The Massachusetts Education for Sustainability Campaign


Youth CAN’s Massachusetts Education for Sustainability Campaign (MEfSC)

Our Goal & Commitment:  Educating for Sustainability

BLS Youth CAN, the group at Boston Latin School that founded the Youth CAN member group network (now with 16 member groups), has been committed to community outreach and education since its formation in January of 2007.  Within four months time Youth CAN was hosting its first annual Global Climate Change Summit at MIT for youth and educators grades 7-12 (in partnership with the Technology and Culture Forum at MIT).  By the second summit (May 2008) BLS Youth CAN had launched what was initially called the Massachusetts Climate Literacy Campaign aimed at promoting climate change education at the secondary level state wide, and forming a coalition of youth, educators and friends to develop climate literacy benchmarks and strategy for the campaign. 

Over the course of organizing several National Teach-Ins on climate change solutions at Boston Latin School, it became clearer and clearer to Youth CAN students that what they really wanted to promote was more than climate change curriculum and climate literacy, and more even than just environmental literacy.  Youth CAN students realized that climate change was only a part of what they needed and wanted to learn about in school.  Nor was an environmental class or unit really enough.  What Youth CAN students were really seeking was a shift on a very broad scale in which educators in all classes would begin to teach their particular content in ways that would address and promote sustainability.  Students began to regard the big ideas of sustainability as the perfect overarching theme for organizing course content whether it be math, economics, foreign policy, government, history, etc., Youth CAN students came to understand that they need in a wide range of classes across disciplines and grade levels 

classes where educators will incorporate the big ideas of sustainability into their existing curriculum.  Only in this way will students be best able to make sense of their learning in new ways--ways that will help them think in the broadest possible ways, in terms of sustainability.  Thus Youth CAN students changed the name of their educational initiative from the “Massachusetts Climate Literacy Campaign” to the “Massachusetts Education for Sustainability Campaign.”

The Youth Climate Action Network is committed to promoting educational goals that will contribute to the transition to a sustainable society by equipping students with the necessary information, skill sets, and understandings, and habits of mind that will prepare them to live responsibly and within the means of nature.   Youth CAN’s educational goals and thinking have been informed by leaders in the field of education for sustainability including Shelburne Farms Sustainable Schools Project @; the Cloud Institute at; as well as the Massachusetts Environmental Action Plan; the US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development National Education for Sustainability K-12 Student Learning Standards Version 3 – October 2009; the Education for Sustainable Development in the United States of America report submitted to the International Alliance of Leading Education Institutes released 19 August, 2009; and the No Child Left Inside Act.

To view relevant documents, access downloads page here:

The Massachusetts Education for Sustainability Campaign Strategic Plan: 

1. Create a specific MEfSC Curriculum Pilot that will make available interdisciplinary (math, science, social studies, language arts, economics, etc.) sustainability curriculum for grades 7-12 (pilot development at Summer Institute on EfS for Educators 2010)

2.Align proposed curriculum with existing state frameworks and standards for the given subject

4.   Establish Education for SustainabilityBenchmarks that will indicate what a student who is educated for sustainability and about climate change should know and be able to do

5.   Make sure that the curriculum proposed promotes learning towards established benchmarks

6.  Pilot the MEfSC Proposal at Boston Latin School 2010/2011

7.   Promote piloting the proposal district-wide

8.   Collaborate with a coalition of stake holders, eg:  parents, educators, administrators, government officials - Secretary of Energy and Environment's Educational Advisory Board, Boston City Councillors, service professionals etc., as well as multiple groups in the Youth CAN membership (16 groups at present) to develop and promote the proposal

9.  Organize public hearings to promote the proposal as a state-wide requirement

Using the Proposed Sustainable Roofscape Learning Lab to Support the Education for Sustainability Campaign

