How K12 Environmental Education Shaped My Career Path

Teaching children about sustainability early on helps shape a well-rounded perspective that considers the planet. With the green jobs demand forecast looking bright, we must prepare students for the workforce of the not-so-distant future. The reality is they will be expected to think critically to find solutions that improve our relationship with the environment. 

Nexus PMG Project Engineer Sam Wolfe’s essay captures the impact of sustainability-focused curriculum options in her K12 education.

Early education can make a large impact on what someone grows up to do in the world. In turn, the world dictates what is important to teach our youth. We create educational milestones in hopes of progressing children towards being well-rounded adults. But what does it mean to be a well-rounded person in today’s world? 

I believe spreading knowledge about sustainability and the environment is vital to educate the next generation. By incorporating sustainability into early education, we can help create a more open and understanding dialogue about sustainability. We can show our children how to think differently to create more sustainable practices. 

I had the fortunate opportunity to take a series of classes on biodiesel in high school. Those classes helped build my path to becoming a process engineer with a passion for sustainable design. I learned about what it meant to produce a renewable fuel like biodiesel but more importantly, it changed my overall thought process. I began to see how there were so many wastes in this world that could become something new, like how used oil can create biodiesel. I no longer only thought about how to get something done, I thought about the most sustainable way to do it. 

An impactful concept that helped me understand sustainability was Closed Carbon Loops. The goal of a Closed Carbon Loop is to recycle materials (carbon) until they become a self-sustaining process. Since the loop does not release any new carbon into the environment it aids in reducing our carbon footprint. A great example of a Closed Carbon Loop is sustainable agriculture. As plants grow, they use the nutrients in the soil. The crops will then be consumed, and we will produce waste. This waste can be used as fertilizer for the crops to help them grow, completing the loop. 

Sustainability embraces the idea that nothing should be a waste, but instead the beginning of a new process. This belief can extend to any aspect of our lives, large or small. Our children can learn to avoid single-use plastics, or one day they can design a sustainable alternative. We must let our youth know these ideas are out there to explore, the same we would introduce them to art or history. Teaching them about our impacts on the environment and ways we can improve will drive our society towards a more sustainable future. 

A career in sustainability is a rewarding career that improves the planet and society. Sam believes that showing clients how eco-friendly engineering works can change the world.

Sam Wolfe
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