Knowledge Hub

Ontario Ecoschools – 2019 SDG Leadership Awards

EcoSchools Canada

Website: ecoschools.ca

Industry: Environmental Education (charity)

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Primary SDG Focus

Secondary SDG Focus

How was your primary SDG focus identified and prioritized in the company’s value chain?

Furthering climate action through a trusted environmental education framework is at the heart of everything we do. We have been delivering the EcoSchools program for the last 14 years with enormous success, engaging nearly 1,900 schools and supporting a million students in environmental learning and action this year alone!

The program has had a transformative impact across the education sector in Ontario and will be available to schools across Canada over the next three years.

We have:

  • Equipped over 150,000 student EcoTeam leaders with the leadership skills they need to change the world
  • Developed and delivered year-long campaigns for schools that have featured diverse environmental education interventions
  • Created over 50 free, bilingual, curriculum-linked resources that support environmental education and are used in classrooms across Ontario
  • Hosted over 150 workshops and webinars for teachers, students and community organizations
  • Designed and overseen the development of two custom-built online platforms for teachers that support environmental learning and action

Key outcomes:

  • A third-party report revealed that Platinum-level certified EcoSchools produce 57% less waste than non-certified schools and that certified EcoSchools are more energy efficient than non-certified schools – check out the third party research reports and publications available on our website!
  • School boards participating in the program have adopted environmental policies as a result of increased engagement – certain boards in the province have even set goals of certifying every school in their school board

How was your primary SDG integrated and anchored throughout your business?

Since 2005, EcoSchools has been supporting school communities in Ontario as they initiate, benchmark, track, and celebrate climate learning and action. We have seen consistent growth in the number of schools we certify, from 13 schools in 2005 to certifying nearly 1900 schools for 2019, and have reached over one million students through our school certification program this year alone. We are leveraging our success in Ontario and scaling out to engage more students in climate education and action; this year we are launching a national pilot to 50 schools across Canada, reaching 15,000 students. We have a proven model for fostering student leadership connected to environmental conservation and sustainable development, and we’re bringing it to students in kindergarten through grade twelve across Canada.

National expansion will enable us to expand our reach across Canada and lay the foundation for mobilizing two million students as they develop the leadership skills, knowledge, and capacity to make meaningful change and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Each action in the new program is directly linked to the UN SDGs. We are in the final stages of being endorsed by the international Foundation for Environmental Educations (FEE), which is endorsed by the UNEP and UNESCO, and is aligned with the UN SDGs.

As an forward thinking, inclusive and diverse organization, we walk the talk with our everyday actions, values and culture – we even have our own staff EcoTeam, outdoor green space, waste-free lunch days and bike-to-work events!

Did you employ any innovative approaches in your efforts to implement the goal?

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We have developed and implemented a successful climate action framework for over a decade and are continuously innovating, growing and scaling; we are in the process of developing our school certification program for a national audience, with sustainable development goals as the primary foci, including a digital platform that connects actions to SDGs. Our program framework features a suite of tangible actions that participants can take and rally their whole school communities around.

Our climate action framework includes:

  • Guides and resources on how to take action at school
  • Curriculum-linked tools and resources to support the action including worksheets for data collection
  • Strategies for mobilizing the broader school community, including parents and community organizations
  • Key metrics to demonstrate success measure impact
  • Digital engagement through a custom online application

We are developing new program content and resources which will be delivered via a brand new interactive digital platform that will be built on the principles of e-learning, behavioural science, gamification, and user experience design. Participants will be prompted to engage with educational content and take on more actions through features such as suggested certification pathways, and “add-on” or “level-up” options. They will be provided with real-time tips and feedback as well as accessible reports on their performance to inform future actions. The platform will be student-friendly and will allow for the students, teachers, and school staff to contribute to their school’s climate action and certification achievements.

Were any partnerships leveraged or created?

We are committed to working in partnerships across the corporate, nonprofit, and education sectors to support the 2030 Agenda. Our current partners include but are not limited to: TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, Environmental Defence, Ontario Ministry of Education, York University, Cascades Inc., RBC Foundation, GreenLearning Canada, World Wildlife Fund, and the Centre de leadership et d’évaluation.

