x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Lessons in conservation

The effort to mainstream ecological awareness and sustainability in both the classroom and on campuses in the UAE comes at a critical time as the UAE attempts to find more ways to reduce its carbon footprint.

"The little but sufficient is better than the abundant, but alluring," reminds a well-known hadith. Its lessons of conservation are soon to be introduced at universities in the UAE. The effort to mainstream ecological awareness and sustainability in both the classroom and on campuses in the UAE comes at a critical time as the UAE attempts to find more ways to reduce its carbon footprint. As Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, put it earlier this month: "We must become leaders in sustainability practices where we continuously look for ways to preserve the environment and to conserve energy on our campuses. We must encourage education and innovation in this area."

The UAE's universities are moving in that direction. Zayed University in Dubai has created the Zayed Environmental Impact Network, which replaces plastic with glass in canteens, while promoting energy savings on campus. UAE University will send students to a solar farm in Al Ain to study its operations and challenges. "It will be like a living, learning laboratory for the engineers there," said Dr Mark Drummond, the provost at HCT. "It gives them hands on experience." Collaboration between businesses and colleges is also encouraging and should become more widespread.

Few institutions have completely integrated environmental education into their curriculums since its costs are often prohibitive. But that is not to say that it's impossible. "You can green almost any curriculum," said James Pounder, associate provost of the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT). 

And there are also longer term costs if young people don't develop an appreciation for conservation. The initiatives at UAE universities are to be welcomed, but such campaigns can also be encouraged for children a much earlier age. A child's environmental education begins with their first experience of nature and an even stronger generational impact could be achieved if environmental education is provided to children who can make a habit out of conservation. Many solutions, from introducing earth education or after school eco-clubs, and enhancing collaboration between schools and the business world, can move the environmental agenda forward.