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The "Sustainable Development Forum": this time from an exhibitor’s viewpoint
17 March 2007 Hervé Bonnaveira

From the 14 to the 16 of March the 5th European Seminar of ISO 140001 or EMAS-certified schools engaged in Education for Sustainable Development was held at the Lycée J.B. Decrétot, a highschool in Louviers in the Eure region. Thursday, the second day of the event, was packed with conferences and exhibitions.

The Develotour Asia stand is besieged by an uninterrupted stream of visitors

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Un objet inhabituel dans la bibliothèque du lycée Decrétot

No sooner had I settled into my exhibitor’s stand and it started…

– Is the bike yours sir?”

Calmly resting on its support and laden with four saddle-bags, the bike certainly attracts attention. I feel a bit taken aback myself: catering students from the Lycée Decrétot high school who approach the stand are dressed for the occasion in their suits and ties – more than you can say about me!

— Yes it’s my bike. What do you think of it?
— It seems... old and...
— See how much it weighs!
— Wow… it’s heavy!
— Eighteen kilograms of iron frame plus 20 to 25 kilos of luggage – a real tank, but it’s robust and fully reparable. In three months this bicycle will leave on a journey across Asia: 16000 km!

They frown in disbelief. I take out the rest of the material: solar panel, water filter, tool kit, anti-pollution mask, helmet, multi-fuel stove… Three computers enable me to present the website of the association and explain the goal of the journey. A good dose of adventure and physical challenge, a dash of technical skill, garnished with some sustainable development, and I’ve got the magic recipe: a spark has already set their imaginations alight. To travel across the biggest continent using your own energy, without polluting – that’s to dream of freedom.

The youngest ones produce an unending stream of questions or strange remarks:

— How many kilometres each day?
— Have you already done the Tour de France?
— You’ll have enormous leg muscles!
— How much does it cost?
— What will you eat?
— Where will you sleep?
— How will you wash?
— Aren’t you scared of people over there ?
— Are you going to be on telly then?
— But you’ll be followed by a car, right?
— Will you be able to drink alcohol during the trip?

Soon the dialogue transforms into a game. I ask them about the Asian countries they know, the most polluted mega-cities, the environmental problems of the 21st century. Showing them the solar panel, I ask what they think this roll-up device could be used for.

"— It’s to lose weight!" they shout, or, more wisely,
"— It’s to avoid pedalling uphill!"

Benefiting from the surge of interest, I try to get a message across: "— Do you cycle as well? Why?," I ask.

Most see cycling as a leisure activity for sunny weekends or as a competitive sport. Few use a bike as a means of transport, to get to school or elsewhere. I understand their reluctance in the winter months, with the cold and the morning darkness.

In between talking to visitors, I share my impressions with Delphine on the neighbouring stand who works for the Globules newspaper – a publication which tries to engage young people by putting them in the role of reporters. The next edition is devoted to “Sustainable Development schools.” A contact to follow up on…

During the break, people taking part in the conferences join us in the gym where our stands are. Only now do we realise the scale of the forum. At least forty stands and workshops, including a European delegation and a sprinkling of “big fish” among the attendees. The hosting school’s headmaster ends his closing remarks by thanking Frédéric Chaboche, the organiser of the gathering. The catering students put their savoir-faire into practice and serve us a refined cocktail.

As the schedule has run over-time, the afternoon will be short. I come back for another hour at the stand and to the line of visitors. Then I decide to disappear to go in search of potential partners for the project. Most people are already starting to pack up. My most interesting new-found contact is made at the stand of CARDERE, a dynamic association working in education for sustainable development. I manage to interest 5 or 6 people with the project, teachers coordinating the “education for sustainability” scheme. Unfortunately in the confusion I lose the paper with their names and addresses – if any of them are reading this article, please contact me !

The day is still splendid. I mount my sustainable bike and head back to Rouen. Actually this is Goska’s bike, bought second hand a year ago. Mine is still in construction (literally – it’s being made to measure). The seat of Goska’s bike is far too low for me, my knees nudge the handlebars. Nevermind – I’ll just have to ride standing up!

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