“Any movement, any culture, will fail if it cannot paint a picture of a world that people will want to go.” – Martin Luther King Jr

Imagine a world where our young people help to design their own schools, working closely with the natural world to create inspiring spaces to learn and grow.

This dream world is not so far away in Carlton Gardens Primary School in Melbourne, where year 5/6 students recently participated in a “living building” workshop to design a better future for themselves and the world around them.

Most talk around sustainability has been in terms of how to be “less bad” – use less waste, less water, less energy. While this message is important, it’s not very inspiring to our young future change-makers who are looking to create a world of “more good”.

As part of Empty Classroom Day, a day intended to get students outside and more connected to nature, students from Carlton Gardens Primary School reimagined and redesigned their school, taking inspiration from the things they love about the natural world.

Students reshaped their school as if it were a flower – sourcing its energy from the sun, its water from the rain, and recycling any waste produced. The designs out of these creative minds were not so different to the designs for Google’s proposed new utopian headquarters.

When students were asked to explain why they chose certain design features for their new school, they responded with a clear and consistent acknowledgement of the value of nature. The students know that nature is good for them – it’s clear in their designs which resemble vibrant ecosystems, full of daylight, fresh air, flora and fauna, elements that celebrate nature. They brought the things they love about the great outdoors, indoors.

These ideas are closely aligned with the work of the International Living Future Institute, a group dedicated to reimagining a future where every single act of design and construction makes the world a better place.

This awareness and understanding of the value of nature is also backed up by a growing body of research that demonstrates natural elements boost learning rates, creativity and health and wellbeing. One recent study of 3766 pupils across 153 classrooms found that a well-designed classroom boosted learning rates by 16 per cent.

The day also included a visit from the CERES Mobile Energy Classroom. This mobile classroom helps children better understand renewable energy technologies by getting them to generate their own power and get up close to solar panels in action.

These Sustainability Days are a great way to encourage young people to dream big and develop visions of a future that work in harmony with nature. After all, these aspiring designers are the architects of our future and who knows, with the work that organisations such as the Living Future Institute are doing, buildings like this may become unexceptional by the time these children are a little older.

Ash Buchanan is director of sustainable design at Cohere and a fellow at the Centre of Sustainability Leadership.

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