The Collaborate to Zero series is all about how we can help each other get to a net zero position, a goal that Delphis Eco has set for itself by 2040, 10 years before the Paris accord. Our CEO, Mark Jankovich is interviewing business leaders to get their sector insight, tips and learnings. By working together, we have a better chance of reversing the damage to our planet. It's all about collaboration to drive positive change!
In this fifth interview, Mark interviews Richard Dunne an inspirational educator, from The Harmony Project, to tell us about the importance of education on climate change.
Mark Jankovich: Richard is an absolute Rockstar when it comes to pushing sustainability. He captures the hearts and minds of the next generation and our future leaders. I first met Richard in 2010, when I got a phone call from his office. The year fours at his school had requested that I come in and answer some questions. I was fascinated to sit down and listen to them, and to share with them my vision for the company, a vision that has lasted to this day.
I'm delighted to have Richard join the Collaborate to Zero project. When I spoke to the headmistress of my girl’s school, I said “All around us education is changing by the second. What do you think?”, and she looked at me blankly. What do you think about that Richard, and please tell me a little bit about The Harmony Project and all the work that you are doing?
Richard Dunne: Well, I think that response is quite common. I was just talking to someone overseas last week who was concerned that his education system hadn't really changed since he was a child, 40 years ago. Of course, there are also a lot of parents now who are saying we need a different model of doing things. I believe we need to be much more relevant, meaningful and holistic in our thinking. Education needs to be addressing the issues of our time and there is a movement to try and change that.
I think the biggest challenge, and what we see in The Harmony Project, is that you've got a juggernaut of education going in one direction, and you are trying to jump on board and say: “Actually, we need to be steering this in a different direction.” At The Harmony Project we are trying to say: “Let's look at what you're doing already, and let's rethink it and rework it.” That way, we can start to better address the challenges of our time.
If we link climate change to, for example, the ice melting in the Arctic or the Antarctic, then we encourage people to think about the way our climate is changing. By then moving the conversation on to what they can do about it, we can develop a more positive outlook.
It's all about working alongside schools to instil a stronger sense of sustainability into their education system. That is how we help them make it better.
MJ: So, inspiring with a positive message and kind of a feel-good factor, which makes sense. It is where we need to be because there is a lot of positivity that we can get out of this, and we just need to showcase that.
RD: I think the best way to do that is by shifting the focus away from the potential eco-anxiety around climate change and moving towards something that they can do, themselves. If you look at that in the context of energy management, and monitoring in your school, students suddenly feel like they have a role to play if they are given a chance to lead it. Then they take that message home, and they start to ask their parents about where they use energy and how they can change that. By flipping it on its head in quite a simple way, it starts to have an impact.
MJ: Are you seeing a shift? Is there more urgency? Are more schools, waking up to this? Do you see the curriculum changing? Is the government on board?
RD: I think we have obviously been through a hugely challenging time over the last year to 18 months, and on one side that has made people rethink what education is about. A lot of parents have seen how schools are working, because they have seen much more of it in their own homes. It has opened up a conversation about the future of education, and how we want our children's education to be. Alongside that, a lot of people have been much more connected to nature. So, there is a very strong nature element to it. The other side, of course, is managing all of the challenges of COVID and lockdown. That has been really difficult. We have to be careful not to push our agenda too hard at the moment, when everyone is on their knees, just trying to get through to the end of the year.
In a more positive light, it has given us a chance to do things in a different way. My hope is that we start thinking about how we do things in the context of what its impact will be on the natural world. Take the Dasgupta Report and Review, for example, and how it urged us to put nature at the heart of all economic practices. It’s the same for education. If that’s a big message coming through in the economy, then education needs to align with that.
By learning about nature, we are increasingly seeing its value. I would say we need to go further and learn from nature itself.
What I call Principles of Harmony, are an educational context that we can learn from. For example, the things that you are applying to your business cycles: recycling, producing bottles out of 100% recycled materials, etc. It helps young people to think that way.
MJ: I love the Harmony Principles. You very kindly gave me a copy of the Harmony book, written by The Prince of Wales. How can we get those principles embedded into education and what do you think the barriers are to getting those core principles embedded?
