Access to education is a human right and has an amazing potential to improve a community’s long-term prosperity [1]. As such, teachers have a major role in the improvement of society. Improved education on climate and environmental matters at all levels of schooling have empowered young people to take action on these issues. Additionally, new educational pathways, styles, and projects are actively being developed to provide upcoming generations with a multitude of options focused on providing them with the most efficient and interesting educational experiences [2, 3]. We talk with Kenny Peavy, an author and outdoor educator at the Green School Bali, who provides us with his insights into what sustainability means for teachers and students.

[Vincent Diringer] Thank you for joining this interview today Kenny, I’d like you to introduce yourself, and tell us a bit about what you’re doing and then we’ll start the interview.

[Kenny Peavy] I’m really excited to be here and have a chat! I’m originally from the United States, I’ve been living, working, and teaching overseas since the year 2000, so 23 years now, in various capacities – international schools, outdoor adventure trip leader – currently I’m at the Green School in Bali where I teach a mix of all of that. I do a bit of math, a bit of science, nature, some English as a second language and once in a while I run some adventure camps.

That’s really interesting, so what exactly is the Green School Bali? You mentioned it a bit there, but it sounds like there are a lot of things happening within the curriculum.

Yeah, as you can see in the background, I’m in one of the bamboo houses, one of the hallmarks of the Green School is that it’s a sustainable campus. All the buildings are made out of bamboo and thatch roofs, they’re open air and we have a permaculture campus with lots of organic gardening, quite a bit of forest and even a river that runs through our campus, so that’s where we start on campus and everything goes from there for sustainability, for outdoor education, for connecting with nature. Like you said, there is quite a bit of flexibility in the curriculum, because we can get the kids outdoors easily and we have lots of connections to nature – we might be one of the only campuses that has chickens, pigs, and cows, gardens all on our school campus.

That’s fantastic, so how do you think that the approach, the closeness to nature helps with the children and the students – do you think that it’s a positive? Does it add to the education aspect of the school?

Definitely, you can step right outside of your classroom and do various science-type experiments: checking the types of soil, connecting with the river or just seeing different leaf shapes. There are a lot of ways to connect with nature, but it can be a distraction at times, we get several snakes on campus and once in a while a lizard will drop from the ceiling – things that don’t happen in your normal school campus, but you can just be flexible with it, go with it, I try to turn those moments into something teachable, especially when we find a cool snake or a frog hops into the classroom, or a lizard drops from the ceiling, we just stop what we’re doing and notice.

That’s really interesting, so what exactly is the Green School Bali? You mentioned it a bit there, but it sounds like there are a lot of things happening within the curriculum.

For me personally, there are a couple of different definitions, one is, first and foremost, a deep connection with nature – so, that’s really what I’m trying to do, is get kids outdoors: playing, discovering, learning, having hands-on direct contact with nature and the hope, there is that once they have a direct contact, they’ll be motivated to take some sort of action for conservation, that’s the direct link to sustainability.

I think a more general approach is, thinking of future generations and how we can do things that won’t impact those generations’ lifestyles. One of the big things we have on campus is, no single-use plastics, most of our meals are vegetarian and organic, so expand beyond learning about nature directly, and thinking about lifestyle and how that impacts future generations’ sustainability.

Obviously, the Green School is a bit further along on the spectrum in terms of being close to nature, but how do you see sustainability or how should it be integrated into education as a whole?

Going back to what I first said, I do think, it’s important for kids to get outside and experience nature directly, so I think that, if schools can do anything like having a nature club, doing Week Without Walls trips, doing adventure trips, service trips, getting outside of the classroom, I think, is first and foremost, which should happen at every campus. If you’re not fortunate enough to live in a natural area like an inner city, bringing nature into the classroom is very important, somehow integrating what you might see in your country where you’re living in the national parks or in the local parks or just outside on your daily walks, every place has some nature, but some places have more than others.

And so, trying to integrate that I think is, what I’m always pushing for. Get kids out of the classroom, learning, connecting directly with nature and beyond that, trying to do some project-based learning, entrepreneurship, one of the things, I’m a really big fan of is, when we have our integrated study units here at the middle school and kids are learning about various topics through different lenses, through literacy, through science, through conservation, through math and then the Grade 8s have to do a project, where they have to come up with some sort of capstone project for middle school before they get to high school, which has to have a sustainability component. Some of my favourite ones: kids making wallets out of recycled tyres, kids growing their own vegetables and making their own products to sell at the cafeteria – all of those kinds of projects combine under some sort of sustainability umbrella.

That’s amazing. I know that’s something, that is taking off with universities as well in terms of how to integrate sustainability within a university course – and there are so many different aspects of sustainability as you know – so I think it’s important to have kids so young already being brought up in it. You mentioned accessing nature, and accessing that patch of environment if you’re an inner-city kid or living in an urban area, you wrote a book called “The Box People” that deals with this subject – can you tell us more about it?

