The scouts in Falkenstein, Köniz understood the interplay between education and sustainability early on. Receiving the Bern energy prize and the title of the first "Minergie"* (low energy) scout centre in Switzerland are two examples of how successful their efforts have been. Internationalisation by means of training courses at the Kandersteg International Scout Centre (KISC) will now spread the solar message like wildfire. – Louise Leibundgut(translatedfrom German by Clifford Lantaff; proofreading Miriam M. Martineau)
"Pfadiweg" (“Scout path”), says the blue sign by the side of the trail, so it can't be much further to the solarised scout huts. A line of solar-powered street-lights compete to sparkle in the sunlight. The gleaming solar roof panels gradually become visible.
When it comes to renewable energy, the Falkenstein Köniz scout department (SFK) is undoubtedly a source of inspiration. The driving (probably solar-driven!) force behind this successstory is the untiring commitment of the centre’s president, Heinz Jenni. Thefact that the scout movement can now look back on over a hundred years of history and important youth work is reason enough to hike along the scout path in order to visit Jenni in Köniz.
Jenni against sceptics
When he started out his ideas were met with scepticism. A solar-powered scout hut? Photo-voltaic (PV) and thermal equipment installed by the young people themselves? "A green Utopia!" "No way is this financially viable!" "Far too dangerous and risky!“
Heinz Jenni, however, who started his scouting career in 1952, saw it all differently. When he and his team initiated discussions on the topics of sustainability and energy, particularly on the aspect of leading by example and its educational function, the following points seemed to him to be the most important: Powering the Köniz Scoutbuildings in the most environmentally friendly way possible and engaging young people actively with the use and potential of solar energy.
Thus in 1998, a circular from Jugendsolar (YouthSolar) of Greenpeace, Switzerland sent to those running the SFK fell upon open ears - and roofs.
Jugendsolar meets the scouts
Kuno Roth and Retze Koen, the two Greenpeace Solar-Youth pioneers from Switzerland and meanwhile practically partof the ‘furniture’ of the environmental organisation, had hammered out the framework for an energy shift at the local level back in the 1990s and have continued with enthusiastic commitment to this day. They began the solar youth project (Jugendsolar) on March 21, 1998 with thegoal of implementing 100 solar installations on the roofs of schools, scoutbuildings and youth hostels. Today there nearly 300 in place. It was through this initiative that they contacted numerous schools and all scout centres, including the SFK.
This really works!
Jenni's first involvement in a PV-installation was in 1999. Having grown up in a generation with a fairly uncritical acceptance of nuclear power, Jenni had had little previous contact with renewable energy till then. Through his participation, however, he became an immediate convert – "this really works!" – and he went the whole hog.
Clear sense of purpose impresses the jury of the Bern Energy Prize
Today, 15 years later, the SFK with its five buildings has only one remaining vacant roof. When asked whether he might get bored after the final installation, Jenni shakes his head and smiles. Falkenstein Köniz is the first "Minergie" scout centre in Switzerland. Four PV- and two thermal installations have been built since 2003,all in close collaboration with Jugendsolar. Nearly 300’000 kWh of electrical power, i.e. the yearly average amount of approximately 100 Swiss homes, has been fed into the grid since the four Photovoltaic units were commissioned. Intelligent heat pumps have been installed, as have eleven solar-powered street lamps. In and around both scout huts young people are introduced to renewable energy on a daily basis, thereby instructed,informed and carrying out a worthwhile service to the public. Consequently, they were awarded the 2010 Bern energy prize: "The children and youngsters have been actively involved in the project and through this, introduced to the concept of careful management of resources. The jury were impressed by the clear sense of purpose, which was evident from the start. They hope that the achievements of the SFK will serve as an example to other associations." (The Jury's explanatory statement)
In spite of widespread media coverage, the SFK remains an exceptional case. Jenni hopes for more solar-powered scout buildings. Most centres see only the administrative outlay and start-upcosts. Of course, such work requires more personal commitment. Unsalaried honorary posts and voluntary work have been deeply anchored in the culture of the scout movement, but the long-term economic potential is all too often not yet recognised. And here is the crux of the matter: there is a declining trend in unpaid volunteering, and since, as a rule, volunteering and part-time participation go hand in hand, a view of the big picture is often missing. On this note Jenni would welcome more active and competent advisors for the scout centres to help with building and financing. He makes no bones about the fact that the financial aspects are constantly an issue for him.
Small example seeks big example
The Köniz scout centre is, however, too small to spread the word, says Jenni: “We need an international centre as a model, for example the Kandersteg International Scout Centre (KISC)”. KISC, Greenpeace and Solafrica, a non-profit organisation based in Bern, are jointly planning the installation of a PV facility at the KISC to take place this summer, coinciding with solar workshops, which they are also organising. Here scout leaders and functionaries from all continents are to be trained as solar trainers. The aim is that knowhow acquired in the solar learning environment of Kandersteg will then be passed on when they return to their respective home countries.
Sustainability and Education written equally large
It is clearly noticeable that the Köniz scouts involved in solar installation are not just engaged in putting up solar panels, but are also interested in spreading the concept. When those in charge of the SFK made the provisional decision in 2008 against any further installations, they met with resistance from the youngsters who wanted to play the same role as their predecessors in the sustainability of the centre. This is precisely the key to the matter: the flames will only be fanned when youngsters are brought into closer active contact with solar energy.
* “Minergie” is a registered quality label for new and refurbished low energy consumption buildings. It is registered in Switzerland and around the world.
About the Author: Louise (26) studied International Relations and Political, Legal and Economic Philosophy and is doing an internship at the Greenpeace Youth Support Center (wave.greenpeace.org). She is currently very engaged at the solar workshops in Kandersteg and amazed by this new world of the scouts.
This is the 36th episode of a blog post-series called Cool Spot Stories written by young and committed Reporters.