Jenny Quinton wants to save the world. A passionate environmental campaigner for most of her life, she believes children and schools are the driving forces for change in a world where environmental issues are rising to the top of the political and educational agenda. Two years ago she resigned as an English Schools Foundation primary teacher and set up the project she had been dreaming about for years - Ark Eden - to educate Hong Kong people, youngsters in particular, about green issues. Although controversial, Al Gore's Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth brought home the dangers of the Earth's deteriorating environment. It has been screened worldwide, and the effects of pollution and the looting of the Earth's resources are now as much a part of dinner conversation as they are aspects of scientific research and debate in centres of power. However, awareness raising and even shock tactics are no substitute for personal sacrifices by way of a change of lifestyle. Ms Quinton believes everyone can play a part in saving the environment and reducing the effects of climate change. 'The key is to create sustainable people,' she said. 'Ark Eden is all about getting children to think about the 'why' then the 'how' in order to do something about it, asking them to consider such questions as: What can I do to make a difference? How much more can I do tomorrow than today? How can each of us lessen our individual carbon footprints?' The Ark Eden project, based at Ms Quinton's rural home at Mui Wo, Lantau, involves tailor-made environmental field trips, primarily for schools. The programme is flexible, depending on the needs of the group and current environment issues that link to the school curriculum. It specifically looks at local situations, such as habitats, rivers, sustainability, tree planting and ecological restoration, to make learning more relevant and meaningful for students. Recently, Ms Quinton set up a study of the natural and cultural heritage of Tai O with a group of students to look at the effects of the potential mass tourism planned by the government, and to consider whether it is sustainable for the last remaining traditional fishing village in Hong Kong. Covering a wide range of local issues enables students to make a connection to the wider world, to 'think globally, act locally'. More importantly, Ms Quinton claims, it helps children understand the environmental crisis that could have a huge impact on their lives, and empowers them to make a difference. Ms Quinton's home has been turned into an eco-house, with an outdoor classroom on the roof, an organic garden and a resident pig, which she rescued. She believes in a hands-on approach, spending most of her time out in the field providing opportunities for programme participants to observe and undertake practical activities as well as play games. She works closely with local experts, who add value to her programmes. 'I work with a fabulous team of people who are passionate and extremely knowledgeable about their subjects,' she said. Last month, Primary Six students from Kennedy School in Pok Fu Lam did a 'kick-start sustainability workshop' at the house. 'Jenny's lifestyle really helped the children think about the importance of sustainability, and also how easy it is to create an eco-friendly home and environment,' teacher Julie Tait said. Pupil Tanya Buxani said: 'I really enjoyed making my own shampoo. I didn't know we could mix natural ingredients to make shampoo. I thought you needed to use chemicals and buy it in the shops.' Classmate Anika Sum added: 'I learned how compost is made. This is easy and you are using your scraps of food and [vegetarian] animal manure to create nutrient-rich soil.' Ms Quinton encourages children to think creatively and come up with powerful questions about how humans live; what we eat, how we travel, what we use. They may start with simple ideas, such as using filtered instead of bottled water, in reused plastic bottles, switching off lights, using less air-conditioning, recycling everyday items and persuading their parents to walk or use public transport instead of travelling by car. She seeks to raise awareness that these seemingly small things make a difference over time, and believes children will then educate their own families and take responsibility for making changes in their own lives. Ms Quinton develops units of work and field trips, which initiate inquiry-based learning and offers experiential education out of the classroom, where children lead the learning and therefore start to think more laterally. This feeds perfectly into the philosophy behind the Primary Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate, now used by many international schools. John Ainsworth, deputy principal of Bradbury School, said: 'Our children are beginning to realise that they can actually make a difference to the environment. They are learning that they do have choices in the way they approach things and their actions do have an impact.' Pamela Roper, another teacher at the school, commented: 'The fieldwork that Ark Eden provided has enabled our children access to the first-hand experiences they need to become effective inquirers.' Ark Eden has recently organised visits to CLP Power plants, Lamma power station, landfill sites and the Hong Kong airport. Students have done idling-engine surveys in Central linked to curriculum units on air pollution and talked to the Council for Sustainable Development, debating controversial issues such as the potential construction of an LNG terminal on the Soko Islands. To follow up river and forest workshops, students are encouraged to write to the Drainage Services Department about rehabiting or restoring channelled rivers, and to the home affairs and lands departments about establishing more fire breaks. 'On the buffalo trail' is one of Ark Eden's most popular programmes. Students experience the varied habitats of Pui O: freshwater and saltwater marshes, the estuarine river, the beach, surrounding agricultural land and mangroves. They identify creatures including species of egrets and herons, fiddler crabs, buffalo leeches and mudskippers; look at how habitats are changing and learn that living creatures choose to live in certain habitats for particular reasons and that each creature has an effect. People involved in the programmes also learn to simply enjoy nature. 'This is probably the most important part of Ark Eden,' Ms Quinton said. 'Coming from an urban environment, some children and some parents are terrified of nature. But the more they come, the more they fall in love with everything and the more they want to look after it.' Ms Quinton, a Lantau resident of 18 years, is a member of several green groups, such as the Green Lantau Association, the Living Islands Movement and the Lantau Buffalo Association. She frequently lobbies the government and says she constantly tries to educate herself, focusing on finding practical solutions for the local environment. Ms Quinton has mainly worked with ESF schools over the past year but is branching out as more schools get to know about her work. Just recently she hosted an eco-day for students at St Clare's Girls' School and ran workshops on organic farming, sustainable living, ecological restoration, climate change and waste management. Ark Eden encourages parents and helpers to take part in field trips in order to spread the word and knowledge: the record so far is 19 adults accompanying a class of 24 children. Ms Quinton says she realises that to empower children they also need support from home in order to activate plans. Environmental education is taking root in Hong Kong. The government is promoting it in local schools, although some districts are more active than others. Both the leisure and cultural services, and agriculture, fisheries and conservation departments offer money to schools to help improve the school environment with plants and tree planting. Schools are invited to submit a plan and apply for funds. Another successful initiative has been the 'One Student, One Flower' idea, where every child takes home a plant to look after and grow. Local schools do most of their environmental education as part of the general studies and civic and moral education programmes. This includes links to units of work and assemblies that focus on different environmental themes. School trips often make good use of local places such as the Wetland Park, Mai Po marshes, Kadoorie Farm, Hong Kong Park and the science and history museums. Experts are usually on site to explain concepts to students. Some schools encourage pupils to take part in competitions organised by environmental groups such as WWF and Friends of the Earth, which also provide teachers with packages of ideas for the classroom. Residential school camps, which make the most of Hong Kong's country parks and varied terrain, can also be effective vehicles for environmental education. Previously camps principally focused on outdoor education, and such curriculum areas as geography and history. But some, such as Treasure Island and Dragonfly, now include an environmental focus. Many schools in Hong Kong are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. Recycling bins in classrooms and playgrounds have become commonplace and some have introduced a 'reduce, re-use, recycle' effort as part of everyday school life. The use of technology is cutting down on paper as parents are offered the choice of receiving school information via a website rather than traditional letters. What is the future for Ark Eden? Ms Quinton's ambitions for the environment are huge. She hopes to form a charity later this year so she can fund student-led projects. These would include quality native-tree-planting schemes and nurseries on Lantau, restoration of heritage buildings, community organic farming projects, restoring river habitats and a wide range of eco-friendly buffalo souvenirs to promote the animal's tourist value and to fund animal management. 'Don't get me going on future plans,' Ms Quinton said, 'the list just goes on.'