Magazine article Techniques

Sustainability: The Next 21st Century Workplace Skill: "We Must Consider Our Planet to Be on Loan from Our Children, Rather Than Being a Gift from Our Ancestors ... If the Long-Term Viability of Humanity Is to Be Ensured, We Have No Other Choice."

Magazine article Techniques

Sustainability: The Next 21st Century Workplace Skill: "We Must Consider Our Planet to Be on Loan from Our Children, Rather Than Being a Gift from Our Ancestors ... If the Long-Term Viability of Humanity Is to Be Ensured, We Have No Other Choice."

Article excerpt

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THE MESSAGE IS CLEAR. AS A COUNTRY AND GLOBAL COMMUNITY, we are heading into a deep abyss unless we change the way we live and act in terms of the three pillars of sustainability--environmental, economic and social. For 22 years, the term "sustainability" has captured the hearts and minds of enthusiasts around the world. Now, in June 2009, Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS), the nation's 48th largest school system, has selected "sustainability" as one of its 21st century skills--one that all 68,751 students must learn. This selection sets a new direction and purpose for skill acquisition as part of the VBCPS' new strategic plan, "Compass to 2015."

Why Sustainability?

The most commonly referenced definition of sustainability is from the 1987 United Nations publication, Our Common Future, known as the "Brundtland Report." The report stipulates that "sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

If VBCPS is to transition to sustainability, we must not only meet our current needs, but we must also nurture and restore resources for future generations. The three pillars of sustainability need to be engaged using a systems approach in tandem with our city partners. This is essential if we are to maintain a high quality of life for current and future generations. Sustainability is a multidimensional concept for municipalities as well as school systems. They must build facilities that meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria, invest in staff sustainability training, and make a commitment to protecting the local ecosystems--all within the three pillars framework.

Sustainability is not an amorphous term that is hard to understand, but rather a concept that represents a way for us all to live out our future. The green collar economy has become a new workforce destination just as the declaration of "high-tech and high-tech skills" was the career and technical education (CTE) battle cry only a few decades ago. Renowned eco-author Tom Friedman makes a strong pitch for teaching engineering students the LEED concept in his book Hot Flat and Crowded. Virginia Beach Technical and Career Education (TCE) is taking that idea one step further by teaching LEED concepts to junior and senior computer-aided design (CAD) students at 13 sites.

Sustainability and Careers

Many jobs already have green sustainability aspects such as those identified in the 2009 Heldrich Center for Workforce Development (Rutgers University) Green Jobs brief:

* construction workers

* cost estimators

* financial analysts

* computer technicians

* accountants

* manufacturing workers

* truck drivers

* salespersons

* scientists

* engineers

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Logically, many other CTE industries could focus on sustainability, including: interior design, culinary services, health professions, hospitality and tourism, and automotive technology. The Heldrich brief also emphasized a pyramid of skills needed in the green economy which has been adapted in Virginia Beach to include sustainability.

Sustainability as a Core CTE 21st Century Skill: Local Application

In the late 1990s, Virginia identified 13 Workplace Readiness Skills that are embedded in all CTE programs. These skills are currently taught in all CTE classrooms statewide based on a curriculum written by VBCPS staff. Students are tested on their attainment of each skill using a third-party assessment ("21st Century Skills for Workplace Success") through the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI). VBCPS is now moving toward the inclusion of sustainability as the 14th skill. Students will be taught the skill and tested on it in the NOCTI assessment. …

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