In support of the Education for Sustainability Campaigh Boston Latin School Youth Climate Action Network has initiated a project to green the oldest school in the country and share it with other schools state-wide.  Youth CAN students have developed a comprehensive plan that weaves together their energy model and action plan, the Education for Sustainability Campaign (EfS), and a proposed green roof.  Each component, because it will be shared on the Youth CAN website and promoted via a student network, supports the ambitious education and sustainability goals set by students with energy reductions, student activism, and the creation of a sustainability curriculum pilot paired with outdoor learning space on an urban rooftop with the long-term goal of engaging students and educators in learning that will instill a sense of stewardship for our shared planet and cultivate important understandings about sustainability. The Sustainable Roofscape Learning Lab, designed by Youth CAN students in partnership with Studio G Architects, proposes varieties of vegetation, green technologies, a green house, and outdoor classrooms in a “Whitman’s sampler” of green roof features allowing students to collect and consider comparative data as a means of engaging with the big ideas of sustainability. This student-led effort is one result of an energy audit and action plan BLS Youth CAN students initiated.  The project proposes sweeping changes to the schools’ physical plant and has engaged numerous partners, including schools and community youth organizations to help develop and implement programs aimed at ensuring that the roofscape learning lab, curricular materials, data sets, and green changes from the audit will benefit classrooms across Massachusetts.

Engaging the Community

With 200+ members, BLS Youth CAN engages the entire school community in annual initiatives like the National Teach-In on Climate Solutions and our Youth Summit at MIT.  The Greening BLS project engages broad numbers of students, faculty and administrators (70 volunteered at the green roof block party, currently more than 25 BLS faculty are planning to develop curriculum for our sustainability pilot).  Youth CAN partners with school and community organizations like Dorchester Bay Youth Force, Codman Academy, and Latin Academy to develop models for other schools to use the EFS curriculum and facilities. Youth CAN also founded the Fenway Green Roof Student Coalition, reaching out to twelve surrounding colleges and high schools aimed at bringing green roofs to each of our institutions, establishing the first green roof enclave in Boston. Youth CAN students are also seeking to partner with the Food Project to create summer programming for Boston youth using the roofscape.

Why Youth CAN Is Leading the Call for Education for Sustainability

The Youth Climate Action Network understands that the vision of the future held by young people contributes significantly to the future society that we enact.  That’s why it matters so much what young people imagine for the world, and why Youth CAN is insisting that today’s youth become educated about climate change and sustainability.

Global climate change is a problem that will impact humans in every way imaginable, changing our way of life at the most fundamental levels, bringing dramatic shifts in the availability of natural resources, economic stability, public health, as well as shifts in technology and the job market.  It seems obvious why students would want to be educated about such a critical issue.  Today’s and tomorrow’s students are the ones whose immediate future will be most impacted by the challenges and opportunities arising from global climate change.

As an extra-curricular club with a mission to take action to address global climate change, Youth CAN is working in the right direction, but student initiatives alone will not be sufficient to teach comprehensively about the issue and reach the numbers of students who need to be educated.  Therefore, at the 2008 Annual Global Climate Change Summit, Youth CAN students initiated the formation of a coalition of like-minded students, educators, administrators, parents, and friends committed to working together to ensure that students in Massachusetts learn about sustainability and global warming as a required part of their secondary school education.

Promoting Systems Thinking

Youth CAN believes that in order to adequately meet the challenges of global climate change and to have the understandings necessary to envision a shared future on a planet with natural limits, students will need to be thoroughly educated for sustainability. Part of what that means is that students will need to learn about and understand the interconnections between many of today’s social, economic, and ecological ills, and be able to identify the ways in which such problems have stemmed from ideological models and assumptions that are antiquated, incomplete and misguided, and then shift in favor of new thinking and practices that are more sustainable.  

The Big Ideas of Sustainability

Ability to make a difference: everyone has the ability to affect change or impact a system, community, self.

Change over time: all organisms/places/systems are constantly changing.

Community: all communities involve nested economic, environmental, and social systems. We need to understand the interconnections to come up with sustainable solutions.

Cycles: every organism/system goes through different stages.

Diversity: systems/places function because of variety.

Equilibrium: a state of balance.

Equity/Fairness: resources need to be shared to meet the needs of living things across places and generations.

Interdependence: all living things are connected. Every organism/system/place depends on others.

Limits: every system has a carrying capacity.

Long-term effects: we can project that actions will

have effects beyond immediate reactions.

