Sustainability Lessons That Last a Lifetime

In July 2011, an Eagle Scout named John Tickle used CPR to save the life of a heart attack victim at a golf tournament. That would not be unusual, except that Tickle was 69 years old at the time. Nearly six decades earlier, he had promised to “help other people at all times” (in the words of the Scout Oath). On a Linville, N.C., golf course, he fulfilled that long-ago promise.

After receiving the Boy Scouts of America’s Heroism Award the following year, Tickle said, “I learned a lot of skills like artificial respiration through Boy Scouts, and if I hadn’t had a Scouting background that would have never happened.”

What does Tickle’s story have to do with sustainability? In recent years, the Boy Scouts of America has increased its emphasis on teaching sustainability to its members (and their adult leaders). The Tiger Cub program for first-graders introduces the principles of Leave No Trace and prompts boys to use recycled materials in craft projects. The Sustainability merit badge, launched in 2013 introduces Boy Scouts to the topic and—more importantly—turns them into their families’ chief sustainability officers. And the sustainability feature in Program Features for Troops, Teams, and Crews volume 3, gives older Scouts and Venturers a month’s worth of programming that’s all about sustainability.

Among the activities in this program feature are:

  • Learning about the triple bottom line of sustainability (people, planet, and prosperity) and the three R’s of sustainability (reduce, reuse, and recycle)
  • Reviewing household utility bills and exploring ways to reduce usage
  • Discussing ethical dilemmas related to sustainability
  • Visiting a grocery store or big-box retailer to rate the sustainability of certain products, based on the resources used to produce and transport them, their expected lifecycle, and the extent to which they and their packages are recyclable or reusable

The idea behind all these activities, of course, is to prompt Scouts to live more sustainably today. But as John Tickle’s story demonstrates, Scouting lessons last a lifetime. Back in 1938, the BSA’s Handbook for Scoutmasters offered this explanation of the advancement program: “The badges which accompany his advancement and which the Scout wears on his uniform are not to show that he has ‘passed certain tests.’ There should be no past tense implied! On the contrary, each badge cries out, ‘I can, right now and here.’”

That is true whether the skills a Scout learns involve saving a life or saving the planet.