How Education Helps Set a Better Foundation for Long-Term Sustainability – Sustainable Brands

If you’re a brand that cares about the environment or society but doesn’t invest in education, you’re missing an opportunity to expand your impact. This connects
to a larger issue — how CSR and sustainability go far beyond any company’s immediate customer base or market.

Education is, in many ways, the foundation of society — where civic values, core
skills and lifelong habits are built. The importance of education is an issue
that cuts across partisan, age, race and cultural lines. It can also lead to
transformational change, as students and education professionals have played a
key role in several of the US’s most influential social movements — from the
fight for women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement.

For brands, engaging in education can play a key role in achieving their own
goals, especially in the long term. Habits learned in school can have impacts
years down the line in enabling better decision-making around sustainability,
financial literacy and much, much more.

But for the most part, brands have not engaged in education as part of their
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, for a variety of reasons. That,
however, is starting to change — as more companies are realizing that working
with teachers and schools is a way to promote long-term social change around the
issues that matter to them.

Importance of sustainability education

Education is the focus of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal
(SDG) 4 and is seen as a key enabler of all the other SDGs. That is to
say, without education, achieving gender
equality
,
reducing inequality, promoting responsible consumption and production, and all
the other crucial goals is unlikely.

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“Education can be a powerful tool for transforming our relationship with nature.
We must invest in this field in order to preserve the planet,” Audrey
Azoulay
, Director-General of UNESCO, said in a
statement.

In fact, UNESCO even has an Education for Sustainable
Development

program, which argues that “education should be transformative and allow us to
make informed decisions and take individual and collective action to change our
societies and care for the planet.”

If you’re a brand that cares about the environment or society, but doesn’t
invest in education, you’re missing an opportunity to expand your impact. This
connects to a larger issue — how CSR and sustainability go far beyond any
company’s immediate customer base or market.

It was this type of thinking that led plant-based meat producer Beyond
Meat
to collaborate with
EVERFI, a digital education innovator, in creating a
science-based course on sustainability that will be available at no cost to
students across the country.

“Health and sustainability are core to our mission at Beyond Meat, so we’re
thrilled to partner with EVERFI to bring this digital course to students across
the US,” founder and CEO Ethan Brown said in a press
statement
.
“We see food as a vehicle for change, this course being an important part of
that commitment — helping students to learn more about the role of diet in
health and sustainability.”

The course launched in October; and Beyond Meat plans to actively engage
students to reinforce and enhance the curriculum, with the goal of showing
students how their everyday choices can make a big impact on themselves, their
communities and the planet.

Not just the environment

While climate and environment are key issues, there are many avenues for brands
to engage with and enhance education systems across the country.

Take, for example, FutureSmart — a
digital financial education course for middle-school students, supported by the
MassMutual Foundation, aimed at filling a needed gap in the education
system.

“It is imperative that we work together to empower future generations with
effective financial literacy skills,” Dennis Duquette, president of the
MassMutual Foundation, said in a
statement.
“Understanding money and how it works provides an important foundation for
long-term financial health and resiliency.”

What’s unique about FutureSmart is that the MassMutual Foundation did not just
create the program, but brought in outside experts to analyze its impact. The
study,
conducted by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute, took place
after the program had been running for two years and “found significant and
consistent gains in financial knowledge for all students, regardless of personal
or school characteristics and regardless of how the program is implemented with
students.”

There are numerous other ways for brands to engage with education. Care about
voting rights and
democracy

— a key issue as we see governments across the country restrict ballot access?
Data show that students who learn about African American history in school show
higher
interest

in voting and being involved in their communities. Public
health
,
urbanism
and
agriculture
are all topics in which CSR can play a role in empowering better education
outcomes.

Sustainable post-pandemic recovery

Across the country, students are, for the first time in months, returning to
classrooms. To say the past year has been difficult on the education industry is
an understatement. A study released last year from the UCLA Fielding School of
Public Health
suggests that students lost 2-4 months of
schooling
;
and if this is not addressed, it could even lead to shortened life spans. The
impacts of the pandemic will be felt for years; but for students, it could
impact the rest of their lives.

If brands want to make a difference now and in the future, education provides a
unique opportunity. It will take all of us coming together to ensure that
students and teachers can catch-up on lost time. Moreover, the pandemic — which
has clear
connections

to sustainability issues — along with last year’s racial
justice

protests, show the need to make education more relevant to the challenges facing
society today.

“Education systems need to be reformed to allow our young people to leave school
motivated, creative and able to be self-reliant — mentally, socially and
financially,” Auma Obama, a counselor at the World Future Council, said
in a
statement.
“For education to contribute effectively to the reorientation of societies
towards sustainable development, we need to rethink teaching strategies,
structures and practices both inside and outside the classroom.”

Investing in education as part of CSR won’t be a one-time project; it will
require long-term commitment and deep engagement. But the impacts for society
and the planet could provide benefits for years to come.