I began thinking about sustainability for the first time in 2008, the year my Eagle Scout son changed my worldview. I realized that while many adults had tried to get me to look at the growing set of global environmental problems, it took one of my kids to finally get my attention.
In 2009, I pulled together a team to work on incorporating sustainability into scouting so that boys and girls across the United States could change the worldview of their families, too. After three years of planning, the Boy Scouts of America asked us to develop the Eagle Scout-required sustainability merit badge, which now has been earned by more than 25,000 scouts.
Two years ago, this idea expanded beyond scouting to provide sustainability training to boys and girls, scouts and non-scouts, at local summer camps. More than 1,000 Boy Scout camps are in the United States alone, most of which are unused during the school year. Most can accommodate at least 300 campers a week. Assuming a 36-week school year, that’s 10 million camper-weeks of unused potential capacity per year.
What if we could use that capacity during the school year for teaching middle-school and high-school students about sustainability while experiencing the great outdoors? That became our vision: to gather sustainability experts and interested teens at h
undreds of scout summer camps to create a Sustainable Future Outdoor Academy focused on teaching young people about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in a hands-on format.
From Aug. 13 to 17, we will be piloting the SFOA program at Cutter Scout Reservation, a 300-acre summer camp owned by BSA’s Pacific Skyline Council in Northern California. We are reaching out to schools groups, religious groups and scout groups to get a mix of youth entering the seventh, eighth and ninth grades this coming school year. They will be sleeping in safari tents equipped with double-decker cots and LED lanterns and will have the opportunity to try canoeing, boating and archery in their free time in addition to learning about sustainability. They will team with college-age counselors to give them support.
Our eight SDGs
We will use hands-on team-based curriculum we have fine-tuned with more than 10,000 teens at the past two BSA National Jamborees. It is focused on the eight planet-related SDGs: Water Supply; Food Supply; Energy Supply; Circular Economy; Oceans Species; Land Species; Climate Change; and Sustainable Cities. The instructors come with a broad range of expertise, including smart-city technology, sustainability consulting, environmental education, fossil fuel, nuclear and renewable energy, organic gardening and landscape architecture, even including a former EPA disaster team member.
The curriculum will feature live demos and hands-on projects to keep our campers engaged, including a working solar PV, storage and EV charging station, a gray-water system and composting toilet, a raised-bed organic garden complete with instruction on bees, composting and vermiculture. We also will spend a full day visiting local farms and ranches to understand how crops, flocks and herds really work and will be treated to a farm-to-table lunch at TomKat Ranch. We also will have a hike to nearby Sempervirens Falls and a number of Redwood Groves, as well as a capstone course in sustainable city, school and home design.
The whole project so far has been made possible by donors and supporters including Wells Fargo Foundation, Morgan Family Foundation, TiFie Humanitarian, TomKat Ranch, BareBones Living and Challenge Dairy, plus executives from Silicon Valley venture capital and high-tech firms Foundation Capital, NEA and RedSeal.
After this summer’s pilot, we hope to expand to a summer and school year program in 2019, and to share our model with other scout camps. We are also considering investing further in Cutter Scout Reservation by converting it to a net-positive facility using the Living Building Challenge Certification model.