Using education to foster action: making sustainability relatable for children

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Q&A: JLL’s Emily Scofield

Emily Scofield is the Director of Energy Sustainability Services (ESS) and Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) for the Bank of America account. She is also the author of a children’s environmental book entitled “CoCo and Dean: Explorers of the World.” The book introduces current environmental issues through the outdoor adventures of siblings, CoCo and Dean.

The concepts of carbon footprint, landfills and ocean plastics can be heavy, but Emily keeps it light-hearted through the siblings’ relatable interactions with nature and one another. She draws readers into the story even more with unique illustrations juxtaposed against photographs of nature. These images allow the reader to creatively imagine the scene depicted in Scofield’s text. The book has been used to reinforce lessons about sustainability in schools and with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.

Emily Scofield’s love for nature and environmental protection has been present since she was running around the creek bank behind her childhood home and exploring the woods at her grandparent’s farm. As a pre-teen she realized the business opportunity in being sustainable and collected her family’s aluminum cans for recycling money. During the Earth Day revival of 1990, Emily was made aware of global environmental issues that further stoked her passion for the planet. This passion has never waned and Emily’s career path reflects her dedication. Before her children were born, Emily was an adjunct professor at four different colleges in North Carolina, teaching Environmental Science, Issues in Science and other related subjects.

Emily continues to educate others on sustainability through her position at JLL and now through the book, “CoCo and Dean: Explorers of the World”. Emily intends for CoCo and Dean to be the first in a series of adventure tales to elevate children’s eco-awareness. Emily invites you to journey with CoCo and Dean in three short stories as they travel the world to spread the word of environmental responsibility.

Q: What motivated you to write a children’s book about environmental issues?

ES: When I was teaching college courses, the topics I taught were issues in Environmental Science, and every semester I would see light bulbs turning on in these adult minds – just drawing the connection between how their daily activities impact the environment. We’re constantly taking or giving with the environment. It was great to help shed light on that because a lot of people do not normally think about their impact. Everybody within JLL Energy Sustainability Services understands that and thinks about that, but there are a lot of people in our population who do not consider that they’re interacting with environmental resources.

When I had children I stopped teaching, but that love and that yearning for education and sharing that knowledge stayed with me. I found that many of the books I would read to my children didn’t have a message or a real purpose, so I thought if these books can get published, then certainly some messages that I feel are critical can get published. So that was the driver: that love for education, that passion for spreading environmental awareness, and that thought of, “if they can do it, so can I.” So that’s what led to the journey.

Q: How has writing this book and educating children on environmental issues impacted you as a sustainability professional?

ES: Every time I have the opportunity to share the book with an audience, it encourages me to try to do it more. Whether it’s using the same book and having similar conversations with different audiences, or working towards the next book or the next topic that could potentially shed even more light on environmental issues, I realize that many people do not care or are not concerned about environmental protection. It’s something that I need to keep in mind all the time, but if I can help open someone eyes to the concept and help them understand it and take it heart, I need to keep telling that story.

Today there is an awareness of the basic environmental concepts, such as recycling. But discussing the topic of ocean plastics, which is certainly not on everyone’s radar but we all contribute, is a higher level environmental concept that I believe “CoCo & Dean” bring to the market that isn’t currently there. Hopefully, I’m contributing to where there was a void.

Q: Each CoCo and Dean story features the children being active outdoors. From an environmental perspective, why do you think it’s important for kids to explore nature?

ES: So that they can build a relationship and memories with the outdoors that will stick with them and so that they can have those connection points as they grow into adults. Hopefully they’ll have positive touch points to the environment so that it will help them to think twice about the ways that they are consuming environmental resources and to change their behavior to protect the planet. That’s one reason why I have CoCo and Dean outside so much, to spur that love for the outdoors.

Another reason is because I believe the science – we know that physiologically your body performs better when you have access to sunlight and have fresh air to breathe. When you are outside in nature, your blood pressure goes down. There are many positive effects that take place in your body when you’re in nature and outside of the built environment, so that is why the book features real photographs of nature and the stories describe the children being outside exploring their world. My hope for the book is to encourage children – and adults – to go outside more, which will benefit them and the world as a whole. The statistic is that 90 percent of our time in spent indoors and my hope is that we can bring that more into balance.

