How can RTOs promote sustainability?

Posted on Mar 10, 2020

RTOs play a key role in shaping the future with the courses provided, attitudes and behaviours displayed, and commitment to positive and sustainable actions.

RTOs play a key role in shaping the future with the courses provided, attitudes and behaviours displayed, and commitment to positive and sustainable actions. We are all aware of the need to repair and sustain the environment for future generations, and these concerns can be considered when making economic, social or political decisions. Education plays a crucial part in changing attitudes and actions, integrating knowledge and understanding about sustainability into practical, vocational skills. 

Four facts about RTOs and their relationship with sustainability:

  • The VET sector is a key agent in promoting sustainability education – this means both policy and practice. Practical skills that can be learnt by students in this area will be vital for employers of the future, and in turn, the wider community. 

  • Training packages provide a practical method of integrating sustainability into vocational education and training. VET programs incorporate generic life skills as well as technical, job-specific skills, and this sets a path for similar integration of long-term sustainability skills.

  • Teaching practices appropriate for sustainability skills are already used by VET practitioners, and examples include group learning, action learning and problem-solving. However, this can be restricted by curriculum requirements where they limit the ability of training providers to include sustainability concepts into courses. 

  • Learners can develop the ability to promote and champion these concepts in the workplace if it is taught throughout their education. They will be able to devise and encourage sustainable work practices, and help the organisation to develop strategies for negotiation and justification of positive changes. 

There is much research and debate on how sustainability can be built into VET policy and practice as sustainability means different things to different people. We can agree that future changes must meet ‘the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987).

Six principles to help put sustainability into practice:

  • Give an equal weighting to social, environmental and economic factors when problem-solving and decision-making

  • Understand and recognise global dimensions and impact of decisions

  • Take a careful and prudent approach while allowing for possible risk factors

  • Ensure the full participation of everyone involved in democratic problem-solving and decision-making

  • Take positive steps to ensure future generations have equal access to resources currently used and the same (or even better) quality of life

  • Ensure environmental assets are valued – this means considering their ‘costs’ when valuing goods and services. 

We know that there needs to be a major shift in attitudes and behaviours to achieve a sustainable future. In Australia, the VET system is central to the promotion and adoption of practices which actively encourage sustainability. 

In 2003, Australia saw its first comprehensive sustainability strategy: Hope for the Future: The Western Australian State Sustainability Strategy - A Vision for Quality of Life in Western Australia (Government of Western Australia 2003). It is a positive and aspirational framework that would gradually take the state towards a sustainable future, showing the need for integrated government policy at all levels, appropriate training for staff, the preparation of action plans, and the development of standards and codes of practice. 

The WA strategy suggests six goals:

  • Checking methods of governing are actively driving the transition to a sustainable future 

  • Everyone playing a part in solving the global challenge of sustainability, focusing on interrelated issues of population, development aid and environmental technology

  • Accurately valuing and protecting the environment and ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources

  • Planning and providing settlements that reduce the ecological footprint and enhance quality of life

  • Supporting communities to fully participate in achieving a sustainable future

  • Assisting businesses to benefit from and contribute to sustainability (this includes the establishment of training schemes to help new areas of professional activity for sustainability). 

The strategy explains that the VET sector is ‘best able to respond quickly to the needs of industry for many of its re-training and accreditation requirements’. 

The Green Skills Agreement

In 2010, an agreement was made between the Australian Government and state/territory governments to support a transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy. It seeks to build the capacity of the VET sector to be able to deliver skills for sustainability necessary in the workplace. In turn, this would enable individuals, organisations and communities to adjust and prosper. 

Green skills are skills for sustainability. They include technical knowledge, skills, attitudes and values required in a workforce to support and develop sustainable economic, social and environmental outcomes in business, industry and the community. 

The Agreement achieves its commitment by:

  • Embedding skills for sustainability practice and teaching in VET, within the requirements of the national regulatory framework

  • Upskilling VET instructors and teachers to deliver skills for sustainability

  • Strategically reviewing training packages to embed sustainability knowledge, skills and principles

  • Implementing a transition strategy to re-skill vulnerable workers.

Practical steps for RTOs

Wondering what you can do to help the situation? A course such as BSBSUS501 ‘Develop workplace policy and procedures for sustainability’ will help you make the first step. You can also personalise your message by avoiding generic environmental statements and policies which could be ignored. Don’t let courses that seem unrelated be dismissed as ‘unimportant’. 

RTOs can also:

  • Take the time to understand why sustainability is relevant to them

  • Change behaviours and attitudes to work towards a sustainable future

  • Engage staff, learners and local community to take part in the changes

  • Make use of social media and communicate to a wider audience about your actions.

Sustainability in 2020

We can now look back over the last decade and see just how much has changed for businesses and education. Technology was a clear game-changer in the 2010s, but there was also another focus: sustainability. This moved beyond recycling in the workplace and started to cover every aspect of an organisation, from supply chain operations right through to the physical workspace itself. 

Time is of the essence and united steps must be taken to improve the sustainability credentials of various industries across Australia (and the rest of the world). Translate your ambitions into actions and rewrite the RTO rulebook to deliver meaningful and lasting change. 2019 saw environmental disasters across the globe and close to home. It showed an inability to safeguard both the environment and people which then highlighted the effectiveness of current systems. Review your systems and your attitudes, ensure everyone has access to courses that can help shape the future and protect generations to come. Think of the way your RTO operates and how to personalise its standing in environmental factors and aspects of sustainability.

Equipping students to make a positive impact in the workplace is a huge step towards a more positive and sustainable future. Not only does it help learners to stand out as forward-thinking leaders in their industries but also emphasises the relevance and understanding of an RTO.