The businesses turning to classroom creativity on climate

A collective sense of impending doom swells as the climate crisis creeps closer to a tipping point.

But young people, who refuse to accept such bleak prospects, are seeking outlets to channel their despair into positive, impactful action.

Taking to the streets in protest is a start. But what if students had more to offer?

EIT Climate-KIC partner, Patrick van der Hofstad, is spearheading an operation that offers pre-university students the opportunity to tackle real-world climate challenges encountered by everyday businesses.

“We are establishing an ecosystem of partners who are interested in sharing their business challenges and working with schools,” explained Van der Hofstad, director of the Technotrend Foundation based in the Netherlands.

A different lens

Technotrend stands by the mantra “sustainable development through technology education”, offering educational programmes that promote innovation, future-proofing, and systems thinking.

This year, the foundation is delivering the Young Innovators programme to at least five secondary schools, thanks to a growing network of businesses, local government foundations, research institutions, and consultancy firms across the Utrecht region and beyond.

The programme, which kicked off in January, promotes collaboration and cooperation between employees and Generation Z, who are poised to offer fresh perspectives on climate challenges that can range from reducing energy consumption to designing sustainable packaging.

“It’s not so much that the students will come up with new solutions that are perfectly fit for the company. But students will learn how to ask the right questions and see things from a different lens,” explained Van der Hofstad. “This is why enterprises can benefit from participating in the programme.”

A “win-win”

The idea is to start a mutual relationship in which business cases are developed for educational purposes. Technotrend attaches great importance to a customization that yields the most value for both the school and the company.

There are endless opportunities for recruitment in a variety of fields, from corporate social responsibility (CSR) to communications and marketing, and research and design. Companies gain access to a local, youthful talent pool while students develop their individual talents and interests.

“The challenge is getting all the different actors in the system to change together”

The arrangement is also a “win-win” for teachers who can use the challenges to embed relevant climate topics into classroom conversation. These real-world examples turn abstract concepts into something very concrete, helping students to come to terms with the complexity of systems thinking.

“It’s very important to educate students about systems change. But the challenge is getting all the different actors in the system to change together so that new technologies can be implemented,” said Van der Hofstad.

This is the ultimate goal for the programme: to expand the network and involve more schools. Van der Hofstad has ambitions to scale up with larger organizations that are willing to pay for participation.

For companies looking to future-proof as a whole, the programme poses a worthwhile investment. Drawing on the talents of the next generation could prove increasingly important as society begins to rebuild our systems in the aftermath of COVID.

Technotrend received 50000 euros from EIT Climate-KIC to execute their 2020 programme with the intent to match that amount from local investors. Despite the current economic downturn, the foundation’s funding goals look promising.

“People are very enthusiastic about the programme and it looks like there will be way more partners, schools and local funding going on than expected,” confirmed Van der Hofstad.