Merit Badge Clinic: Sustainability

The Sustainability merit badge is a sprawling project to take on, covering everything from energy and food waste to climate change and housing. To learn how counselors can make sense of the badge, Scouting talked with Spencer Cox from Florence, Ky. Now a graduate student at Xavier University, Cox holds a degree in sustainability and has taught the badge both in person and online. Here are his top tips.

Pick Your Passions

Many of the badge requirements offer options. For example, requirement 4 asks Scouts to explore two of six topics. Cox recommends steering Scouts toward topics you have expertise and interest in — and not feeling like you have to give every topic equal time. In his case, that means diving deeper into housing.

“For me, making the energy section a little bit shorter and not talking about food waste as much is absolutely worth it,” he says.

Teach Scouts to Learn

Speaking of housing, Cox hears a familiar response when he asks Scouts to study a metropolitan housing report.

“Most of the Scouts who read it are like, ‘I literally have no clue what that means. None of those words make sense to me,’” he says.

By spending time explaining how to interpret a government document, he’s teaching them a skill they can apply far beyond the merit badge. (Tax forms, anyone?)

Photo by Michael Roytek

Acknowledge Uncertainty

Cox chooses to talk about world population in requirement 6 because he actually disagrees with the prevailing wisdom. (He believes the Earth has a logistics problem more than a population problem.)

“I explain that people in science, people in politics, people in every walk of life disagree, even though when you’re in grade school and high school it seems like there’s only one truth,” he says.

Agree to Disagree

Cox is happy when Scouts in his classes disagree with him (and each other) in class. He’ll often say something like this: “You can disagree with me, and that’s fine, but I’m going to talk to you about why I said what I said. And I did get a degree in this. With some confidence I feel I’m correct, but I am happy to discuss with you.”

Recently, two brothers challenged an assertion Cox had made about housing. Not long after the class, he got a message from them.

“They were like, ‘I don’t really know what I believe right now, but I do appreciate you coming back and actually talking to us,’” he recalls.

That sort of sustainable development can point everyone toward a better future.

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