The EcoSchools recognition-based framework enhances the value of existing regional and national environmental programs, by supporting co-benefit and collective impact approaches with other organizations. Certified EcoSchools are encouraged and rewarded for their efforts as they engage community partners (e.g. parent groups, community organizations, local businesses) in their environmental and sustainable development initiatives. For example, a school may work with the local daycare centre to tend their school garden, or they may partner with an environmental organization to help organize a community-wide EcoFair.

In fall 2019, we will be launching the national EcoSchools program pilot, and bring Canada to the international EcoSchools community of 67 countries. We will be joining a global youth movement for climate action. Canada is currently the only G7 country that is not leveraging a national EcoSchools program to support the advancement of the SDGs. We will mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, and technology with partner countries to build our collective capacity and impact.

What communications strategy did you employ to share the initiative with your stakeholders?

We share our initiatives and updates via our website, through monthly e-blasts to schools and school boards, newsletters to our broader network, and social media (check us out @EcoSchoolsCAN).

Our reach:

  • School board representatives at 58 school boards
  • Teachers, principles, and EcoTeam leads at 1,900 schools
  • Over 50,000 students active on EcoTeams
  • 1,000,000 students reached through campaigns and initiatives
  • Over 7,000 followers on Twitter
  • Community of over 7,000 newsletter recipients

How were KPIs and the levels of success outlined and defined?

We track the climate action impact of our schools through the following metrics and KPI’s;

  • Number of schools participating and certifying as EcoSchools – 1,900
  • Number of students participating in environmental learning and action – over 1,000,000
  • Number of student EcoTeam Leaders – 50,000
  • Percentage of participating boards in province – 81%
  • Percentage of certifying schools in province – 40%
  • Percentage of schools that nurture student leadership – 96%
  • Percentage of schools that regular turn off lights when not in use – 95%
  • Percentage of schools that have waste reduction communication strategies – 86%
  • Number of environmental lessons taking place – 8,730
  • Number of environmental action campaigns delivered in school communities – 4,875
  • Number of school recertifying year-over-year – 84%

**We have included the most recent annual stats (2018).

We regularly use surveys to collect feedback from our community and use a variety of methods including interviews, focus groups and discovery sessions to inform our processes.

How were reporting and monitoring conceptualized and undertaken?

We love data crunching! Every year after schools certify, we dive into the application data to find success stories, share impacts and look for better ways to collect data. Year-over-year our benchmarks, standards and level of rigour are evaluated and improved – allowing us to provide our funders with top notch stats and progress indicators.

We plan our projects and programs with evaluation in mind; from building out data collection methods, collecting feedback at every stage and undergoing meaningful lessons learned sessions we remain critical and constantly improve upon what we do.

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What were the key impacts and results?

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How EcoSchools changed my life

By Emmalee Frketich, Westmount Secondary School, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board

When I was in grade nine, I saw a poster for my school’s environmental activism team, the EcoNinjas, and thinking it would be a good way to get involved in my new school, went to the first meeting. To put it simply, that decision changed my life. That day, I walked into a classroom full of students who were passionate about the environment, who weren’t afraid to stand up in what they believed in, who challenged each other to do better and were full of wonderful ideas. If you truly want to make change, it’s these types of people that you need to surround yourself with.

You don’t have to possess a certain list of traits, be a specific type of person or dedicate your life to the environment to be to changemaker; you just have to care and be willing to do something about it. 

One of your first steps towards action can be getting certified as an EcoSchool. This voluntary program recognizes environmental action, and has a vision of certifying every school in the province. My school is at the Gold level right now, but I’m determined it will be Platinum by the time I graduate. 

At the end of the day, what matters most is your passion to leave the world in better shape than than how you found it. Complacency is the environment’s greatest enemy. It’s the moment you pick up the pop can on the trail instead of walking by it that change starts to take hold. 

When you put your heart into it, others will notice, get inspired, and follow your lead.