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Building back green – Our Singapore context for the UWC climate compact

By Kate Woodford, Senior Manager, Marketing and Business Development
17 August 2021

Building back green


“Wellbeing for all, within the means of nature.”

- UWCSEA definition of sustainable development, adopted from Global Footprint Network

As the world prepares for COP26 in November 2021, the 18 UWC schools and colleges have united to issue a joint commitment to tackling the threat of global climate change. Together, we have pledged to name how we intend to contribute to a resilient, net zero global economy that protects, values and rebuilds the natural world.
By COP26, we have committed to sharing how our communities will work towards a series of aims which seek to maximise our contribution to all three dimensions of sustainability: economic, environmental and social. Collectively, our aims are to:

  • equip students with concrete skills, experiences and pathways that will maximise their personal contribution towards the Paris Goals and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSGDs)
  • work to further create and promote educational programmes that radically alter our view of the planet as a resource in the service of economic development
  • develop climate action programming with a solutions focus rather than simply problem identification
  • clearly signal the role climate justice has in addressing global disparities and inequities related to management of resources, land rights, consumerism, corporate responsibility and social justice generally
  • report our own climate impact, as a basis to inform our solution-based efforts, and enable cooperation among the UWC schools and colleges in implementing individual climate strategies

Aligning with Singapore

For UWCSEA, our contribution to the global UWC compact will be enhanced by our location, as we look to play our part in creating a sustainable Singapore and align our actions with the SG Green Plan 2030. This ambitious, whole-of-nation sustainable development agenda, announced by the Singapore Government in 2021, supports the UN’s 2030 Agenda and adopts the UNSDGs as priorities. The five pillars of the SG Green Plan also cut across all three dimensions of sustainable development: City in Nature; Energy Reset; Green Economy; Resilient Future; and Sustainable Living.

Both of these initiatives align with the UWCSEA Strategy 2018–2023, which identified Peace and a Sustainable Future as one of the four key Areas of Focus. The progress we have already made in this area has served to highlight the interwoven nature of working for peace and creating a sustainable future–and underlined how we can only be effective in either domain in the long term if we frame our actions as a systemic response.

In the UWCSEA Strategy, we aligned our response with the UNSDGs to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all within the means of nature. Guiding our work since 2018, our commitment to activities that will align our actions with our aspiration have included defining our approach to sustainable development and making explicit links in both our educational programme and our operational behaviours. Students learn and engage with sustainable development from K–12 and recognise their role as stewards of the environment. Following a systemic review of our practices, the lens of sustainability is used to support ethical decision making across the College. Student learning is directly connected to many of our initiatives, as we seek to connect students with real-world examples of sustainable practice in action.

UWCSEA earth day sustainability workshop participants

Marking our progress, planning our future

As we look for ways to further embed and accelerate our already extensive commitment to creating a sustainable future, a sustainability workshop on Earth Day 2021 brought together educational and operational leaders from both campuses to share thinking and map our progress. The day served to highlight the many ways in which UWCSEA is already working to fulfil our commitment, and to align with the aims of the UWC climate compact.

In particular, we celebrated the way that UWCSEA’s curriculum has been articulated strategically to have sustainable development embedded throughout all five elements of the learning programme. Students are connected with opportunities to become aware of the issues and to build a personal changemaker toolkit so that they are equipped to make informed, purposeful action in support of the UNSDGs. Our student-led initiatives in solar panel installations are an example of the success of this approach—what started as a Grade 5 student asking why his school didn’t install more solar panels and investigating options for his Grade 5 Expo has resulted in a multi-year project that has seen hundreds of our students involved in learning about, raising funds for and installing over 1,700 solar panels on the roofs of both campuses.

The learning is experienced by students through the numerous activities that make up the Service and Sustainable Development programmes on our campuses. Students are guided in their understanding of the issues and challenges that face those working to address the UNSGDs and are empowered to find and test solutions on campus, under the umbrellas of Conversation, Permaculture and Zero Waste. Through the combined efforts of students and teachers working alongside our gardening staff and landscaping teams, our campuses have become noticeably greener places that provide more opportunities for all in our community to connect with nature. Our long term commitment to initiatives such as the Rainforest Restoration Project sees students and staff working alongside our partners at NParks and the National University of Singapore to help preserve the biodiversity in Singapore by raising endangered rainforest species from seed. Our students can also complete a two-year UWCSEA Certificate in Tropical Rainforest Restoration.

Our commitment to accountability for the impact of our physical facilities and operational decisions also began over a decade ago as we launched ambitious multi-year projects to design and build East Campus and to renovate and rejuvenate the aging Dover Campus. Our industry-leading innovations in technology and green design mean we continue to operate both campuses as Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Platinum Super Low Energy sites. Used as educational resources for our students, in partnership with the BCA, both sites are also showcased to industry and organisations across Singapore and beyond as working models of successful sustainable building design, retro-fitting and management.

Initiatives such as the 3for2 energy smart office prototype which was successfully trialed in the construction of the High School building on Dover Campus, recycled water collection and use strategies, and food waste management through student composting activities and oil recycling for biofuel are all examples of our long-term vision for ensuring our campuses are functioning models for student learning in an environment that places all decisions in the frame of sustainable development. (Even this magazine is printed on recycled paper with environmentally friendly ink, and was mailed to readers in a bag made from recycled material.)

The collective discussion at the Earth Day workshop was, we hope, a springboard to leverage the extensive framework already in place. In our 50th year we will celebrate our progress to date, even as we seek to identify ways we can extend it into the future. As the world “builds back better” from COVID-19, we appeal to all to “build back green” through sustainable practice—together we can build new systems to support wellbeing for all, including nature.

Read more about Our Big Ideas Education for Sustainable Development here.