Q: Your book discusses complex topics like ‘carbon footprints’ and ‘renewable resources.’ How did you keep these topics light-hearted and approachable for children?

ES: Well, I approached it in the same way that I saw my children talking to one another and interacting, and how I spoke to them. I recognized that you can’t be too serious. They’re (children are) smart; they’ll pick up on concepts. But don’t dwell on it, don’t make it too heavy, keep it light and keep them engaged.

The books that I found on the market at the time that discussed scientific topics or environmental issues were very stark and stale with diagrams, labels and heavy definitions and advanced vocabulary. I just realized it was too much for children to understand. So I felt that if I could engage through these characters, CoCo and Dean, and how they can banter back and forth, teasing one another as siblings. I didn’t just talk about the issues like a textbook would.

Q: How did you approach the idea of explaining ‘carbon footprints’ to children in the chapter titled, “Think like a Cardinal”?

ES: So in the text, I never mention the word ‘carbon.’ I leave that for the glossary. But I think that the message gets conveyed through CoCo’s experiences, and what you can relate in a child’s mind to “I used too much water. I used too much electricity. I took too much food and then it became waste.” Those are concepts that a child can understand and relate to. If you bring in the word ‘carbon,’ then you have to backtrack and define ‘carbon’ and define what does that mean, and that is just a high-level concept than I didn’t want to introduce. I think the point gets driven home in a much lighter way because the real point of talking about carbon footprint is not necessarily that children understand exactly what that means, but that they understand that we make an impact on environmental resources every day and we can make conscience choices that make less of an impact.

Q: There is a great part in the text where CoCo is exploring in the woods and see a bird’s footprint in the mud and compares it to her footprint.

ES: Yeah! It was the footprint of the Cardinal that she had seen earlier in the text pick up a piece of garbage and then later CoCo finds that the bird has woven it into its nest. So that’s an example of how you can reuse waste, it doesn’t have to damage or be blight on the environment. We can repurpose things to have a more positive outcome.

Q: You touch on that topic of ‘upcycling’ in the chapter titled, “Conquering Rabbit Hill,” when Coco and Dean are confronted with the reality of where trash goes after it is tossed in the garbage. What can children do to curb the waste they produce?

ES: I think that first thing that I tried to convey in that story in order to change behavior was to think about the garbage after the garbage truck pulls away from your street – it doesn’t just disappear and it has a home eventually. In most cases that home is a hole in the ground, and once that hole in the ground gets filled, it becomes a mountain. So I think that a child can understand garbage doesn’t just disappear, this really stays within the earth and do I want to contribute to that? If I can help it I’d like to not put as much of my waste into the earth as possible. I think that helping kids understand the full lifecycle of waste helps them come to the realization, “maybe I can find other things to do with my garbage than put it in the garbage can and send it away.”

Sometimes I’ll visit classrooms and read excerpts of the book to school children and when I read “Conquering Rabbit Hill,” I bring in items that are destined for the garbage dump, and we have an entrepreneurial exercise where I ask, “What could this become? How can this product be upcycled into something new?” It’s so fun to see their imaginations run wild!

Q: What advice can you give to children and adults who want to take action to improve the environment?

ES: When you encounter an environmental issue that pulls on your heart strings, look at that problem and research why this problem exists in your community and what’s causing it, and determine how either you or your family could start to turn that problem around. If it’s bigger than you, you can start having conversations, like CoCo and Dean, with your friends, your scouts, your Sunday school, or your classroom. I encourage children to speak out when they see issues, and not keep it to themselves, because we all need to work together to improve our impact on the environment. Children have a voice, and you don’t need to be a certain age to have an impact.

The root of why I felt so strongly about publishing this book and getting it into the hands of as many children as possible is because I feel that people get very narrowly focused on their five-mile sphere of influence, and we can become blinded to the world. I think that the book shows how our actions in one part of the world can impact environments, climates and resources across the globe. There are no walls in the environment that keeps your pollution right where you create it. Global connection is huge to helping people understand the value and importance of environmental awareness.

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