Place: natural and human communities together make up one’s place. Every place has its own needs and limits.

Preparing Future Leaders

Already much of the professional sector has embarked on the move towards sustainability, most notably business, architecture and design, urban and rural planning, agriculture, local and state governments, non-governmental organizations and higher education.  Yet despite these trends, young people in our country are still required to spend the bulk of their formative years being "schooled” by institutions that have not yet incorporated these ideals. 

As a result, current K-12 education is having a profoundly shortsighted impact on our society's present and future prospects.  As David Orr says, “sustainability is about [nothing less than] the terms and conditions of human survival, and yet we still educate at all levels as if no such crisis existed."  It is for these reasons that Youth CAN is committed to promoting education for sustainability.  

"A sustainable society is one that is far-seeing enough, flexible enough, and wise enough not to undermine either its physical or its social systems of support."

Donella H. Meadows, et al., The Sustainability Institute, "Beyond the Limits"

What Is Education for Sustainability & Why It Is Important:

Education for Sustainability entails education across grades/subjects/disciplines that promotes student learning connected by and grounded in the big ideas of sustainability (community, interdependence, cycles, systems, change over time, diversity, equity).  Sustainability then, instead of being just one more topic that educators have to squeeze into an already full curriculum, becomes the integrating theme (the overarching concept or idea) that has the potential to connect all topics, concepts, skills, experiences that students are exposed to. 

Education understood in this way uses sustainability as the focusing idea or goal according to which curriculum is organized, such that the overall goal of teaching is to better enable students to think sustainably (to understand how the content they are learning relates in some way to community, interdependence, cycles, systems, change over time, diversity, and equity.)

By understanding the substance of their studies as connected by these big ideas, students will be better equipped to act intelligently within existing systems because they better understand how such systems work.  Such students will be prepared to become the designers of sustainable systems because they will have been prepared to think sustainably at a fundamental level.  Such students will literally be educated for sustainability. 

Current Standards Already Call for Teaching the Big Ideas of Sustainability

The current trend of implementing standards-based education has shaped the effort to implement education for sustainability in the USA, and while only one state has adopted the explicit goal of fostering an understanding of sustainability amongst its students (see Vermont sustainability standards below), many existing content-area and performance standards already support the skills and understandings necessary for sustainability.  For example, social studies, geography, and science standards all mandate that students understand the interconnections between people, place, the planet, and technology; social studies standards also dictate the ability to view issues from multiple perspectives.

Furthermore, education for sustainability should be grounded in the pedagogical traditions of progressive, experiential education, and promote teaching strategies that are ideally place-based, project based, and service learning oriented.  Education for sustainability should promote inquiry that combines the best of what we know about teaching and learning, with the content, core competencies and habits of mind that are necessary in order to move toward a sustainable future.

Habits of mind that students educated for sustainability should demonstrate:

­Understanding of Systems as the Context for Decision Making

The extent to which one sees both the whole system and its parts as well as the extent to which an individual can place one's self within the system

­Intergenerational Responsibility

The extent to which one takes responsibility for the effect (s) of her/his actions on future generations

­Mindful of and Skillful with Implications and Consequences

The extent to which one consciously makes choices and plans actions to achieve positive systemic impact

­Protecting and Enhancing the Commons

The extent to which one works to reconcile the conflicts between individual rights and the responsibilities of citizenship to tend to the commons

­Awareness of Driving Forces and their Impacts

The extent to which one recognizes and can act strategically and responsibly in the context of the driving forces that influence our lives

­Assumption of Strategic Responsibility

The extent to which one assumes responsibility for one's self and others by designing, planning and acting with whole systems in mind

­Paradigm Shifter

The extent to which one recognizes mental models and paradigms as guiding constructs that change over time with new knowledge and applied insight

Core Content Education for Sustainability Should Address:

­Ecological Literacy

Science principles and natural laws that help us to understand the interconnectedness of humans and all of the Earth's systems...

­System Dynamics/"Systems Thinking"

Understanding systems as the context for decision-making...

­Multiple Perspectives

Truly valuing and learning from the life experiences and cultures of others...

­Sense of Place

Connecting to and valuing the places in which we live…

­Sustainable Economics

An evolving study of the connections between economic, social and natural systems...

