Tamara Lorincz on education for sustainability in Nova Scotia

Tamara Lorincz - November, 2008

Guest Column

Tamara Lorincz is the Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Environmental Network and the Coordinator of Sustainability Education Nova Scotia For Everyone (SENSE) Working Group. She is on the national board of Eco Justice Canada and has helped to establish the Atlantic Canada Sustainability Initiative.

Anita Wenden, Transitions editor, interviewed Tamara on the purposes and goals of the working group Sustainability Education in Nova Scotia for Everyone (SENSE)

 Let’s begin with the term ‘sustainable’. It is applied to many areas nowadays, e.g. sustainable futures, sustainable peace, sustainable life styles, sustainable development. How does SENSE understand sustainability?

SENSE uses the well-known definition of sustainability derived from the concept of sustainable development from the World Commission on Environment and Development’s 1987 report Our Common Future, which is “…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” To achieve the goal of sustainability, UNESCO has identified eight action themes that countries should pursue: Gender Equality, Health Promotion, Environment, Rural Development, Cultural Diversity, Peace & Human Security, Sustainable Urbanization, and Sustainable Consumption. These are the themes that represent SENSE’s broad understanding of sustainability and how we organize our work. More simply, however, sustainability is respecting people and the planet.

Why ‘education’ for sustainable development (SD)? Isn’t SD a matter for development experts and economists? Why was it felt necessary to establish a working group on sustainability education?

At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in1992 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002, world leaders concluded that education was fundamental to achieving sustainable development. Agenda 21, the blueprint for sustainable development in the 21st century, adopted by 179 countries stated that “Education is critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues.” In 2003, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring the period 2005-2014 to be the International Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Canada signed on to this UN Decade of ESD. As education is a provincial matter under our Constitution, the federal government funded and supported the establishment of provincial working groups to meet our UN requirements under the Decade of ESD. Currently, there are seven other provincial working groups across Canada. More information about these working groups can be found on the Learning for a Sustainable Future web site

What are the purposes and goals of SENSE?

SENSE is an active multi-stakeholder network whose purpose is to promote sustainability education in schools and in society in Nova Scotia. Over 150 individuals and organizations have joined SENSE. Our partners are from different sectors representing government, school boards, teachers, community, industry, and non-governmental organizations. SENSE has four goals:

Goal 1: To identify key current sustainability activities in schools, communities and media in Nova Scotia in order to find gaps that will help us determine objectives and priorities for future sustainability projects.

Goal 2: To enhance cross-sectoral understanding and strategic collaboration between local and provincial governments, education sector leaders, businesses, and non-governmental organizations in order to foster a culture for education for sustainability in Nova Scotia.

Goal 3: To influence education practitioners and policy development, particularly in the areas of curriculum, professional development, and facilities management.

Goal 4: To secure resources and funding to sustain SENSE.

More information about SENSE can be found at

What are some of the systemic changes your group would like to bring about in education in your communities?

We would like the Government of Nova Scotia’s Department of Education to make ESD a priority and to create an action plan to ensure that every student and citizen in our province is educated on sustainability.
You recently organized a symposium on Earthkeeping and Peacebuilding. Why did you choose this theme?
Last year, our SENSE Working Group decided to host an Annual Sustainability Education Symposium. For our first symposium, three SENSE members, the Nova Scotia Environmental Network, Peaceful Schools International and Saint Mary’s University collaborated to organize the symposium and we chose two UNESCO themes: Environment and Peace & Human Security. Our First Annual Sustainability Education was entitled Earthkeeping & Peacebuilding: Creating a Culture of Respect for People and the Planet.

On your website you refer to ‘The Natural Step framework’. Briefly, what is this framework and how can it be used by sustainability educators?

The Natural Step Framework provides a science-based, practical approach for sustainability planning. The Framework has been used successfully by communities, schools, businesses and organizations around the world. It was developed by Dr. Karl-Henrik Robert, a medical doctor, in Sweden. In his paper, Educating A Nation: The Natural Step - A remarkable nation-wide program unites Sweden in moving from linear to cyclic processes - the hallmark of sustainability, Dr. Robèrt explains how every Swedish household was educated on the basics of sustainability 20 years ago. It is no surprise that Sweden now has the best environmental performance of any country. Dr. Robert’s latest book, The Natural Step Story: Seeding a Quiet Revolution, provides an inspirational and in-depth account of the Framework that is now being used in over 12 countries. The Natural Step is integral to our Atlantic Canada Sustainability Initiative where we are working with businesses, municipalities and organizations in our region to help them become more sustainable More information about The Natural Step Canada can be found at

What would you advise educators who would like to make ESD a part of their classroom activities?

I would encourage educators to find out more about the United Nations’ Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). I would also encourage educators to find out what their schools are doing to educate students on sustainability and what their governments are doing to educate citizens on sustainability. I would also suggest that they develop partnerships with community organizations and businesses on sustainability initiatives. As well, they should use the media to promote and raise awareness about the importance of sustainability education. Finally, educators should know that the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development will be held in Bonn, Germany, in March 2009 and they can attend to learn more and get involved.