RD: I think we have to push for change at all levels. Let me give you an example, I’m currently working with the Forest School Association to ensure that all young people have access to nature-based outdoor learning on a regular basis. Some schools will do it anyway, but in other schools, it will be a big change. They need to have funding to shift beyond the idea that you can only learn in a classroom. The funding will support the change, the training of staff and the running of sessions outside in nature.
So how do we get a better balance between classroom based learning and outdoor learning? That's a policy change. That is something that we are pushing at a government level. We are trying to say, “You've done it for sport, so now let's do it for nature!” My ideal would be that these Principles of Harmony run through the national curriculum, in fact, I am even starting to call it the ‘natural curriculum’. We need to move away from a national curriculum to a natural curriculum.
MJ: I shudder to think what the percentage of time is that kids spend outside and outdoor learning, I suspect it is woefully low. One of the things that we talked about, all those years ago was how younger generations would lose a sense of urgency as they went off to secondary school and other stuff would become cooler. Are you seeing that the interest in the environment and the surroundings is extending into secondary school and into university?
RD: Less so. I think it tends to be more holistic and more joined up as a way of seeing learning at primary level. At that stage, children are generally very keen to engage with projects that address those kinds of issues. Secondary school, of course, is a different format. You are mainly working in subject-specific areas, with different teachers, departments and styles of learning. I think that the more siloed approach does make it very difficult. It's not a criticism, it's just a reality of what is happening. So really, if we are going to make it work more at secondary, we have to try and reframe the learning to be more project focused. That would need some creative thinking and buy-in from teachers.
My sense is that a lot of young people, and organisations like Teach the Future, are very keen to push an interdisciplinary way of learning around projects. The more that young people demand it, the more it will need to be acknowledged. It might not be the whole time, but there might be more focus around themed weeks, or certain elements within the curriculum that are much more flexible to this kind of approach.
MJ: I'm interested to learn about the Sustainable Food Trust. Can you tell me more about them?
RD: The Sustainable Food Trust is looking to transition food and farming to a more sustainable way of working. They have created what is called a harmonised sustainability metric, which is a tool to enable farmers and people growing food to measure their impact in terms of both environmental and social measures, and to see how they can improve their work.
What's good about it is that it puts your footprint on a spectrum. So, you may start by looking at, for example, soil health, and you may not be in a very good place there. But there are steps that can guide you to creating healthier soil or improving your biodiversity. You can even track the social elements of the wellbeing of your staff, for example. There are lots of different strands to the work, and each strand takes you on a journey. It’s not like you are either onboard or not. It is a constant evaluative process of moving towards a more sustainable, regenerative way of working and there are a lot of people who are really interested in it.
The Prince of Wales is talking about it and highlighting the benefits of this approach. You have got supermarkets, banks, and people involved in the food and farming world who are saying, “Yeah, this is a really helpful way of seeing how we can move to a better place”. You have also got the rewilding elements and the land sharing versus land sparing. But ultimately, we need to be looking at ways of growing food that is both good for us and good for the planet.
MJ: I am a massive fan of rewilding; I think it is great. Under the umbrella of the Sustainable Food Trust, do you think that the government should be supporting farmers and landowners to rewild more land?
RD: I think the government needs to be incentivising practices that are helping to regenerate land, and rewilding as a part of that. If you look at the land sparing approach, you could have a field that is industrially farmed, but has a lot of chemicals, nitrogen, and fertilizer sprays on it. The land at the side might be a little bit wider and as a result, spared of that. It may even have a certain amount of biodiversity.
My sense of it and from what I understand from the Sustainable Food Trust is that we should also be looking at the farmland itself. The technologies that can help us to do that more will be key to not just seeing it as the bit on the side, but seeing how we can ensure that the farmland itself is healthy and good for wildlife.
MJ: Yes, it is important to link them all together. I have a slight bugbear with carbon offsetting. My view is that we need to do everything we possibly can. Lean into reducing our carbon as much as possible and then start offsetting. It is not something that you can just buy to clear your conscience. It is something you need to do at the end. And planting trees isn't necessarily the answer, but the rewilding piece, I think that is critical to getting the biodiversity up.
