trafficking, water, and emergencies whilst twenty-five ground-breaking and innovative projects were exhibited at the 2014 Educational for Sustainable Development (ESD) Nagoya conference <http://unesco.org/new/en/unesco-world-conference-on-esd-2014>. The conference demonstrated what is possible if people work together to try and create a better world for the next generation and beyond.

Currently the environment committee members are Brent Simmonds, Kip Cates, Mark Brierley, Jennie Roloff-Rothman, and Cameron Smith. We are planning on building on our current goals to develop initiatives at future conferences, ensuring environmentally friendly practices become the norm. In addition, we believe it is in the classroom that we can have the greatest impact; therefore, we will be working to raise awareness of educational resources in future.

Reference

Malone, S. (2012). Polar City dreaming: How climate change might usher in the age of polar cities. Mechanicsburg, PA: Sunbury Press.  

Brent Simmonds is originally from England and has lived in Japan since 2005. He has an MA in Applied Linguistics (TESOL) from Macquarie University, Australia. He works as a part-time university teacher in Nagoya and is an active member of JALT Gifu. He has held the position of Chair of JALTs Environmental Committee since 2013.

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