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Environmental Sustainability at RC Today

Sustainability has become a crucial framework in all areas of life. In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly set up 17 interlinked global Sustainable Development Goals designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” These goals are meant to be achieved by 2030, and environmental sustainability figures greatly among them.

Within this context, it was imperative for RC to embrace environmental sustainability both as an educational policy and also in terms of taking care of and giving back to the wonderful piece of nature it occupies and shares with many animals, birds, insects, plants, and trees. Interest around these issues turned into the Environmental Initiative in 2017, with the leadership of English teachers and environment advocates Tim Koehn and Aninne Schneider. “As with many things at RC, my involvement with the initiative started when a student, Eyüp Eren Yürek RC 18, came to me looking for an advisor for a new club he wanted to start in 2017. I’ve always spent a lot of time outdoors, camping and backpacking both with my family and as an adult leader in scouting, so caring about the environment always seemed like a given,” Schneider recalls. “I was happy to help Eren, and the first two years it ran as the RC Environmental Initiative. It slowly gained momentum until it really took off last year as the RC Environmental Movement, an umbrella organization bringing together students interested in a variety of issues related to the environment, ranging from reducing plastic waste to permaculture to campus biodiversity.” Many RCEM members helped get multiple projects underway since 2017, such as a campus-wide initiative for composting, a collaboration with Taner Aksel RC 87 on composting and the establishment of community gardens, a ban of single-use plastic bottles from on-campus sales, and the installation of four beehives.

Now under the leadership of Head of School Adam Oliver, RC has taken major organizational steps. An Environmental Education Initiative has been established, with biology teacher Dünya Önen RC L3 03 and physics teacher Stephen Holz as its co-heads during the 2020-21 school year. Aninne Schneider will take over from Önen as co-head in the fall of 2021.

The school is set to formulate its first long-term sustainability plan. On Earth Day 2021 (April 22), RC signed a contract with Brika Sustainability, a consultancy led by Gülin Yücel RC 88, for this purpose. Initially, a strategic roadmap will be developed by a steering committee made up of faculty and staff to identify priorities and impacts, set long-term targets, and create a sustainability management system. This work is the first of its kind at the high school level in Turkey and will potentially be a role model for other schools. It will also hopefully have a positive impact on the Turkish national discussion regarding environmental education, as well as moving into a more regional and international discussion.

Önen and Holz have also drafted a policy for the sustainable stewardship of the habitats of the RC Campus. This important document highlights critical issues. It recognizes that the RC campus is a de facto wildlife refuge in the middle of a megacity and postulates that the RC community should be “committed to preserving and enhancing it as such, by implementing sustainable stewardship practices which maximize biodiversity and result in the safety and harmonious coexistence of all residents and visitors, both human and non-human.” 

Robert College’s primary function is, of course, education, and many initiatives are well under way in environmental education. The English Department is exploring how more environmental topics can be reviewed, particularly in Lise Prep. They have also introduced a unit on Nature and Environmental Writing to the Lise 10 curriculum. The Geography and History Departments are liaising with the Environmental Education co-heads to develop their curricula. A library guide is being prepared to support all students and faculty. There is also work towards offering AP Environmental Science, a trailblazing initiative. Another focus point is having more student projects oriented towards environmental concerns.

The habitats on campus are an educational resource in and of themselves. The sustainable stewardship policy sets the goal that all RC students should graduate having learned to love specific species, specific habitats, and the biosphere as a whole. It also lays out best practices in such wide-ranging areas as mowing and trimming, tree stewardship, mulching, composting, cats and other domestic animals, identification and recording of wildlife species, insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides, fertilizers, Plateau maintenance, community gardens, ivy, bees, hedges and decorative shrub maintenance, and noise pollution. These best practices will guide the actions that will be shaped by the RC long-term sustainability plan. The Plant Department has many plans underway as well, a few of which are: feasibility studies concerning renewable energy, setting up additional compost areas, waste segregation, alternating lighting of outdoor lamps, reminders to turn off electrical appliances and lights when a space is vacated and signs to ensure that people operate the air-conditioners using energy-efficient settings.

Another important undertaking is the Residential Life Enrichment Plan which will be in place for Lise 9s once students return to campus and subsequently rolled out to all classes. The plan will bring extended learning opportunities to residential students, support their social and emotional well-being, strengthen the sense of community, and provide respite from a challenging academic program. The principal outcomes are creating a better awareness of the diverse environment (flora and fauna) on campus and in and around Istanbul, as well as outdoor education. Insight sessions with academics, experts from NGOs, and RC faculty are also being developed.

Beyond the classroom, the vibrant environmental interest among RC students manifests itself in ever-developing extracurricular activities such as the Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Club, Nature Walking Club, Upcycling Initiative, and the Apis Mellifera Initiative which works with the beehives on campus. Among all this tremendous work, spirit of collaboration with other schools’ environmental groups, as well as with a wider community, is paramount. RC already cooperates with TÜRÇEV (Environmental Education Foundation of Turkey), World Wide Fund for Nature Turkey, Fridays for Future Turkey and Permatürk Foundation. As designated in the sustainable stewardship policy, RC is also planning to collaborate with researchers in the field of forestry, botany and ecology to survey the biodiversity on campus. Inviting experts for workshops, identifying field methods for research and overseeing the involvement of students in research and analysis are also in the works. There is no doubt that the ongoing work around environmental sustainability at RC is of critical importance, challenging, and exciting.

Published August 2021

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