­Citizenship (Participation and Leadership)

The rights, responsibilities, & actions associated with participatory democracy toward sustainable communities...

­Creativity and Visioning

The ability to envision and invent a rich, hopeful future...

MEfSC BACKGROUND:  Developing Goals, Working as A Coalition

The Massachusetts Education for Sustainability Campaign, or MEfSC, brings together a broad range of interest groups in an effort to promote climate literacy and sustainability education in schools in Massachusetts, with a goal of requiring that such teaching become thoroughly integrated into the curriculum across disciplines and required by state standards.

Our Plan – Steps and Stages

On November 16th 2008 the MEfSC coalition met at MIT (in conjunction with the Annual MCAN Conference to begin discussing the specific steps that the sustainability and climate literacy campaign needed to take.  The meeting identified tasks including gathering and evaluating climate change curriculum; identifying existing state standards that pertain to climate change and sustainability, and proposing meaningful additions to the standards where necessary; establishing a list supporters for the sustainability campaign; creating and assigning specific tasks to those willing to help; piloting our proposal; and developing a strategic plan for presenting our requested sustainability standards and curriculum to administrators and legislators at a public hearing.

Recognition at the State Level

The Massachusetts Education for Sustainability Campaign has already received favorable attention from state officials.  On December 10, 2008, Youth CAN students were invited by the Secretary of Energy and Environment for the state of Massachusetts to present to the Secretary’s Educational Advisory Board about the Youth CAN network and our Massachusetts Education for Sustainability and Climate Literacy Campaign.  Five Youth CAN students, representing 3 Youth CAN groups, Representatives from 3 Youth CAN Groups present about the MCLC to the Secretary of Energy & Environments' Educational Advisory Board 12/10/08

presented about the MESCLC, including students from Wayland H.S., Boston Latin Academy Youth CAN, and Boston Latin School Youth CAN.

Sustainability Benchmarks & Piloting a Proposal

On Saturday January 24th 2009 the MEfSC coalition met to begin establishing sustainability and climate literacy benchmarks as well as drafting plans for aligning climate change curriculum with state standards. The group committed to work towards piloting sustainability and climate change teaching at Boston Latin School (with the headmaster’s approval) and to pursue a long-term goal of piloting in the district.  Youth CAN has already spoken with BPS superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson about this possibility.

Putting it into Action

On February 5th 2009 BLS Youth CAN participated in the second annual National Teach-In on Global Climate Change Solutions.  Faculty at BLS were asked to teach about climate change and sustainability.  Several members of the faculty, as well as the headmaster were filmed and interviewed for inclusion in a short promotional video introducing the Massachusetts Education for Sustainability Campaign and illustrating the ease with which climate and sustainability lessons can be incorporated within existing curriculum and aligned to existing state standards across disciplines. 

Ongoing Outreach

On March 4th 2009, Youth CAN students were invited to present about the MEfSC to the Massachusetts Environmental Educator’s Society conference at Holy Cross College in Worcester.  On April 3rd 2009 Youth CAN presented to 100 educators for Mass Audubon Society about the MEfSC.

Student Generated Public Service Announcements

Youth CAN groups have been encouraged to film short public service announcements about the campaign (30 – 60 seconds only) helping to promote the MEfSC (Details are on the PSA page of the Youth CAN website at 5 PSAs have been made.  The Foresight Project featured BLS Youth CAN PSAs at a Boston Green Fest Film Screening in August 2009.

Filming a Student-Made Documentary about the MEfSC

BLS Youth CAN students created a documentary about the Massachusetts Education for Sustainability and Climate Literacy Campaign. 

Creating an Interdisciplinary Education for Sustainability Curriculum Development Team at BLS

Youth CAN presented to the School Site Council in the fall of 2009 about the MEfSC and asked that the school adopt and promote our goals of educating for sustainability and developing curriculum that educates for sustainability and teaches about climate change and global warming.   Towards that end, students called for an interdisciplinary team of faculty who would be charged by the School Site Council with developing curriculum that the school will pilot. 

