Embedding Environmental Awareness in Schools: Analysis of the impact of implementing environmental technology and environmental certification schemes
Global warming is probably the most serious risk that humanity will face in the 21st century (Giddens 2009), but it is one among several other risks derived from our current interaction with the environment, and its preponderance should not obscure the underlying cause of this situation. Addressing these risks will require not only political will and rapid deployment of technology, but changes in the patterns of behaviour and lifestyles of each member of society. To drive this behavioural change, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) should play a central role in embedding environmental awareness and positive environmental attitudes since early stages of children development. This study suggests that this environmental awareness and attitudes have to be underpinned by a new ethical approach to how we interrelate with the environment and with other members of society, and that this ethical approach should be closely linked to an ESD that focuses in embedding both, ecological and technological literacy. In 2002 the United Nations adopted the resolution 57/254 to put in place the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development spanning from 2005 to 2014. Under this initiative, the Chilean government together with UNESCO developed a whole‐school approach to ESD by creating the National System for Environmental Certification of Educational Establishments which has been functioning since 2003. In the municipality of Peñalolen, located in the capital city, Santiago, a non‐for‐profit municipal corporation runs fifteen state owned schools under their local educational authority, of which two have been awarded the environmental certification. In addition, during 2009, all the fifteen schools were equipped with a new water saving technology that has achieved significant savings in the months that has been in operation. Based on this experience, this study evaluates the impact that these two initiatives have had in the level of awareness and positive attitudes in relation to technology and the environment in pupils aged 12‐16 years through the application of a questionnaire adapted from Yencken et al. (2000) in five schools in Peñalolen (n=219) of which two are certified (experimental group, n=111) and three noncertified (control group, n=108) under the environmental certification system. In addition, qualitative interviews were conducted with the directors of the five schools to evaluate their perception on the environmental certification system and the performance of the installed technology. The results show a significant difference between the two groups in relation to their awareness and positive attitudes towards the environment and technology. Finally, this study presents recommendations for enhancing the effectiveness and penetration of the environmental certification system and highlights the active role that engineers can play in this task.