3 dimensions of sustainability in ECEC
The Sector > Provider > General News > Dr Jane Warren explores the 3 dimensions of sustainability in ECEC

Dr Jane Warren explores the 3 dimensions of sustainability in ECEC

by Freya Lucas

July 04, 2024

Dr Jane Warren, a Senior Lecturer within the School of Education at the University of Wollongong, recently prepared a piece for the New South Wales Department of Education around the three dimensions of sustainability in early childhood education and care (ECEC). 


An extract of Dr Warren’s remarks appears below. To access the full article please see here.


“Sustainability is a term we are all familiar with, and often conjures up thoughts of recycling, limiting packaging, turning off water and other practices that can help us lessen our impact on the natural environment,” the doctor began. 


“However, while environmental sustainability is paramount, it’s just one pillar of sustainability.”


With a renewed focus on sustainability thanks to the reworking of both the Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Aged Care, Dr Warren highlighted the three key dimensions of sustainability – environmental sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability, all of which are inextricably linked. 


“For children to really understand sustainability, they must understand respect for our natural world and for each other, developing an awareness of our shared community responsibility,” she said. 


According to the approved learning frameworks, environmental sustainability focuses on caring for our natural world and protecting, preserving and improving the environment, social sustainability on inclusive principles, and the notion of living peacefully, fairly and respectfully together in resilient local and global communities, and economic sustainability on practices that support economic development without negatively impacting the other dimensions, which also includes a focus on fair and equitable access to resources, conserving resources, and reducing consumption and waste.


“It’s essential to address each area of sustainability to ensure practices are embedded and not just a tokenistic approach,” Dr Warren said. 


So, how can this be done within the service?


Environmental sustainability


Being connected to Country, Dr Warren said, provides children with opportunities to become protectors of the environment and advocates for positive change in their own lives, their families’ and wider community.


There are many ways you can support children to respect Country and care for the natural world. When considering how to support children develop a respect for Country, it’s important to connect with your local Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Elders and community. By engaging with community about Aboriginal ways of knowing, being and doing, children are afforded rich opportunities to become responsible caretakers of the land, not only understanding what Country does for them but also what they can do for Country.


Tips to build this connection with the First Nations community include: 


  • Reflect on how you can strengthen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in your service policies, practice and educational program.


  • Collaborate with children and educators to create a personalised and meaningful Acknowledgement of Country, unique to your service.


  • Build genuine relationships with your local Aboriginal community. Invite them to design and/or deliver learning experiences that honour Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, stories, cultures and knowledge.


  • While it’s important to participate in celebrating occasions such as National Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week, remember that building strong connections to Country and community should be embedded in your everyday practice.


Outside of this sphere, other tips for boosting environmental sustainability include: 


  • creating a sustainable garden, such as a vegetable or bush tucker garden
  • reminding children (verbally and visually) to turn off taps to conserve water
  • managing waste appropriately and conserving resources by recycling, composting and reusing items.


Social sustainability


Quality Area 6 of the National Quality Standard is an important starting point when it comes to considering notions of social sustainability, Dr Warren believes. 


“Respect for diverse cultures, values, beliefs and the expertise of families is at the core of this quality area,” she said. 


“It requires educators to build supportive relationships with families and have honest, respectful conversations when making shared decisions about children’s learning and wellbeing. It is not enough to speak about respect for others – it must continually be modelled to children and families. Inclusion is not something you ‘do’ but should be part of who you are.”


“Social justice reminds us that the rights of all children must be reflected in your philosophy, policies and filter through your daily practice. No child has more or less rights than another, irrespective of diverse circumstances or learning needs. Building relationships with your local community is also essential to support children’s sense of social sustainability.”


Children may feel overwhelmed by information when it comes to some of the notions in the social sustainability space, and educators do need to be aware of changes in children’s behaviour that may reflect their understanding of world events, news items or conversations they overhear. 


It’s important for educators to discuss with families any sensitive content that children do share so appropriate support can be offered to children, Dr Warren said. 


Tips for educators include: 


  • Develop learning experiences that not only acknowledge our similarities but also celebrate our differences.


  • Diversity is a fact – embrace it and be an advocate for inclusion. If children or parents make negative comments about someone’s ability, culture, appearance or any other characteristic, be sure to address the comments constructively and seek to engage the child/parent in reflection in order to raise awareness and understanding.


  • Reflect the diversity of your community across your service through your everyday practice in everything that you do. This might include music you play, books you read and pictures you display. You could also invite parents or community members in to share their stories and experiences. 


  • Ensure that children with disability and developmental delay have equitable opportunities to participate in the service. But remember, equity is not the same as equality. Equity recognises that we each have different needs based on our circumstances and may require different resources to achieve the same outcome as someone else.


Economic sustainability


There are multiple ways to support children’s understanding of economic development in age and socially appropriate ways, Dr Warren notes. 


“Resources in the service don’t have to be expensive. Consider ways you can help children understand that we can all take positive steps to avoid unnecessary expense, consumption and waste through better resource management,” she said. 


“Learning opportunities that explore – at a foundational level – the value of money, how it can be used and how people may have different experiences with money also encourage children to be responsible consumers. These learning experiences can support children’s agency and promote the sharing of resources, while helping them to build upon their decision-making and problem-solving skills too.”


In the economic sustainability space she offers the following advice: 


  • Role-model and encourage children to reduce consumption and conserve resources.


  • Save spare paint and encourage children to reduce waste and recycle items.


  • Set up a range of experiences that help children develop agency.


  • Engage children in discussion about sourcing resources and exploring low-cost options, such as purchasing from recycling centres or second-hand stores.


  • Consider connecting with other services to develop a resource library function to share.


Further guidance and reflective questions for each of the three areas outlined above is available in Dr Warren’s original piece, which may be accessed here

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