With the rain filling drains outside, the Sustainable Future team spent an engaging lunch meeting with Pam and Morgan Williams on Friday May 8th. Morgan was New Zealand’s second Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (1996-2007). Since stepping down from the role, Morgan has worked under the mantle of FutureSteps as a sustainability consult, with recent work including a think piece on the future of the Waitakere Ranges under the recent Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008. Pam comes from a secondary education background and last year completed a PhD at Victoria University of Wellington, where she continues to be based as part of the Education for Sustainability programme in secondary schools.
Over a lunch of bread, cheese, nibbles and orange juice, Pam and Morgan shared with the Sustainable Future team a few of their current thoughts. We were also lucky enough to have Dave Henley with us for a few weeks, and to be joined by our former colleague, and occasional harbour-dipper, Amelie Goldberg join us.
Pam opened the discussions with an outline of how her PhD on education for sustainability in tertiary education was motivated in part motivated from the lack of anything sustainability occurring within Victoria University. Investigating why so little was occurring in New Zealand led Pam overseas to look at how universities and university and chancellor models work in Australia, North America and Europe.
Pam’s work found that while there is often a lot of distributed leadership for sustainability in tertiary education in New Zealand, there is also often a lack of buy-in and endorsement from high level authority. Developing a dendritic model to explain how education for sustainability comes about, Pam’s work concluded that there is not enough communication between actors. So like a nervous system whose dendrites (a type of neural cell) do not communicate with each other and therefore leave the beast uncoordinated, New Zealand’s tertiary institutions need to do more to complete communication pathways to create action both within and between themselves. Pam also underlined how her PhD’s findings, though identified in the tertiary sector, can model the effectiveness of sustainability actions in other institutions. To take a look at Pam’s thesis, follow this link.
Morgan expanded on his recent work on the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Act, reflecting on the connection between nature and people in New Zealand’s largest city and the role that the beautiful forests of the Waitakeres may have in the future. As the first piece of legislation in New Zealand that aims to protect natural values that the main legislation for these matters – the Resource Management Act 1992 – cannot. The future of the Waitakeres may lay in a different kind of relationship between people and forests, so that visions and attitudes towards conservation values, recreation and use are considered deeply in light of sustainability imperatives.
A discussion continued on the need to create high level belief, endorsement of and action for sustainability, for even when it is not such a political imperative, it only becomes more of a socio-ecological one. Members of the Sustainable Future team were interested to delve into the different understandings what conservation is to New Zealand and others, particularly ideas and attitudes from Europe. There was also some discussion over the differences in use and understanding of the terms ‘purpose’ and ‘objective’ and how they relate to resource management in New Zealand. The lunch ended with a resolution by the SF team to aim to create some discussion with university vice-chancellors about sustainability in tertiary education.
Though it was still raining at the conclusion, the lunch finished not with an atmosphere of depression at the weather but rather one of insight and interest. Many thanks go to Pam and Morgan Williams for sharing their time and thoughts with us –the Sustainable Future team now has some exciting ideas to pursue.