Simple Steps To Build Youth Sustainability Leadership Summit Produce Great Strides Towards Sustainable Culture

Emily YouthSummit
What is the easiest and most important thing you can do for the environmental movement? Start a dialogue about it. Talk to your friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and even strangers about environmental sustainability. Connecting with people and engaging them on a personal level is the most effective thing you can do for the environmental movement.

At the end of my sophomore year of high school, the ultimate honor was bestowed upon me. I was chosen by Tod Cossairt, my school’s well-adored Director of Environmental Sustainability, to be Besant Hill School’s 2016-2017 Student Sustainability Representative. As a budding environmentalist, I didn’t take this title lightly. I was absolutely determined to be the best representative our school had ever seen.

The summer before junior year began, I began connecting with local farms to create student volunteer opportunities and contacting other School Sustainability Directors. My ultimate goal was to foster a network of connections between environmentally concerned individuals in my local community.


Just as the school year started, I met with student leaders from my own school and another local school called Thacher. The four of us enthusiastically exchanged environmental leadership initiatives and discussed the idea of connecting our two schools. The four of us began meeting on a weekly basis, generating many productive conversations over time. As exciting as these meetings were, we realized that more students should be having these dialogues, so we decided to organize an environmental leadership summit to facilitate them.

We worked hard for months amidst busy schedules, somehow managing to keep each other inspired and continue our momentum until the end. We finally saw our hard work come into fruition in February 2017 when the event was attended by several faculty and twenty environmentally-concerned students from each school.

A long-time sustainability mentor from one of the schools praised us by saying: “In all of my years on the Thacher Environmental Action Committee, what we have accomplished tonight is significant… with two schools, there is more than twice what we could accomplish otherwise.”

abf4ebe336a45b94e82d007a27b9ed72-huge-scThe environmental summit began with a tour of Thacher’s sustainability projects, a statement of intentions for the evening around the campfire, and a talk led by the knowledgeable, nature-enthusiast Director of Golden Trout Wilderness: Cam Spaulding. Later in the evening, students were divided into groups of six based on personal environmental interests expressed in a pre-summit survey. The survey results indicated five main themes: climate change, water conservation, renewable energy, environmental policy, and sustainable agriculture. The group discussions were guided by a framework, which included identifying specific problems causing a lack of sustainability, contemplating local and global solutions, and developing specific action plans to expand the local culture of sustainability.

One of the key questions participating students were challenged with was: “How do we create a culture of continuous, sustainable thinking and environmental interest?” We grappled with this question during a delicious vegetarian dinner and the conclusion of our action plans.


When the time came to break apart from our discussion groups, we gathered around the fire for a closing ceremony and a summary of each group’s action plans. All forty of us listened and shared, enriched with new perspectives and reluctant for the night to end. We ended our Environmental Youth Leadership Summit with a closing poem inspired by events, quotes, and experiences that student-leaders had written down throughout the evening. The Summit successfully generated further leadership interest from each of our schools, a template for future events, and important inter-school relationships to be improved upon by future student sustainability leaders.

2c1f81be81b0441fb3b2baca1923bcc6-huge-scThis Environmental Summit was a very important first step towards the long-term goal of forming a regularly meeting sustainability colloquium between all of the local schools. The three other student leaders and I were all extremely proud of what we accomplished. I hope to host another Environmental Leadership Summit soon and to indefinitely continue expanding my connections among environmentally concerned individuals.
Posted by Emily Kuhn on Nov 10, 2017 3:23 PM America/Chicago


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