Since the re-launch of Straits Green’s “playground by the sea” in August last year, the community park in Seri Tanjung Pinang has become host to a project called Think Green and is a hotspot of sustainable eco-friendly practices.
Think Green has been made possible by a number of organisations – the project is driven by Eastern & Oriental Berhad (E&O) under the E&O A.R.T. (Action, Reach Out, Transform) community relations programme and supported by the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) and Cultivate Central. Together, these organisations worked with 40 children in Standards 4 and 5, and two teachers each from three local schools, namely SK Tanjong Tokong, SK (C) Hun Bin and SK (T) Azad. Hosting events every Friday, Think Green brings the children to Straits Green to play games and learn about gardening, growing vegetables, recycling and composting, as well as entrepreneurship.
On February 15 this year, executive council member in charge of Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Chow Kon Yeow hosted a special event at Straits Green to commemorate the work done thus far and hand out certificates to the many children involved in this project. With an early start, the children were involved in games such as “Web of Life”, where they discovered how all the players in an ecosystem depend on each other to survive. Afterwards, a quick-fire Q&A session between the children and CAP took place to test what the children had learned over the previous months. Herb and vegetable containers that the children made from recycled plastic bottles back in October were still flourishing in the background.
“The Think Green site and community education programme create awareness and encourage active participation by communities towards making better choices for our environment,” said Chow. “Such community-centric initiatives play an important role in enhancing liveability in Penang.”
What makes Think Green different from standard CSR programmes is E&O’s commitment to sustainable long-lasting contributions to the local community. Think Green aims to foster “eco-centric” communities by working with schools to create environmentally literate citizens.
“We hope that by teaching the many facets of sustainability through a food garden to the children living nearby, E&O can help inculcate a sense of ecoconsciousness in the area,” said Zawawi Yusop, general manager of E&O Property Penang. “They will play a role in building an eco-conscious community. It will take time, but as every community can relate to food, this can create excitement and bring people together.”
Educating the young is the best bet we've got when it comes to environmental protection.
Indeed, engaging youth in environmental issues and intervening at this key developmental stage of life is a strategic move; children can be an important influence on the environmental behaviour of their parents and other family members. Linking school programmes to community programmes can attract wider audiences and also increase their longevity and probability of success.
Speaking with a representative from MPPP at the Think Green event, I caught up on the environmental activities the local council is currently involved in. There has been much positive engagement with local stakeholders and companies such as Dell, where there is now an arrangement to recycle used PCs, and Sunshine supermarket, which now has a recycling centre in store. Furthermore, there has been collaboration with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to work with factories and businesses for collecting waste. An abandoned hawker centre in Taman Sri Nibong was converted into a resource recycling centre, which now recycles approximately 20 tons a month.
Importantly, MPPP also has an initiative with local schools. Working with the wellknown drinks company, F&N Beverages Marketing, the jointly-led recycling campaign has reached as many as 161 schools on Penang Island1. The next step for MPPP is to move towards separation at source. In particular, the need to reduce waste from construction sites was highlighted as a pressing concern.
Chow leading by example.
By working with the headmasters and headmistresses of the schools involved in the project, the Think Green organisers have been successful in forming environmentally-focused after-school clubs. What Think Green is doing is spreading the message that it is important to connect to one’s local community and environment. This is becoming more and more important because solving today’s environmental issues and moving the planet towards sustainability cannot be achieved with “experts” alone, but will require the support and active participation of an informed public.
At the federal level, the Ministry of Education has embarked on many successful initiatives, including advocating the expansion of environmental education within the existing curriculum. World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia completed a report titled Environmental Citizenship: A Report on Emerging Perspectives in Malaysia in 2008, which revealed that an overwhelming 96% of educators and 89.3% of teacher trainees indicated the need for Environmental Education2. Shift 3 of the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025, which advocates “values-driven Malaysians”, acknowledges the challenges that today’s students will inherit – environmental degradation is mentioned, among others. However, more can be done to translate this challenge into the syllabus.
These will be ready for harvesting soon.
Now it’s time to take advantage of a general consensus that supports environmental protection, bridge the gap and transition from ad hoc programmes to full integration in formal education. Rather than spending money on formulating new teaching designs, policy planners would be best advised to take stock of current programmes such as Think Green and work in collaboration with projects already running on the ground.
1 F&N official website, F&N Expands Recycling Campaign to 161 Schools on Penang Island, June 2012.
2 The World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia, Environmental Citizenship: A Report on Emerging Perspectives in Malaysia, 2008.
Maxine Carr is a research analyst at the Penang Institute.