IEMA's Digital Journalist Tom Pashby interviews Charlotte Bonner, National Head of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) at The Education and Training Foundation
  • What’s your day job?

I work to equip and enable people who work in the further education (FE) and training sector to deliver high quality education for sustainable development (ESD). ESD is recognised by UNESCO as being a core component of quality education.

Generally, learners don’t get a really solid understanding of sustainability issues, nor do they develop the skills needed to deliver the solutions to sustainability related issues. So I’m working with teachers, educators and leaders to bring the right content into their curricula. I’m also looking at how we as the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) can help facilitate connections between educators and their wider community, including employers and those working in the environment and sustainability sector.

  • Why did you become a member of IEMA?

I actually joined because in a previous role I worked at an IEMA accredited education centre. But now my membership of IEMA gives me the credibility and recognition that I need within the sector I’m working in, to prove that the work ETF and I do is up-to-date, high quality and high impact. I’ve been a member for over 10 years.

  • What do you do with IEMA?

I used to run IEMA approved training programmes as part of an IEMA education centre. I’ve recently been working to foster collaborations between ETF and IEMA on our work around green skills. My experience of being a member over the years has very much been a mixture of giving and taking.

  • You spoke in front of a Lords select committee a few weeks ago about green skills. How did that happen and how was the experience?

ETF had submitted oral evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) inquiry into green jobs earlier in the year. Off the back of that I was approached by the House of Lords Built Environment Committee because they thought my perspective could be useful. We’re not policy people at ETF but we’re very happy to contribute. Contributing to public debate like this is critical for us because it helps us to create the enabling environment for educators to delivery better education for sustainable development.

It was my second time appearing before a parliamentary committee like this, the first time being in front of the EAC, so I was less nervous this time. I felt I was able to contribute more effectively because I knew what insights I did and didn’t have.

  • What do you think are the UK’s main challenges in our transition to net zero?

There are a huge number of challenges. The thing I hear over and over again is that people want clear signals for where to prioritise action.

Looking at this from an education lens, I think we need to equip teachers and educators with the skills to deliver ESD well. ESD isn’t included in our initial teacher training (like the PGCE curriculum) for example. I’m a strong believer in equipping young people with the right tools to deliver a more sustainable future for themselves. But I also don’t think we can rest on this solution – we need action now so I equally strongly believe that we need to upskill and retrain those already in work so we’re not leaving it all to our youth ‘to fix’.

  • What do you hope to see from COP26?

What I’m hoping to see is environment ministers and education ministers, from the UK and internationally, working together to get ESD right.

We need to see action rather than words at this point. We know what the issues are. We know there are inequalities that need addressing. We haven’t got the time to faff about any longer.


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