Green guide for all educators

Otago Polytechnic's determination to integrate sustainability into all it teaches and does is paying dividends for the institution and its sustainability programme leader.

Otago Polytechnic is fast gaining a reputation as a leader in sustainability, undertaking consultancy projects, conducting seminars for businesses and leading national projects such as the 2009 sustainable housing challenge, says Associate Prof Sam Mann, who has headed the Education for Sustainability team for the past two years.

Prof Mann's own rewards came this week when he was named Beeby Fellow for 2009 and also as one of three New Zealanders selected to attend the Unesco World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development next month in Bonn, Germany.

The $25,000 fellowship is a joint initiative between the New Zealand Council for Educational Research and the New Zealand National Commission for Unesco.

Prof Mann (38) will use the money to write and publish a book about Otago Polytechnic's experiences and giving tips for use by other institutions.

He said he was planning a field guide which would answer educators' questions about what sustainability had to do with their disciplines.

"I'm hoping it will engage people at all levels but be more than a once-over-lightly."

The book would be launched both in hard-copy form and online in October.

Prof Mann has travelled an interesting route to his present role as a lecturer in the polytechnic's information technology department.

He graduated with a degree in geography and botany and later gained his PhD in information technology, specialising in electronic land-mapping and monitoring systems.

He worked for the Otago Regional Council for a time and spent a year wading through Canadian swamplands monitoring climate change patterns for the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) before joining Otago Polytechnic 10 years ago.

Sustainability - putting more back into the environment than was taken out by a person or activity - involved more than recycling or energy efficiencies, Prof Mann said.

At Otago Polytechnic, the aim was for sustainability to be integrated into all courses and for all graduates to think and act as sustainable practitioners.

One of the practical ways it was doing that was by creating a "living campus" - a network of gardens which would be used to teach environmental concepts such as water management and which would also provide pleasant spaces for students and staff, produce therapeutic herbs for nursing students and vegetables and herbs for cookery students.

The time was right for such a book, Prof Mann said.

"Two years ago, we had the perfect mix [at Otago Polytechnic] to make a commitment to sustainability - leadership which wanted it to happen and staff were waiting for the opportunity to do it.

I believe the latent energy is there at grassroots level in other New Zealand institutions, too, and support is there from vice-chancellors and chief executives.

Now we need to get all those people to work together.

The book will be trying to achieve that."

Prof Mann said he was looking forward to the Unesco conference, which would be attended by about 700 people from all over the world.

Beforehand, he would spend a few days in Sweden visiting sustainability design schools.

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