At the first-ever Jesuit Student Ecology Conference in Australia, participants were inspired to become “integral ecologists”.


By Samuel Hutchinson and Angus Martinez, students at Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview

It’s highly appropriate that we attended the inaugural Jesuit Student Ecology Conference via Zoom, instead of creating a sizeable carbon footprint by flying in. There were 28 Year 10 students who participated in the recent three-day conference, Zooming in instead of jetting in.

Apart from those of us from Riverview, the conference featured students from St Aloysius’ College in Sydney, Xavier College Kew in Melbourne, Saint Ignatius’ College in Adelaide, Saint Ignatius College Geelong and Xavier Catholic College Ballina. The main objective of the conference was to provide a collaborative platform for ideas and conversations to create initiatives and perspectives under the umbrella of Caring for Our Common Home, one of the Jesuits’ Universal Apostolic Preferences.

Predominantly centred around environmental conservation and preservation, the conference provided us as Riverview students with countless new ideas to implement more sustainable and eco-conscious initiatives and programmes into our school. Ms Jess McLean and Ms Sharon Lonard, the Riverview teachers and Sustainability Co-ordinators who look after the Green Wolves, the school’s ecology group, inspired us to become “integral ecologists”. We were also led to discuss ways in which we can develop and move forward as a school, consistent with the messages of the Pope’s Laudato Sí’ encyclical.

Day One:

On the first day of the conference, we were introduced to the other Jesuit and Companion schools and were inspired by the actions that they had already taken to increase sustainability and create positive environmental change. Hearing Saint Ignatius’ College in Adelaide speak about their goal to get to zero net carbon emissions by 2030 was just one of many initiatives that set the tone for the conference. (Read more about their programme, Carbon is so dated.)

Students from St Aloysius’ College Milsons Point.

This also catalysed a discussion about the ways in which our respective journeys to becoming integral ecologist leaders could produce much-needed change. Furthermore, there were discussions surrounding what else could be done in our broader communities.  The conference leader, Ms Sue Martin, is also the Australian Province’s Care for our Common Home committee Project Officer. She centred the conversation around the parable of The Good Samaritan, encouraging us to turn to our neighbours in the community as we strive to be agents for environmental change.

Day Two:

The second day strengthened the bond between the students as we split up into small breakout rooms to discuss the next step in our environmental journeys. Additionally, we deepened our understanding of the consumerism timeline and reflected on its inefficiency, discussing how a linear system can’t really work in an infinite setting and how a circular economy with consumers refusing, reducing and reusing products, would be extremely beneficial to the health of our planet.

We were then led through a deeper discussion on what it means to be an integral ecologist and developed our thinking into a structure which centred around four key points: seeing scientifically, evaluating ethically, reflecting spiritually and acting effectively. To end the day, each school designed their own nature walk which would develop a loving awareness of the environment for those who participated. For Riverview, William O’Keefe drew a beautiful Indigenous artwork of the path our nature walk would take and notably, Xavier Catholic College Ballina created ceramic tiles which pointed out native flora along their walk.

The Rozelle Campus at St Aloysius College have several initiatives aimed towards trying to reduce their carbon footprint such as garden beds to produce herbs and vegetables. Photo: St Aloysius’ College Milsons Point.

Day Three:

Patrick Greene, director of The Energy Project, a specialist energy consulting company, further inspired us to take action with his words on “A beginners’ guide to saving the world”. He highlighted the importance of saying yes to every opportunity and he encouraged us to think globally and act locally. His work in the Australian solar panel industry has been groundbreaking and our newfound understanding of how our future jobs and choices could make a difference to the health of our planet was an exciting eye-opener.

He provided insight into sustainable energy production, as well as the economic and environmental benefits of producing and utilising solar power. A final message of hope was passed on, before we were sent out as a connected community of Jesuit schools. This was particularly impactful, as the connections we have now made with these other schools will give us platforms for the future to discuss and share initiatives, as well as to ensure we keep each other accountable for our sustainability pledges.

Overall, the first Jesuit Student Ecology Conference was an incredible opportunity which we embraced with open arms. We look forward even more keenly to accelerating environmental change in our communities. It is our great hope that with this new understanding we will be able to create tangible change within Riverview and the broader community so we can reach sustainability targets to preserve our earth. The conference reaffirmed the words of Pope Francis to the world’s youth: “You are not the future, you are the now of God”.

Feature photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.