Our final talk, from Natarajan Ishwaran (Director of Ecological and Earth Sciences Division, UNESCO) and Rob Bernard (General Manager Environmental Sustainability, Microsoft) concerned that ever present consideration - the environment.

The role of technology

A sobering view of environmental destruction was presented by Mr. Ishwaran. With ever sharper borders between natural (or preserved) areas, and those industrialised, built up areas of land than ever before, we need to understand exactly the consequences of any actions we take - even if those actions are 'just' improving the education of our next generation of students. How long can we sustain these borders with nature with the booming growth rate of developing countries?

"Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein

Technology alone cannot be used to bring back wildlife, to reforest areas or to predict changing environments, but it can be utilised well as a tool to help people to do this. Social systems, advanced planning tools and better infrastructure can all bring benefits to this area - as proved by many teams in this year's Imagine Cup - such as Project SOAK, reducing water wastage in Australia.

The parallels with education in all of the above should hopefully be clear, as should the impact of education on the above.

Mindmap of the keynote

Sustainability

Please click to enlarge the photo.

Research

Rob Bernard's key focus was on research and action. Research and action. Research and action.

We know that software uses somewhere between 3% and 5% of total electricity, we know that data centres are taking up more and more energy to fuel, and with distributed learning becoming a major focus for education (as well as the growth of 'cloud' systems in general) this can only grow. How can we use technology to reduce the impact of this? How can we get more output for less environmental cost? How can we cut down on the other 95% of electricity used? More research, more action.

"Environmental sustainability cannot succeed without an education infrastructure in place"

Software is essential to solving the problem, and a challenge now will be convincing the private sector to create usable, useful tools that others can use for the benefit of the environment, rather than for corporate profit.

A secondary consideration is the sharing of knowledge - to take a quote from a previous workshop:

"The future's already here, it's just not evenly distributed"

Many environmental problems have already been solved, and are being solved daily. The same themes and problems will be occurring around the world and an easily accessible, quality assured centre of information and collaboration will do wonders for environmental health worldwide - as will distributed work on solving these problems.

Further Reading

At a summit in Johannesburg, the three pillars of sustainable development were put forth, which provide a strong and thorough overview as to the exact definition of sustainable development, and how it can be implemented.

"UNESCO’s Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB) develops the basis, within the natural and the social sciences, for the sustainable use and conservation of biological diversity, and for the improvement of the relationship between people and their environment globally."

The UNESCO MAB programme is well worth reading up on too, as is the Madrid Action Plan for 2008 - 2013.