In honor of Earth Month, here are five simple ways to help students get involved in helping the environment by consuming less.
I am glad that all my students all know what the 3Rs are. In fact, the term “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” seems so ubiquitous that I rarely find a child above the age of seven who doesn’t know what they are. This is progress. But the very first R is so easily neglected. Or rather, it’s so hard to enact. REDUCE. It sounds simple, but our society is extremely consumer based.
With kids it is particularly difficult to convey why excessive consumerism is a problem. Some aspects are deeply ingrained in social habits (e.g., buying toys) and other aspects are more abstract (e.g., electricity use and packaging choices). Yet almost every environmental cause is impacted by consumerism: Animal habitats are destroyed when forests are cut to meet increasing demands of paper towel, air quality decreases with emissions from transport vehicles to ship products to our stores, the list goes on. Reducing our consumption habits is crucial in helping preserve our planet, and instilling healthy habits in our students will build a better future. But I don’t think it’s productive to fill our students with guilt for every new video game purchased. Like so many other parts of our lives, balance is key.
So the question then becomes, how can we realistically guide our students to consume less?
Top 5 ways to reduce students’ consumerism:
- Get motivated—Let’s face it, even with the best intentions it can be hard to find the motivation to buy less. Annie Leonard’s online video, “The Story of Stuff” is not particularly flashy, but she presents the realities of consumerism clearly, with simple graphics and powerful facts. Every time I show it to my students their response is inspiring.
- Bring attention to resource consumption—The most obvious consumption is purchasing “stuff”, but this doesn’t happen at school. We know that hands-on experiences are important for meaningful learning; look at consumption in the classroom context, from electricity to paper. Consider integrating this into classroom jobs (electricity monitor?) or a class economy (“pay” for use of resources, e.g., powering computers).
- Make sharing easy—Sharing is a great way to reduce! Make sharing easy by setting up a class system: Pencil sharpeners and markers are great examples of things that are easily shareable. An extra bonus of showing students that we can reduce how much we need to buy by sharing resources? Social skills!
- Raise awareness, model solutions—Work with your administration to get on board with national and international events that support reducing. “Sweater Day” is a great example, highlighting the large impact of a small change in home heating. These events are a fun and memorable way to spread the message to students and families.
- Quality over quantity—“Planned obsolescence” is the term for how objects are made to break so that we have to buy them more often. Buying with quality (and thus longevity) in mind, we can reduce the quantity we purchase: both economic and environmental savings over time. Promote this perspective in your class when creating supply lists or by example when you purchase classroom supplies. This article is a great resource for more school supply shopping tips.
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How do you get your students to engage in reducing their daily consumption? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.