From the Leadership Institute Symposium on Social Change
Author: Kelsey Dennison
My action plan aims to make effective changes to local systems in order to make my school and community more self-sufficient and less reliant on environmentally destructive agriculture, landfills, and harmful forms of energy production.
The key strategies I chose to use are direct action and political action. I have been using my school as a microcosm to test out solutions that could allow our society to function in a way that would be minimally destructive and fundamentally sustainable. I chose to tackle areas that are essential to our existence (food, energy, waste) because I feel these are today’s most pressing issues. These problems are huge and complex; however, instead of merely talking about them, I chose to take actions that would directly change the way my school, and ultimately my whole community, functioned. I feel that system change is the only way to tackle these issues because it doesn’t just scratch the surface of the problem; it goes to the heart of it. I also used my school as an example to my whole community, inciting a “ripple effect” that would inspire decision makers such as my school board and city government to move towards creating more sustainable systems. Such political action along with my original direct action has been the key in creating change in my community.
In brief, my project includes applying for and receiving a $20,000 grant to have solar panels installed at my school, starting an organic school vegetable garden to provide cooking classes with home grown produce, and improving my school’s waste diversion systems by increasing awareness for our composting system and recycling the enormous amount of coffee cups previously being put into the garbage. The solar panel system that is scheduled to be installed sometime this year is already a focal point for the sustainability movement in my community. Not only has it peaked awareness and interest in the students at my school, it has also gotten the attention of my school board and city government. I am scheduled to make presentations to them in June to help promote sustainable systems in my community. I was informed by my Mayor that my area’s community center was set up for solar panels but at the time it was built, funds were not available to have solar panels installed. I hope that by communicating the solar initiative taking place at my school, I will be able to convince decision makers that the move to solar energy is worth the investment. I also featured the actions taken at my school in a short film I produced and entered into my province’s annual sustainability competition, the BC Green Games; my video was one of ten winners and my school received $1000 to put towards further projects. I also worked to start a district wide youth sustainability group as a forum for students to express their views on the way our district should work, and to effect change at a higher level. We have met with a trustee from our school board to discuss upgrades to waste disposal/diversion infrastructure in schools, which was actually the action plan I originally created. I believe that the sustainable actions I have taken in my school will now expand further into the community and throughout my area, and inspire politicians and decision makers to make smart decisions that will help make our society’s systems more efficient and sustainable.
Key people that have been essential in the success of my action plan include: my close friend Callum Kelpin; members of my school’s Environment Club; club sponsor and mentor Arlene Anderson; Vice Principal Philipine Pereira along with the rest of my school’s administration; the District 45 Board of Education; and the West Vancouver Municipal Government, especially the Mayor. Without the continued support of these people, my big and often overwhelming ideas could never have flourished into effective actions and real, tangible results.
Executing my action plan this year has truly caused me to grow substantially as a person, and to gain confidence in my ideas and actions. The results I’ve managed to create have far surpassed what I had originally thought I could do when I made my action plan last summer. Back then, I thought my plan was rather ambitious; I realize now the true extent of my ability to create change, although I am most likely underestimating that as well. I have always been a more introverted person; this project has helped me to further develop my public speaking and interpersonal skills, but at the same time has allowed me to realize the importance of my critical thinking and reflecting abilities. After achieving so much, I feel confident enough to push for the changes I feel need to be made, and to assert myself in demanding situations. I believe that the skills I have gained through creating this project will serve me for my entire life.
I have seen a definite change in both the students at my school and the decision makers in my community. In the past two years or so, I have seen the interest in environmental issues among my peers decrease significantly because they feel there is nothing they can do to impact such immense problems and alter the course of the world’s future. After receiving the solar panel grant and creating the school garden, I have noticed a change in the energy in my school. People are starting to care more about the environment, and these changes are inspiring people to think that their actions can make a difference. I have even heard an administrator at my school describe the results of this project as “magical”. I personally feel that the decision makers in my community are also listening more to the concerns of youth, and are becoming more willing to make decisions that strongly consider our impact on the environment. I have definitely noticed that everyone I am working with is becoming more excited by all the possibilities that are now opening up, and I hope that this excitement will continue to escalate over time.
I feel motivated to continue working on my action plan and addressing environmental issues because I feel that it is my duty as a citizen of the world to do everything I can to make our society as sustainable and effective as possible. I just can’t ignore our world’s problems; it’s as simple as that. When I become overwhelmed by the vastness of the issues, it is the positivity of the people around me as well as the sense of accomplishment I feel when I’m able to turn my ideas into results that has kept me going.