Caring for Our Watersheds
In 2007, Nutrien Ltd. launched Caring for Our Watersheds (CFW). CFW asks students, typically in grades 7-12, to submit a written proposal that answers, “What can you do to improve your watershed?” Students must research their local watershed, identify a concern and devise one realistic solution. Community judges select the top 10 entries, and the top 10 then compete in a final, verbal competition for cash prizes for their team and school. Nutrien provides implementation funding and local community partners provide support to help turn the student’s ideas into solutions that help improve our land, water and air. After a three-year pilot in Alberta, the program expanded internationally.
The objective of CFW is to empower students with the knowledge and resources to create positive change in their local watersheds and beyond. The program is curriculum-based, helping teachers easily integrate the program to reach required standards, but most importantly, the program is offered for free to teachers and students (within the designated grades/contest areas). This means students from any institution, even those with very limited resources, have been able to participate in the program. The environmental projects themselves can create positive and lasting ripple effects throughout entire communities. Students have also been impacted long after their participation in the program and have gone on to pursue environmental careers, expanded on their projects or pursued a passion the program helped them to realize.
Since their inception, the SDGs have always served as an example to think global, act local for CFW. In 2018, we implemented the SDGs as a mandatory segment of presentations delivered to students by our program coordinators in all contest regions. In 2020, we created a new webpage on the SDGs, included the SDGs as part of the judge’s rubrics, and we completed an internal audit of our projects implemented to date and aligned them to the appropriate SDG(s) and target(s). We illustrated CFW’s SDG impact by adding SDG icons on each action story and a graph illustrating CFW’s impact on the SDGs.
CFW runs each school year. Classes receive a presentation introducing them to the program and local watershed concerns. Two versions of the contest exist – team-based (represents most contests) or classroom-based (working as a class). Students research their local watershed, identify their concern and a solution to that concern. Students draft a 1000-word written proposal outlining their solution. Solutions are evaluated based on innovation, environmental potential, comprehensive scope and communication, budget, practicality, and visuals. The top 10 then are then mentored by an expert to further develop their ideas and compete in a final, verbal competition where finalists have five minutes to pitch their solution to a new panel of community judges. The top prize is $1,000 awarded to the finalist/final group with a matching award for their school or club, but all finalists and their schools receive a cash prize. The key to the program is after the final competition – Nutrien provides implementation funding and students work with local partners and community experts to help turn the student’s ideas into solutions that help improve our environment. The projects implemented include ideas from both finalists and non-finalists; if the students’ solution is realistic it will be considered for implementation. Depending on the scope and cost of the project, community businesses, parents, teachers/schools, or government may provide in-kind support or additional funding to help turn students’ ideas into reality. Since 2009, CFW has helped to implement over 500 student-led environmental solutions around the world. Each region reports annually on their projects implemented and other program KPI’s for reporting purposes and to benchmark/ set goals for the following year.
To date, nearly 35,000 students have participated in the program implementing over 500 student action projects. Students choose their solution which allows projects to be vast, touch many stakeholders and community members, and contribute to multiple SDGs and targets. Trends vary and often align with global environmental issues that are receiving attention at the time that students are writing their proposals (ie: microplastics/banning plastics). One current trend among solutions is to have a social justice or focus on equity within their proposals. One recent example is a student from SK, Canada that wanted to reuse plastic bags to make sleeping mats for the homeless. This student chose to donate these mats specifically to the local LGBTQ organization as they are some of the hardest hit by homelessness in the area. These different trends are clear indication of students’ genuine concern for addressing global issues and identifying and acting toward a solution in their community.
Nutrien leads program development and is the primary sponsor of CFW as a key element of Nutrien’s Sustainability strategy. Annually, coordinators from each contest meet to evaluate CFW and make improvements so it remains positive and impactful - this has been critical to overcoming barriers and improving efficiencies and programming over time. CFW’s success is dependent on community support, and most critically, the host organizations who implement each contest - they provide expertise, relationships and credibility within the school system and local community. In total over 275 community partners, members and volunteers participate annually.
For the action projects, sustainability and the ability to be easily replicable is a component of their scores within the rubric. Top projects will be easily replicable/sustainable and could be implemented across the watershed and beyond. We also choose one of these projects to implement across all contests as an “international” idea each year. In terms of the CFW program itself, it is also replicable in other regions and we offer a free license agreement for interested/aligned partners. We also currently allow schools outside of contests regions to go through our Student Workbook and submit it with a request for funding. Plans for extending the program includes: encouraging current partners to bring on new strategic/aligned funders to help expand in their regions, strategic expansion into new areas (based on environmental concerns and where Nutrien has operations), and consideration of a global model allowing schools outside of contest regions to more actively participate.
COVID-19 impacted us in 2020 by forcing us to forego the in-person Finals. Instead, finalists and their schools split the cash prizes evenly. Some proposal deadlines fell after school closures, but some regions still had record participation. Implementations were postponed, but students will have the opportunity to implement their projects when it is safe. In 2021, regions have encouraged students to think about current circumstances and be innovative when developing their solution to ensure they will be able to implement during the pandemic. We have also successfully pivoted the program virtual – presentations, support, preliminary judging, and the final competition. This virtual option will allow us to reach even more students in the future with presentations and support to enter CFW.
SDGS & Targets
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Deliverables & Timeline
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Nine programs exist across Canada (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba), the USA (Colorado, California, Ohio and the entire Chesapeake Bay Watershed encompassing portions of six states and DC), and in Argentina (San Antonio de Areco watershed region).