Aleena Abbas & Yasmin Gulamhusein 01

Abu Dhabi: With a goal of creating a sustainable and environment-friendly campus which includes installing an industrial composter and a data dashboard that monitors its energy consumption, the American School of Dubai (ASD) was recently recognised for its efforts when it was announced as one of this year’s Zayed Sustainability Prize winners.

The Zayed Sustainability Prize is spread across five different categories such as health, food, water, energy and global high schools. The prize aims to support and raise awareness on projects that bring positive benefits to the community.

As the winner of the global high schools in the Middle East and North Africa, the school was awarded with a not-so-small prize amount of $100,000 (Dh367,270), which the school intends to use for their projects.

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Laurence Myers (centre), K-12 service learning coordinator at ASD, with Aleena Abbasi (left) and Yasmin Gulamhusein. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

“There was a big feeling of excitement, elation and disbelief when our school was announced as the winner. In many ways this win vindicated all of our efforts and made us even more determined to see out what we started,” said Laurence Myers, K-12 service learning coordinator at ASD.

“Our main goal is to build an example of a school that leads the way when it comes to sustainability and practices that help our environment. This is done hand in hand with our students with whom we have entrusted leadership roles and a proactive approach to have them involved as much as possible with these initiatives,” he added.

Sami Zaatar / Gulf News Image Credit: Sami Zaatar / Gulf News

Industrial composter

Highlighting the projects the school will be embarking on, Myers said the industrial composter which they plan on bringing to the school campus will help with recycling and food waste management.

“We’ve just started looking for the right composter we would like to use. Once we find and install the one we need it will be able to deal with all of our post consumer food waste.

“This is going to allow us to make our recycling and waste management programme much more robust. Instead of sending all of this waste to landfills we’re going to be able to reduce that now and move away from that direction,” he added.

Myers also spoke about how the school will monitor its own energy consumption with its data dashboard.

“The data dashboard is all about increasing our general awareness by tracking and monitoring how much energy and water we’re using. In the beginning we’re going to be looking at the numbers and sharing the information.

“Eventually the plan will be to reduce those numbers and consumption, but first we need to have the actual data and then we can start putting plans in place to act on our findings,” he added.

Myers said the school’s third project would be centred on biodiversity, specifically having a beehive on their campus.

“This initiative is smaller in scope, we want to be the first school in the UAE to have a beehive on campus. The idea is to have this beehive on campus to study it as part of subjects related to biodiversity, life cycles and life sciences.”

Student activism

One of the main features of the school’s sustainable work is its students who are also playing a key role in their programmes. One of those students, Yasmin Gulamhusein, 16, says she’s committed to sustainability because of the consequences her generation may face.

“Sustainability is important to me because I strongly believe that it is the only way that we can tackle the environmental issues we are facing at the moment. The earth is our home, and yet we’re watching it slowly being destroyed by issues such as: climate change, pollution, and species extinction.

“If we can’t do something about this now, our generation and future generations will not be able to undo the damage that is already done. For me, sustainability is the way forward,” she added.

Speaking on the challenges of getting young people to care more about sustainability, Gulamhusein said that one of the main problems was that young people were often unaware of how their actions impacts the environment.

“I think that one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to sustainability is knowing that our actions have an impact. For us teenagers, we often think that our actions will not have an impact, and that we’re not old enough to really make a difference.

“We think that we can leave it up to everyone else to make sustainable changes, because one more person won’t really change anything. I think it’s important for everyone, especially my generation to know that our actions do make a difference. However small your impact may seem to you, if we all collaborate, it really does add up,” she added.

Aleena Abbasi, 16, another student who is also active with the school’s sustainability projects said that it was important to make the concept of sustainability appealing with young people.

“It can sometimes be difficult to garner the support of the youth in the field of sustainability as everyone knows that it is an issue that we have to tackle, yet not everyone is actively trying to create sustainable change.

“An immediate concern is making sustainability appealing to school students, so that they will want to get involved. There are many ways in which this can be done. For example, the creation of sustainability or environmental clubs is a great way to include like-minded students of all ages in groups that work to make the school and the wider community a more sustainable and eco-friendly place. Abbasi also said the way sustainability is taught and presented to young people is important.

“Sustainability should be taught in a fun and engaging manner. Only a dedicated few will want to participate if it seems boring, but, if taught in the right way, students will be inclined to take the message to heart and actually do something about it.

“A few individuals who are passionate about sustainability will be able to make a difference, but, if sustainability is taken on as a school-wide initiative, the effect will be amplified and, together, the entire school community will truly be able to make the world a better place,” she added.