Climate Crisis in ELT: Taking Action
11th November 2019
By Kate Cory-Wright
Photo: Teacher trainer's conference kit (Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto)
2019 has seen the climate emergency take centre stage like never before. We've witnessed students across the world on strike, expressing concern for our planet. We've seen Italy introduce the environment to its school curriculum. Excitingly, we’ve also seen a committed focus by the ELT community to get involved. Proactively.
The ELT environmental movement officially began with the Innovate Conference in Barcelona this May, when a climate emergency was declared in ELT.
Following that, a new public Facebook group “ELT Footprint” was born in June. Initial responses were wonderfully uplifting. Just two weeks after our group was launched, the ELT Footprint page hit 1000 members. Five months later, it reached 2,000, to include ELT professionals from over 80 countries.
Importantly, our group includes professionals from all branches of the ELT world: teachers, teacher trainers, writers, digital content developers, editors, consultants, and editors.
We've also joined up with existing groups like ELT Sustainable , EFL publishers, The British Council, conference organizers, and Teachers' Organizations such as TESOL Spain, JALT, FECEI, IATEFL, ELT Freelancers and UK ELT.
Arguably, many of us were already taking steps to support the environment long ago, on our own. So why is it important to come together as part of the ELT family?
According to Christopher Graham and Katherine Bilsborough (Towards a Greener Profession), Modern English Teacher, Pavilion Publishing 2019), there is a huge advantage: “because of our formidable global reach, commonality of purpose (we all somehow teach English), and unique contact with teenagers and young adults, we have the potential to bring about significant changes”.
In other words, we have power. The power to share, inspire, and educate.  The power in large numbers to make meaningful changes. ELT is a large community and countless small actions multiplied by our scale might just make an impact. Who knows?
Another reason for forming a larger group is because, as an industry, our impact on the planet is sadly quite negative. Consider an EFL conference, for example. Hundreds or thousands of teachers, trainers, speakers, and book distributors take transport to reach the conference site (emitting thousands of tonnes of CO2 along the way). Once there, we receive a plastic conference tote bag, full of paper and plastic pens. We wear single-use name badges around our neck. And even if we don’t stay the night in a hotel, we do eat and drink whilst there! Imagine the thousands of plastic bottles, programmes, and name badges thrown away over the course of a single conference. They take a heavy toll on the environment.
Together, however, we can approach these issues and ensure they work across the board.
1. Could a better material be used for tote bags? Is cotton or hemp really a better choice? Could pens be made from bamboo or another material?
2. What about organizers setting up water fountains and each of us taking our own water bottles?
3. Some conference goers travel by train instead of taking flights. Did you know that planes emit most carbon on takeoff, therefore "short hop" flights are by far the most damaging per kilometre.
4. A solution already in use at KOTESOL is the introduction of electronic apps like Whova, replacing the traditional paper conference programme.
5. Do we need broader policies? IATEFL is making their organization a brighter shade of green with a new set of environmental policies, including for exhibitors at the annual conference.
All these issues, and more, are discussed on a daily basis on ELT Footprint. But what else can be found there? Our site currently contains a growing database of:
-Lesson plans, classroom activities, and eco-projects
-"How to" posts, with practical ideas for reducing, recycling, reusing, upcycling items relevant to our profession.
-Tips for reducing our digital carbon footprint, such as a Charter for a Greener Classroom, and eco-pledges.
My personal favourite on ELT Footprint is the link to the growing database of environmental language, set up by Clyde Fowle, EFL writer and teacher trainer. In my opinion, words such as "rewilding" deserve a place in a syllabus, even if they don't yet exist in the CEFR Framework. (See ecolinguistics for more on what 700 researchers are doing.)
What does all this mean for us?
The new green movement in ELT could have profound consequences on our profession and the work we do. We could find ourselves consulting with Ministries of Education on a new environmental strand in a curriculum. Or writing course book activities to expand students' ecovocabulary.
We can be proactive by making a set of eco-pledges at the start of our next teacher training programme we run (steps like turning down the air con or heating). We can adapt existing classroom activities for teachers so that they include an aspect of environmental awareness. Or how about taking fewer short hop flights to our training courses (or investing in carbon offsets)?
The potential changes are limitless. And, as we've heard so often, each change makes a difference.