An acclaimed EIT community environmental project has been shortlisted for a prestigious international sustainability award after winning a category in the Australasian tertiary sector awards last year.
The International Green Gown Awards recognise the exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken by universities and tertiary institutes around the world. This year 56 finalists from 19 countries have been shortlisted in six categories.
EIT is a finalist in the Benefiting Society Category for its entry Ko au te taiao, ko te taiao ko au: I am nature, nature is me, which describes the increased community reach of the Learning in Nature (LIN) project at the Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre (OOLC) on the Hawke's Bay campus.
The entry also showed how the OOLC enhances lives by connecting people with nature and cultural heritage, whilst supporting the connection of schools with their own local environment.
EIT qualifies to be a finalist in these awards after being chosen as joint winner with Australia's Deakin University in the Benefiting Society category of the Australasian leg of the Green Gown Awards last year. EIT was also a finalist with an environmental education project in the same category in 2020.
EIT's executive dean Professor Natalie Waran, who initiated the work and oversees the institute's sustainability strategy, says EIT is honoured to be the only New Zealand finalist in the international awards.
"What makes this so special is that this is international recognition of regional collaboration in New Zealand, which is bringing real benefit to our communities in Hawke's Bay."
The LIN project is an innovative collaboration between EIT, Ngāti Pārau, the mana whenua hapū for Ōtātara and EIT, central and local government agencies (Te Papa Atawhai /Department of Conservation, Hawke's Bay Regional Council), EnviroSchools and local environmental groups.
"This project wouldn't have been possible without the amazing passion and efforts of many of our EIT staff, students and community partners. We are also grateful to our main funding sponsors, Air NZ Enviro Trust and PanPac Environment Trust."
Natalie says LIN has developed through research and regional engagement with educators and learners at EIT and through communities of practice. The aim is to advance the confidence and ability of teachers to embed nature literacy and sustainability values within the region's educational culture from early childhood to postgraduate level teaching.
"As a regionally located tertiary education provider, we have a responsibility to ensure that our teaching and research addresses issues related not just to global but also local environmental challenges.
"We also need to engage with our learners, staff and communities in delivering on sustainable initiatives on campus, so that we are demonstrating our commitment to walking the talk."
Sustainability is an important focus for EIT with a number of campus-wide initiatives under way.
"As a subsidiary of Te Pūkenga, EIT is also providing input into the network's sustainability strategy going forward," Natalie says.
Chairman of Ngāti Pārau Hapū Trust, Chad Tareha, says the trust is pleased the LIN project has once again been recognised in this way.
"It has been a privilege being a part of such an amazing kaupapa and partnering with EIT alongside other organisations and community groups for the sustainable benefit of our environment and future generations," he says.
EIT's new environment and sustainability coordinator Mark Caves says the OOLC site is a special place with a rich history where people can learn about biodiversity and sustainability, connect with nature, get active on the walking tracks and help plant and restore native bush.
"So many staff at EIT have a special connection with the site, and we are grateful to all the staff, students and supporting partners that have funded or participated in the regeneration and biodiversity of the entire area.
"We are keen to widen the reach of the centre and to involve more local schools, community groups and businesses to enable more people to join us in developing this award winning environmental mindspace."
■ More details on the International Green Gown Awards can be found at https://www.greengownawards.org/2022-finalists.