Founder, Students on Sustainability

University of Calgary

Project Overview

I founded Students on Sustainability, a student society at the University of Calgary that educates grade school students on sustainability topics linked to climate change, and supports student action projects. I negotiated partnerships with thirteen provincial environmental not for profits, recruited and trained seventy-one multidisciplinary university student volunteers, and was able to reach over 4000 grade school students in southern Alberta. I received the 2018 University of Calgary Graduate Student Leadership in Sustainability Award for my work.


Students on Sustainability (SOS) is a University of Calgary student initiative created to communicate climate change, and sustainable solutions to grade school students through peer-to-peer education. I originally pitched the idea at the Pembina Institute Alberta Climate Summit in September 2017. SOS originated as a response to a report published by the Alberta Council for Environmental Education in 2016, in which over 3000 Albertan students specifically calling for three things: 1. A framework of Climate, Environmental, and Energy literacy should be integrated throughout all classes, from Kindergarten to Grade 12. 2. Curriculum should encourage hands-on opportunities that give students practical experience as they make a difference. 3. Teachers should be allowed enough time, support, and flexibility in their teaching so that students can learn about environment, energy, and climate change in our everyday lives.

We believe that by integrating climate and sustainability education in the grade school curriculum, we can better prepare youth to take action on the social, economic and environmental issues we face today. Our volunteer team is comprised of students from various disciplines at the graduate and undergraduate level. Volunteers inform students on important topics of sustainability, and share their own research and experience in STEAM and sustainability-related fields. Our programs engage students with fun, hands-on activities and presentations specifically design to match the Alberta Curriculum. Ultimately, our goal is to encourage students to design an action plan with every visit, to create innovative solutions to real world issues that they can implement in their own lives and communities. SOS volunteers deliver the following to booked classrooms: 1. Inspirational content, sharing their own personal stories, interests and motivations with the students. 2. A short and current lesson provided by our content partners aligned with the Alberta curriculum, including a hands-on activity to inspire and engage students. 3. A call-to-action to bring environmental action into students own lives and communities, making positive climate action impacts starting that day.


Based on the 2016 Alberta Council for Environmental Education report and intended benefit for participatory post-secondary students, the core pillars of SOS include: ⎯ Educate Albertan grade school students on climate change and taking sustainable action in a holistic and multidisciplinary manner, through discussions and workshops. ⎯ Train post-secondary volunteers on sustainability communication skills specific to Alberta and broaden understanding of sustainability topics. ⎯ Collaborate with local community climate education organizations to deliver Alberta curriculum aligned content to grade school classrooms, and provide volunteer networking opportunities.

The goals of SOS going forward include recruiting and training 80 post-secondary student volunteers annually, delivering over 100 in-class presentations, and consistently participating in over 20 provincial and municipal climate/ environment/ energy/ sustainability education events in southern Alberta. Long term goals include supporting student led chapter creation in Edmonton and Lethbridge based out of University of Alberta and University of Lethbridge respectively. Climate communication outreach is particularly important here in Alberta and SOS aims to lead the way in peer-to-peer climate action training province wide with youth.


SOS relies on community and campus partners to deliver the program annually. The 2018-2019 program partnership structure is as follows: Content providers: Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Nature’s Ride, Alberta Tomorrow, Hands-on Growing, Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology, Relay Education, Inside Education. Event participation: City of Calgary EcoLeaders, Weaselhead Glenmore Park Preservation Society, Green Calgary, Bow Habitat Station, Student Energy, RiverWatch Institute of Alberta. Support (financial or advisory): Graduate Students Association, Pembina Institute, Energy For All, Alberta Council for Environmental Education, University of Calgary Office of Sustainability. Paid membership: SERG – Society of Education Resources Groups.

SOS university student volunteers receive training on talking about climate and energy in Alberta, as well as grade school classroom teaching techniques, certificates honoring their volunteer hours, and the opportunity to meet sustainability professionals at networking events. SOS incorporates relevant energy, environment, and climate topics into classroom curriculum (renewable energy, climate change, energy conservation, engineering, modeling, systems thinking, food security and more) to encourage students to take positive action now - and to better understand how sustainability can be part of their future careers. We offer formal classroom talks, small group exercises or discussions, interactive learning, and public engagement events. Presentations support teachers to deliver Alberta aligned curriculum.


Following the Alberta Climate Summit, I garnered interests from various environmental education organizations in the province including Alberta Council for Environmental Education. From there I was able to partner with four other environmental education not for profits as content partners. In the first year of the project I recruited and trained 28 multidisciplinary university student volunteers. SOS delivered 28 in-class presentations and led two provincial education events, in total reaching over 1500 grade school students in the first year. The reception from participatory teachers was overwhelming “extremely satisfied” with -SOS as per yearend feedback forms. This year (2018-2019) we expanded, recruiting and training 43 post-secondary students from both the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University in Calgary. SOS volunteers delivered 32 in-class presentations and led or participated in 16 provincial and municipal education events reaching over 2500 grade school students this year. All our volunteer training takes place over October and November, we deliver in-class presentations from December until April annually. Event participation is opportunistic based on volunteer availability and can be over the summer and early fall, our student leadership selection occurs over September annually.


Example budget from 2017-2018:

Expenses Alberta Council for Environmental Education - $15,00.00 (25% of full time employee salary assisting SOS via Canada Green Corps. Grant). Partner organizations - $6,900 (employee time for training volunteers and connecting with schools + module resources and materials). University of Calgary Quality Money Grant for Student led initiatives - $5000 (Printing, event registration, training event room booking and catering, year end appreciation event, transportation costs, website fees, SERG membership).


Following two years of SOS operation we have: Negotiated partnerships with thirteen provincial environmental not for profits. Recruited and trained seventy-one multidisciplinary university student volunteers. * Reached over 4000 grade school students in southern Alberta.

Lessons Learned

The climate communication and outreach work being done in Alberta is critical to Canada as a whole. Albertans gets 48% of our energy from coal electricity generation and the oil and gas sector emits 130 MegaTonne CO2 equivalents of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Canada is warming at a rate twice that of the rest of the world and we are not on track to make our Paris Agreement goals. Reducing emissions and informing people on effective climate action is critical if we want to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Reaching youth is the most readily assessable and engaged target audience. The hope lies in them disseminating the information to their communities and sparking change similar to seatbelts and smoking, education youth to inform parents. Climate change is happening here and now and we need to collectively act fast to mitigate and adapt to impacts.



Patrick Duke SOS 2017

Patrick Duke SOS 2017