Through a unique online platform, EcoSchools Canada is tracking and certifying environmental actions of students coast to coast.
When Maggie Chang was in grade one, she learned about issues like soil erosion and deforestation in the Amazon.
“Kids understand more than we give them credit for,” she says. Learning about environmental destruction was “real to me, to us — in a way that it didn’t seem to be real for the adults.”
A few years later, Chang joined her school’s EcoTeam and began participating in environmental and climate action through the EcoSchools program, a certification program open to all schools across Canada. By high school, she was taking on leadership roles on the EcoTeam and encouraging peers to contribute to environmental causes.
Through the EcoSchools Canada program, schools can track and benchmark environmental achievement and receive certification. Over 3,000 schools have been certified through the EcoSchools program, which nurtures student leaders, reduces the environmental impact of schools, and builds sustainable school communities.
In four years, Chang’s school went from no certification to Gold, and was headed for Platinum.
Actions related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be tracked on EcoSchool Canada’s platform, with a particular focus on Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption, and Climate Action.
Making the SDGs Actionable
The EcoSchools Canada’s platform houses over 45 environmental “actions” that students and teachers can take — everything from organizing a community clean-up to reducing the school’s energy footprint. Schools can select which actions they would like to engage with, and throughout the year, provide information on how they’re taking these actions by completing questions and sharing data. For example, to track a school’s kilowatt hours for energy, students can investigate their school’s energy bill, and submit these findings in the EcoSchool’s platform.
The platform’s questionnaire captures certain information — such as how many students were engaged in the action and how they communicated this with the wider community, along with specific questions depending on the action, such as the number of trees planted. As an annual certification program, at the end of the school year, the EcoSchools Canada team assess each application and award a certification level for the current school year.
Schools can track their progress on the platform’s impact page, with the option to view their individual impact or the total impact of all participating students’ environmental and climate actions across Canada.
Tracking the Sustainable Development Goals
“Tracking these metrics is really important because schools can identify areas of strength or areas of weakness, and use those as baselines for improvement over time” says Alex Campagnolo, Data Analyst at EcoSchools Canada.
“If we see something that is lacking collectively, we can strategize to promote those actions to schools.”
Tracking students’ environmental actions is core to EcoSchools’ work in certifying schools, but there are some limitations.
While Campagnolo believes the SDGs are “one of the best frameworks in the world for measuring sustainability,” he says they are quite rigid in wanting quantifiable solutions and are not adaptive to anecdotal evidence.
In 2021, Campagnolo authored an SDG report from EcoSchools Canada exploring how participating schools are contributing to the Government of Canada’s SDG targets.
“For years, we connected our platform to Sustainable Development Goals, but this report took a really deep and detailed attempt at really showing how [we] quantifiably connect to the SDGs.”
Campagnolo hopes that more organizations start to document their SDG contributions in this way. He wants more Canadians to know about how the EcoSchools Canada’s program is furthering the SDG goals.
In fact, Campagnolo suggests that EcoSchools can support the Government of Canada to measure some key performance indicators related to the SDGs — in particular, how it measures sustainable development education.
According to Campagnolo, there is a “major reporting gap” for this key performance indicator in the Government of Canada’s indicator framework for the Sustainable Development Goals. Unlike most other targets related to SDGs which have specific data sources, when it comes to tracking how sustainable development education is working its way into education systems in Canada, the government’s website says it is “exploring data sources.”
“There is an opportunity for the EcoSchools Canada program to be that data source” Campagnolo says.
For students like Chang, participating in the EcoSchools program has made all the difference. Chang is now a university graduate with a degree in environmental studies.
“It’s definitely really hard sometimes, and I have left classes extremely upset, but it all comes back to this: if not me, if not us, then who?” she says. “So many systems are in crisis. We do not have the luxury of waiting around for someone to solve the problem.”
This featured profile is a part of Adopting Common Measures (ACM) program led by the Centre for Social Innovation. Please reach out to the ACM team at paluck(at)sicanada(dot)org if you would like to feature your SDG social impact story.