The crux of an ecological economy

20 September 2021

Giulia's environmentally friendly pizza is expensive. Vocational school students are asked to find ways in which the pizzaiola could still be economically successful. The digital teaching tool "Future Perfect" also teaches students to look carefully when companies praise themselves.

In a perfect future, the economy conserves resources and functions as a cycle. The digital teaching tool "Future Perfect" brings this vision into the present, for example with Giulia's ecological pizza. But first things first. At the STF, the Swiss Textile College in Zurich, students from different professions attend general education classes taught by Orlando Temperli. The vocational school teacher has only recently started working with Future Perfect. His students are trained in specialisations such as design, mechatronics, rope and lifting technology, finishing and manufacturing. As different as these professions are, they all have to do with textiles in some form. Their production is delicate as far as sustainability is concerned. Just think of the immense water consumption of cotton plantations. Pesticides are used to keep losses as low as possible. No less problematic is the further processing of the yarn. Today, clothes are almost exclusively produced in low-wage countries. The once so important textile industry in Switzerland has largely collapsed due to this cheap competition. But the question arises here: is all this sustainable? Does this kind of production still have a future? What could a resource-saving, circular economy look like when it comes to clothing?

You have to be careful with the textile industry. Because even organic cotton is often enough no longer organic after dyeing.

If a student is overwhelmed by an assignment or has misunderstood it, vocational school teacher Orlando Temperli has to intervene. Photos: Roger Wehrli

Examples from the real economy

Thimon Eichwald, a student at STF, took a closer look at this problem in class. In the process, he became aware of MudJeans. It is a fair trade certified company based in the Netherlands. What is special about Mud Jeans is that 40 per cent of the trousers are made from recycled material from discarded jeans. According to the company's website, the other 60 percent is organic cotton. Mixed together, this is spun into a new yarn from which the new jeans are woven. According to the manufacturing company, this process saves carbon dioxide, water and energy. According to Mud Jeans, these are the most sustainable trousers in the world. And the Dutch are already tinkering with a process that will make it possible to produce jeans that are 100 per cent recycled. Thimon Eichwald, a rope and lifting technician in his first year of apprenticeship, pays cautious respect to the company. "Especially with the textile industry, you have to be careful," he says, "because even organic cotton is often enough no longer organic after dyeing at the latest." However, after a closer look, Mud Jeans seems very serious and transparent to him.

The topics are packed into short stories and are therefore easy to understand for most pupils.

Is production really sustainable?

Joana, another student, is lying on her stomach on the sofa in the common room with her laptop. She has the task of designing a poster. It should be clear and informative. Her project is also about the circular economy. The teaching material suggested some companies to her. Now the 16-year-old looks at the different websites and finally decides on a company that produces recycled furniture, cushions and more. Here, as with Mud Jeans, it is important to find out whether the production is really sustainable. By researching on the internet, the young people learn to look closely. This is necessary, because all too often buzzwords like "sustainable" or "ecological" are used in advertising at the moment. But this also shows that awareness is shifting towards sustainability. Resources are finite. This fact means nothing other than that we have to change our current way of life. That is why Future Perfect focuses on "Education for Sustainable Development" (ESD).

Less preparation, more coaching

"We are committed to easy access to ESD - with a focus on circular economy principles - for all," the website reads. And it goes on to say: "Young people in education in particular should acquire action and reflection skills to be able to practically apply ESD in their private and professional environment and to help shape change." Orlando Temperli, who worked for the first time with the teaching material, which is limited to one semester, draws a positive balance. He says that Future Perfect is structured like a digital construction kit. This has the advantage that the students do not have to proceed chronologically and in lockstep. They can pick out one topic or another for themselves depending on their interest or desire. The teacher keeps an overview because the programme allows him to see all the activities of the learners. If someone is overwhelmed by a task or has misunderstood it, this does not remain hidden from Orlando Temperli. "Here it is important that I intervene and look at the subject together with the student. So I function a bit like a coach," says the teacher. Basically, he has to invest less preparation time because of the teaching aid. Temperli does not see Future Perfect as a teaching tool that imparts completely new knowledge, but rather as an addition that can be integrated very well into the lessons. "The way the teaching material is structured suits the young generation very well," says Temperli. "Because the whole thing is reminiscent of a computer game in its presentation. The topics are packed into short stories and are therefore easy to understand for the vast majority of pupils.

The photo story about Giulia's pizzeria illustrates how difficult it can be to put laudable resolutions into practice.

Just because a company advertises sustainability, it does not necessarily produce ecologically. The students learn to look closely.

Economic rules and constraints

The teaching material is divided into seven "missions". While mission 1 is fundamentally about resources and raw materials, in the last mission the learners work on a project for their own training company, in which the aim is to improve the circular economy. In this way, what they have learned is transferred into practice. In the previous missions, the learners get to know Giulia. The young woman takes over a pizzeria after the end of her training. On the one hand, she wants to run the business according to ecological principles, on the other hand, she has to see that she continues to make a profit. She wants to produce much less waste than before. Giulia also wants to buy seasonal products from the local area instead of importing them from far away. These changes make the pizza more expensive to produce. In order to avoid a loss of profit as much as possible, the new manager is forced to increase the pizza prices. The pupils now have the task of designing a flyer for the customers instead of Giulia. The flyer has to explain in a simple and convincing way why the pizza prices have gone up. Important keywords are included in this difficult task - for example seasonality, regionality, transport, environment and carbon dioxide emissions.

Sustainability is expensive

The photo story about Giulia's pizzeria illustrates how difficult it can be to put laudable resolutions into practice. Sometimes the economic constraints seem insurmountable. The examination of Giulia's business ideas makes one think about why, for example, many production steps are shifted abroad or what the connection is between competitive pressure, willingness to pay and consumers' sense of responsibility. Here at the latest, a circle closes. We are all producers on the one hand and consumers on the other. In this sense, we all have a responsibility for a sustainable, fair and resource-saving economy. It is a pity that so far there is no comparable teaching material for compulsory education. This topic is too important and complex to be dealt with only in vocational school.

Roger Wehrli

To the original article by LCH