The Finnish sustainability approach put to the test in The Netherlands

The Finnish sustainability approach put to the test in The Netherlands
The Finnish sustainability approach put to the test in The Netherlands

Two Dutch lecturers from Van Hall Larenstein UAS attended a Sustainable Teacher Exchange week in Oulu UAS last October. Looking back on this visit after a while is a nice opportunity to reflect on our own school situation in The Netherlands. In Oulu we saw a dedicated sustainability team that took really good care of the environmental aspects of the institute. What struck me most was the philosophy of getting results in a well planned but relaxed way. This step by step approach seemed to have a lot of support from all levels in the organisation. This work was crowned by the WWF certificate at the entrance and the little friendly dog symbol that smiled to me from many places in the building.

This makes me jealous! I also want to have a certificate in my institute and a nice cartoon figure. I have been pulling at many strings in my school to get our environmental care in order, but we never reached the Oulu state of a real certificate in the doorway. Thanks for this example!

Partly by frustration on the slow environmental progress in our institute (still no separate waste disposal system) I focused myself more and more on the curriculum development and on regional cooperation:

  • In the curriculum we decided to concentrate sustainability lessons in one period per year. Special focus was given by colleague Glibert Leistra on the philosophy of ethics and on dealing with sustainability dilemmas in the classroom. This proved to be a good decision and he trained the staff in bringing dilemma’s to the classroom with the Socratic discussion method. Students examine a case now by asking real good questions to each other and exploring the ethical standpoints in these discussions. In the end they make a decision and this helps them to unwind the many opinions that can blur your view. 
  • In regional cooperation we invested in the building of a network of government (local municipalities of Rheden and Arnhem), entrepreneurs, NGO’s, natural and cultural resource management organisations, schools and citizens-organisations. In this network with the name Groene Vallei Veluwezoom (Green Valley Veluwezoom) our school provides students for a lot of practical research questions. Several teachers are involved in green projects with a direct connection with citizen participation. After a few years of experimenting, we can now harvest some good practices. One recent example is a local citizens initiative to restore a derelict commercial apple orchard with high grown apple trees for adoption at 35€ per tree per year. This initiative is now expanding to a wider movement of ”greening the whole neighbourhood”.  Our students cooperate for real with the municipality staff in the participation process and the results are very promising. But the question in this BLOG is: Does it really promote sustainable development within our network? I vote for a Yes, because we are all working towards a common goal in small and relaxed but steady steps (The Finnish approach!) Every partner is contributing according to his abilities and special skills. Our school brings in knowledge on landscape architecture and the environment; it facilitates the citizen participation and provides the vision of young people. This last factor is more and more appreciated, because many planning projects are driven by the older generations. So in regional cooperation our school is promoting the People and Planet -side of the puzzle. The Profitability/Profit-side is the difficult one these days. But we discovered that there is always money for a good idea. As long as the initiative is visionary and imaginable for the stakeholders and as long as it promotes real citizen involvement, than there is a really good chance for success. So do it as the Oulu Fins: relaxed but steady and determined!

Daan van der Linde (Rural Development lecturer) and Gilbert Leistra (Nature Conservation lecturer)

Van Hall Larenstein UAS, Larensteinselaan 26a, 6882 CT Velp, The Netherlands.

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