13th July 2021 All Posts Sustainability in the Early Years

Seeing Green in the Early Years

Guest blog from June O’Sullivan

During lockdown, the world seemed a very depressing place. It was all about a lack of hope and how children and families were under immense pressure.  

As the leader of an organisation that wants to change the world one child at a time, I was uncomfortable with the sense of hopelessness.  I wanted to look at it through a different lens; one of optimism and resilience where we stand tall for children and, of course, the Early Years.

Before lockdown, and as far back as 2014, we had been discussing sustainability throughout the organisation. As a social enterprise we understood sustainability to have three elements, often described as a triple bottom line; economic, social and environmental.  We had already figured out the first two via our business model and social pedagogy but I realised we could do more about our approach to environmental sustainability and our connection with nature. By 2018 we had written a gardening book (50 Fantastic Ideas for Nursery Gardens) to do what Thomas Weaver calls connecting with the poetry of our own backyards. 

Across the organisation I was encouraged by some emerging eco champions – not least Nick Corlett a Senior Manager at LEYF (and now Sustainability Lead) who co-authored the new book. Coming from Australia he was very attuned to how we consider, engage and interconnect with our environment.

Across our 42 social enterprise nurseries we have reduced plastic consumption over the years and banned single use plastic, plastic shoe covers, gloves and aprons. We introduced trough sinks to not waste water and improved the planting, both indoors and outside. Nick came and enhanced our efforts leading the way on more activities in the garden, water conservation, glass milk bottles and a range of resource replacements.  Our Facilities Manager also reviewed our utilities services, measuring air pollution and considering improvements we could make to our building design.

In that mid-lockdown moment, Nick and I decided it was time to take the next step and we cowrote 50 Fantastic Ideas for Sustainability to give Early Years staff some simple ideas to begin their own journey.  All activities in the book are designed from an Early Years perspective and are t multi layered and cross curricular. We have used music, dance, arts, crafts, science & nature and narration & demonstration to introduce small children to some of the complex issues around sustainability. 

We also looked at the best way to embed this and agreed a qualification was the right step. In partnership with Cache, we designed and implemented the Level 4 Qualification in Sustainability in the Early Years

That has given me a great buzz of hope. We now have 20 staff who have completed the progamme – with more to follow soon.

I have since been writing lots about the importance of our role as Early Years leaders to sow the seeds of sustainability. We must understand the wider importance about the concept – not just in terms of environmental steps but within the wider framework of the United Nations General Assembly (2015) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Those 17 interlinked global goals have been designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. 

My main ask now is for the sector to connect and form a UK Early Years ECEC Sustainability Alliance – similar to the Ofsted Big Conversation. That way we can build a greater and deeper understanding of sustainability, and each become a leader – integrating it into every element of our pedagogy and operational practice. In other words, put sustainability right at the heart of our inclusive quality education. 

Our super helpful guide is an easy way to begin this journey in your setting with children, their parents and colleagues. The goal of living well with others on our shared planet is judged by the strength of our communities and the level of opportunity afforded to all. Have a read and share, tweet or post your favourite activity on Instagram.  We owe it to our children to grow those seeds of sustainability.

Get the book

50 Fantastic Ideas for Sustainability by June O’Sullivan and Nick Corlett is priced £10.99 (paperback) and available via Amazon UK
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About the Author

Marketing Lead at Connect Childcare