Piloting Climate Education at BLS With the National Wildlife Federation and NASA The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has invited BLS Youth CAN to join a pilot climate education effort.  The NWF is the recipient of a NASA Global Climate Change Education (GCCE) grant.  These GCCE grants are to facilitate and increase educator professional development and student learning, understanding, and literacy about climate change utilizing NASA mission data and resources.  NWF proposes to coordinate the efforts of multiple, related NASA programs all focused on helping students engage with scientific data relevant to climate change including GLOBE, Science on a Sphere / Uniview / GeoDome, POWER, My NASA Data and NASA education/curriculum programs with data sets from IceSat, Aqua, Terra, Aura, LandSat.  By utilizing NWF’s Eco-School USA program, pilot schools and K-12 schools across the country and the globe will have access to these important programs and data to better understand the issue of climate change.  The project will expose students to the multiple threads of evidence that are used to understand natural systems on Earth and how they might be changing as a result of changes in our climate.

Preparing Educators to Educate for Sustainability:  Educator Training

The Massachusetts Sustainability Campaign is committed to helping prepare teachers to understand sustainability and see its relevance and importance to what they teach and to their educational mission; we need to connect students to real-world efforts to bring about sustainability through curriculum and instruction; and we need to fund the effort and the research needed to educate for sustainability broadly and well.

The 2010 Summer Institute on Education for Sustainability for Educators

Youth CAN partnered with Sarah Mills, a local coordinator for the Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation to provide educator training in the summer of 2010.  Led by the Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation, the Summer Institute for Sustainability Education for Middle and High School Teachers will take place July 19 – 23, 2010 at Simmons College (parking at Boston Latin School).  Join other Massachusetts educators for 5 days of professional growth, thought-provoking discussion and expert-led curriculum development in Education for Sustainability (EfS).  Learn how to provide students with the knowledge and approaches they need to contribute to sustainable development and a future that is environmentally healthy, economically sound and socially just.

Discover how sustainability can provide an integrating context for content and standards already being taught, while raising student engagement and performance.

Understand product life cycle analysis, the concept of the commons and governance and how related “big ideas” can be used as teaching tools

Learn how to apply systems thinking to curriculum by understanding its relevance to instruction

Be part of the team developing the new Massachusetts EfS Curriculum to be piloted in 2010 – 2011

Expert-led break-out sessions on subjects such as the emerging green economy;  population; renewable energy and using the school building and grounds as a learning tool.

3 Days Guided Curriculum work.  Redesign a curriculum unit independently or in grade-level groups with sustainability education as an underlying theme.  Institute faculty provides guidance and feedback as well as lesson plans and curricular materials for out-of-the-box use

Join Youth CAN in promoting the Massachusetts Education for Sustainability Campaign

Students, educators, parents, administrators, and public officials have already begun meeting to work on creating a climate literacy proposal that draws on excellent interdisciplinary climate change curriculum, aligns it with state standards and meaningful climate literacy benchmarks.  We’re also working on steps to pilot the proposal.  If you’d like to join this effort, or receive updates about this important initiative, please email your information to

Film A PSA!

Help the Youth Climate Action Network promote the Education for Sustainability Campaign by filming a Public Service Announcement (PSA) about why schools should educate for sustainability, what that means to you, and why students need to learn this way.

PSAs are like commercials.  They should be no longer than 30 seconds to 1 minute. At the end of each PSA you create, make sure to use the Youth CAN logo (download the logo on the PSA page) and end your commercials with the tag line “For more information about the Massachusetts Education for Sustainability Campaign go to www.”  Your PSA may be funny, creative, informative, or all three, just make sure you make the point about the need for climate change education in our schools.

Send your PSA to us and we’ll put it on our website! To get ideas for your PSA, check out the PSAs already posted on the website.  Download the PSA flyer and circulate it.  Go to the PSA page to learn more by clicking here:  Youth CAN PSA

Find Climate & Sustainability Curriculum

Youth CAN is committed to making climate change curriculum available.  We’ve created a list of links to sites with climate change curriculum on our For Educators page.   You can take a look at what we’ve got there by clicking on this link:  For Educators

If you’d like to share curriculum or links that we should include on the page, please let us know about it by emailing