Queensland Sustainable Schools

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Department of Education and Training

Develop a Vision Statement

How to develop a school environmental vision

Developing a vision statement

A vision statement is a declaration of a shared sense of purpose for the whole school community. It expresses your ideas about what your school will be like in two years time, in ten years time or any time in the future.

A shared vision is an important element within your whole-school approach to environmental education. It will have implications for how your school is organised and the roles that are played by teachers, administrators, parents and students.

There is no formula for what a vision statement should look like, how long it should be or what it should include. It can be a short statement or a more comprehensive explanation of a preferred future.

The following are activities that you may like to use to assist with the development of your vision statement.

A good tool for developing a vision statement is a visioning exercise — involving as many members of the school community and broader community as possible.

Conducting a visioning exercise will help you build a sense of ownership and commitment to sustainability within the school. It can also help you to involve people and organisations from the broader community because it will give them a better understanding of your school’s goals.

Once developed, a vision is not static but is part of a regular cycle of reflection, planning and evaluation. The vision informs and is informed by the goals that follow from it.

About visioning

I have a dream … ’ said Martin Luther King in one of his most famous public speeches.

His dream was a vision shared by millions worldwide. It was a view of the future that enabled people to imagine something beyond the reality of the day. It moved people to work out how they could act to bring the dream to fruition.

Visioning for sustainability

At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, heads of government from more than 100 countries adopted Agenda 21—a commitment to sustainable development worldwide. Earth Summit brought together more than 30,000 people and was the largest environmental conference ever held.

Agenda 21 is a framework on how to make development in the 21st century socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. Governments, non-governmental organisations, industry and the community are all encouraged to become involved. Agenda 21 provides a framework for tackling today’s social and environmental problems, including air pollution, deforestation, biodiversity loss, health, overpopulation, poverty, energy consumption, waste production and transport issues. This goal is summarised as ‘ecologically sustainable development’ or ESD.

To become an ecologically sustainable society we have to make significant and long-term changes to the way we do ‘business as usual’, so that the ecological processes on which we depend are maintained. In order to make these changes we need to establish a pathway that will deliver us to a shared sustainable vision to encourage and steer our progress.

Becoming a Sustainable School

Developing a shared vision is a vital part of the process of becoming a Sustainable School. As part of this process you could consider the following questions:

  • Where are we now? (Describe the school today)
  • What’s coming up? (What are the relevant emerging issues or impacts that are affecting our school, our community and the environment?)
  • Where do we want to be? (What is our shared vision?)
  • How are we going to get there? (What actions are we going to take? What resources do we need?)

Group activity: creating a time line

In this activity the group draws a time line and records changes that have occurred over time; locally, regionally and globally. Starting with the past, looking at the present and then looking 50 or 100 years ahead is the stimulus for generating ideas which can later be incorporated into a shared vision of the future.


you will need:

  • long sheets of butcher’s paper or tape the sheets together
  • pens,felt markers, coloured pencils and crayons.

This exercise can also be done outdoors, using a stick to draw a line in the dirt, and using items such as leaves, flowers, sticks, stones, shells and litter—adding another dimension to the activity. If you do this activity outdoors you’ll need a scribe to record people’s ideas and feelings and you may want to photograph the work in progress and the finished piece.

What to do:

Draw a time line, on the paper or in the dirt, and divide it into time intervals; past, present and future. For example, 1900 – present year – 2100. Ask the group to use the time-line to record the changes that have taken place over time—changes to the environment, the world’s population, our ways of life and standards of living, etc. Encourage the participants to work together to create a group drawing.

You may need to ask direct questions, for example, looking at the past and comparing it with the present:

  • What was our school or our site like in 1900?
  • How has our environment changed?
  • What was the world population 100 years ago?
  • What was vegetation cover like then?
  • What was the water quality like in our rivers, lakes and oceans?
  • What was the quality of life like? What industries were people employed in?
  • What was the home and family like? What drove the economy? What were the modes of transportation?

You could use symbols (or sticks, stone and leaves) to represent the number of people, buildings, natural areas such as forests and wetlands, water quality of local waterways, numbers of wildlife, air quality and any other conditions where changes are identified. You could introduce another set of symbols to represent the changes happening at a global level.

On the section of the time line that represents the present, use the symbols to represent the state of the environment and your community now.

  • What are conditions in our school like now?
  • If these trends continue, what will things be like in 50 years time? Or in 100 years time?

Mark these trends onto the time line.

  • Is this the direction in which we want to be heading?

If not, picture the future the group would prefer to see. Draw an additional line coming away from the present and use the same symbols to build an image for this preferred future.

Record the ‘vision statements’ that come from the group in this final section. The visions could be written onto the sheet of butcher’s paper or, if the activity is undertaken outside, recorded by the scribe.

After drawing the time line

Display the vision statements around the classroom or around the school so you can refer to them throughout the day (or over a longer period of time).

Ask the participants to review the list of vision statements developed during the time line activity, and change or add to this list.

The group could identify where each idea fits within a matrix of environmental philosophies. Encourage the participants to think about linking the statements into an overall vision for sustainability. Conclude the day with a group brainstorming exercise to develop a school vision statement.

Adapted from visioning exercises used in Earth Works programs, by the Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW) and by OzGREEN.

Group activity: making your ideas fly

This activity is a fun way of generating ideas about what actions can be taken in order to achieve the group’s vision of a sustainable future. It can help the group to define some projects and create action plans to support them, as part of making the school more ecologically sustainable.


You will need:

  • a list of group visions for the school, community or region, or a list of environmental slogans
  • a paper aeroplane for each participant (pre-fold them or have the participants fold their own planes)
  • a pen for each participant
  • lively music.

You may have completed the visioning time line activity, above, or, you may need to start by asking the group to compile a list of future visions and ideas about ecological sustainability. The list needs to be displayed so that everyone can see it.

The visions and ideas might include, for example:

  • Our community will support renewable energy sources;
  • Our rivers and creeks will be clean enough for us to swim in, and see the sandy bottom;
  • Our community will support locally-owned businesses;
  • Our governments will fund sustainable technologies;
  • We will reduce packaging and recycle more;
  • Businesses should give back to the community in proportion to the size of their footprint within the community;
  • We will make smart decisions about the value and use of natural resources;
  • We will value bushland and biodiversity. Our rate of use of non-renewable resources should not exceed their rate of generation.

    As an alternative, or in addition to the visions and ideas, you might use a list of slogans, for example:

    • ‘Earth First!’
    • ‘Live simply so that others may simply live’
    • ‘Nature has its price’
    • 'Enough for all forever'

    You may want to give participants time to review and add to the list.

    What to do

    1. Each participant needs a pen and a paper aeroplane.
    2. Explain that the objective of the game is to come up with creative ways of implementing the visions and ideas. Explain that some of the best ideas emerge through a process of building on the ideas of others.
    3. Ask each participant to choose one vision, idea or slogan from the list and write it on their aeroplane. Next, ask them to write on the plane one action they can take to help achieve that vision, idea or slogan.
    4. Announce: ‘We are about to launch these planes. When you catch a plane, read what is written on it and add to it. Don’t stick to the everyday, ordinary or mundane … think of something creative or unusual.’
    5. When everyone has finished writing, count to three and launch the planes again. Add to the atmosphere by playing some lively music.
    6. After several launchings, turn off the music and ask each participant to retrieve a plane. Ask each participant in turn to read aloud what is written on their plane.

    Collect the planes and collate the information. Use this as the basis for creating a list of ideas about how your group, school or region could become more sustainable.