RD: Yes, the statistics are shocking. I read at the end of last year, in the WWF report, that we'd lost 68% of our biodiversity in the last 50 years. That is an extraordinary figure. I was talking to a school on Friday, I said to them, “Do you know how many different varieties or species of beetle there are in the UK? And one very bright boy said “3,200”. But I think the figure is closer to 4,000. And that is just beetles. And yet, I don’t know about you, I could probably only name three.
MJ: It is about taking a holistic approach. Using a mathematical equation to make the point. It’s about making it visual, versus incredibly dull and boring. I would like to hear more about some of the partnerships that you're working with, and some of the leaders that you've worked with? What is working well? What can you share from a collaboration perspective?
RD: Collaboration is so essential. We need to work together. I already mentioned the Forest School Association and our work on the nature of premium. I am also working with the Eden Project and Eden Project International, and that is fascinating. Tim Smit is such a visionary man. He is keen to see how we can push forward these urgent issues and really address them. So, we are doing some interesting work there.
We have got a lovely project at the moment with young people on the subject of ‘Home’. What is my home? Where is my home? What are my hopes and fears for the future? And what would I say to someone who visits my home? The first group of students we are working with is a group in the Maldives. Their home is hugely under threat and they are very conscious of that. They are absolutely brilliant at sharing their message. We want to build a network of young people sharing their story: their hopes and fears for the future, and how they think we need to address the issue of looking after our ‘home.’ It has got the environmental side, but it has a social dimension as well.
Also, in terms of collaboration, we are doing some interesting work with The Prince’s Foundation. Lord John Bird, who set up The Big Issue, is pushing hard in England with his act that addresses the future and not just the now. It’s called The Future Generations Act. We need to be much more forward thinking, as well as dealing with the here and now. We need to be looking at the long-term impact of the way we live. All of these projects are looking very much along those lines.
MJ: If you had a magic wand in your hand, what would you do?
RD: I would shift learning away from being separated out. I would make it coherent and cohesive. That doesn’t mean to say you cannot teach subjects skills and knowledge, but what it does mean is that you do so because it is relevant to the project that you are doing.
I remember talking to one of my daughters about her learning in maths, and they did the number sequence of the Fibonacci spiral. And I said, “Did you draw the Fibonacci spiral, because it's a spiral of nature?” And she said, “No, no, we just did it as a maths sequence of numbers.” I said, “That's a shame, because it's a really beautiful spiral that we see everywhere in the world.” Then I asked, “By the way, what are you doing in art?”, and she said, “We're doing pop art”. So, I thought, there could be a great connection between the maths and the art. They could have joined it together in a beautiful way but in reality, there was no connection at all. From one lesson to the next, was a different world. I think if I had a magic wand, it would be to bring learning together under projects that really have a sense of purpose, and a sense of practical application.
MJ: There are so many kids out there who would learn better if you actually made it real. A few last questions. What are your favourite brands that are inspiring you?
RD: Well, of course, there is Delphis Eco.
MJ: Thank you for the plug, that was not necessary!
RD: No, but in all seriousness, I think the way that you work, and the dedication and commitment you have to the cause is exactly what we need to be looking at. I remember Robert Swann, the polar explorer, talking about the biggest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it. We have to walk the talk. And that is what you do. I love any organisation that is trying to challenge the status quo. More and more, we are seeing organisations, like North Face, who are doing great work around environmental issues.
MJ: Any brilliant books and podcasts that you think we should be listening to? Obviously yours, The Harmony Approach, but any others?
RD: In terms of books, you may know of a guy called Mike Berners Lee. He has written an interesting book called How Bad are Bananas which looks at the journey of our bananas, from where they are grown to our homes. He has done a number of books, which are very environmentally aware and challenging.
I am also reading a lovely book called The Well Gardened Mind. It is about the importance of gardening and nature to our wellbeing, particularly for people who are in situations of trauma or depression. I'll share one last one, which is a beautiful book called The Hidden Geometry of Flowers by Keith Critchlow. It’s written by a man who used to run the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. It's all about the amazing beauty and patterns in the geometry of flowers. That is a special book.
Thank you to Richard for adding valuable insight to the education and agricultural sectors and how we can Collaborate to Zero. To find out more about The Harmony Project please visit www.theharmonyproject.org.uk .