Sure, “The Box People ” is an illustrated children’s book with the message to ‘get out of your box’. It’s the story about our current society and how we live in boxes, we eat food that comes from boxes, that is kept in a refrigerator that is a box, we go to a box to work, we go to a box to go shopping, we get in a box – our cars, buses – to get to these other boxes, and then one day our hero, or anti-hero realises he doesn’t like this lifestyle so he goes to the park and once he is in the park, he realises, there are no more boxes, he starts feeling good and he feels connected to the planet, the flora and fauna. He has this big revelation that ‘Wow, I don’t have to live my whole life in this constructed box that society has built around me for my daily life”. I think, that’s a pretty cool message in an illustrated children’s format that rhymes, it’s kind of like a Dr Seuss book. I think, it’s a good message for the children to hear and see.

You are kind of experiencing this on a daily basis with the Green School in Bali. You are seeing kids come in, and depending on where they have been before being put in a situation like the Green School can be a bit overwhelming, but I think it’s fantastic that they are being put in touch with nature – do you have any stories about how you have seen students develop within that role, once they are outside of their box and how they react in a nature setting?

I definitely have, especially when we do our camps and schools come in from big cities like Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, you know these big urban areas. The first day they’re afraid to sit on the ground, they don’t want to get dirty, they’re really worried about something out in nature that might get them, bite them, and we get a lot of questions about that. By the end, you know they move – and it’s a term I’ve been talking about lately – they move from biophobia, the fear of nature, to biophilia, a love of nature. So, they’re a bit biophobic at first, they don’t want to get dirty, they’re scared of sitting on the ground, they’re afraid of insects, ants or whatever they see on the trees. Then by the end, they’re really curious, they’re not afraid, they don’t want to go back, they want to stay here and are happy to roll around in the dirt, play in the mud and be kids, what I think kids should do. I’ve definitely seen it quite a few times.

It speaks a lot to non-traditional learning, the ‘Box’ of academic institutions. Do you see progress going forward with students, do you think sustainability is playing a greater role – whether that is through environmental, equality, gender? 

Yeah, I definitely do, a big testament to the students and to the teachers, post-COVID lots of students were dealing with social and emotional issues. They’d been locked up for a couple of years, they hadn’t had a lot of contact with each other or with nature. Last year was a rough year, it was a transition year, because people didn’t know what to do, they hadn’t been in school for a couple of years, they’d been locked in their houses and apartments doing online learning. This year I’ve definitely seen an improvement, where there is more of a community feel connecting people and students, connecting more with nature, getting outside more. I’ve seen that over the past three years, where two of those years we were in a lockdown and now we’re able to connect with each other again and with the planet. I’m seeing progress in that. Gender equality is coming up more frequently, more often and those conversations are happening and I’m happy to see, that as well as conversation about how we can connect the kids with the natural world a bit more, how we can live more sustainably, our choices as consumers. Some of the projects I’ve seen are very cool in terms of kids wanting to, as I said earlier, make wallets out of recycled tyres and furniture out of recycled surfboards, they’re already thinking in those directions which I think is a lot of progress.

If you had to give any advice on how to integrate sustainability to another teacher, someone who is not at the Green School Bali, but in an urban setting, what would you recommend?

Sustainability is like a buffet, you’ve got to try different things and see which ones you like. For me, I love nature and the outdoors and science – I’m a science teacher – I’m going to gravitate towards ecology, rivers, seagrass beds and reefs, and getting out there and doing recreational things like swimming or mountain biking, kayaking, snorkelling, and then trying to learn about those. But that might not be for everyone – so just going out and seeing different lifestyles. Learning about different cultures, religions, food, languages, and traditions, these are all ways of connecting with other people. Just try different things. How I learned, was by volunteering with the Malaysian Nature Society when I first came to Malaysia, I had no idea about tropical ecology or rainforests, all my training had been in eastern deciduous forests which is a very different type of ecosystem than a tropical rainforest. So, I just told people, ‘Hey I’m ready to volunteer, I’m here to learn’ and that’s how I got more expert on Southeast Asia, it was just being curious, going out there, joining groups – birding groups, hiking groups – and seeing what other people had to say. 

So, collaboration? Going out there, experiencing things, helping others – I think this is very important and I know, it’s something, we talk about with LEAD-WiSE meaning discovering your own sustainability journey. You want to be sustainable, but sometimes it’s easier to have a greater impact, if you start networking and collaborating with other people, and sometimes it’s never the ones you think – a different business, person, or industry entirely – but you realise, you have so many things in common, that can help build to a more sustainable community. 

Is there anything you would like to end with?

I love teaching and learning, I love getting outdoors and I think the best thing for all of us is to get out and have fun – whatever, that might be for you. Some people like hiking, hanging out on the beach or mountain biking, but get outside. There is so much research about the benefits of nature for physical help, mental help, socio-emotional help – just getting outdoors connecting with nature, with some friends, you’re connecting with people, but then you’re connecting with yourself, that’s the main goal. Go outside, have fun, stay curious and keep looking around and learning.


[1] UNESCO, 2023, “The Right to Education”.
[2] UNESCO, 2022, “COP27: UNESCO launches global survey report on youth demands for climate change education & mobilizes stakeholders for the Greening Education Partnership”.
[3] James Ellsmoor, 2019, “Environmental Education Will Shape A New Generation Of Decision-Makers”, Forbes.