Leading by Example: Teaching Sustainability in the Classroom


Guest blog by:  Jane Sandwood

Photo by Artem Beliaikin

According to a survey by Inverness Associates, a California-based sustainability consultation service, 66 percent of American students are very interested in sustainability. As most people now know, sustainability is a system that uses natural resources at a rate that can be maintained ad infinitum. Thus by implementing sustainability methods like recycling, solar heating, waste sorting, and rainwater collection in your classroom, the planet will not be in danger of running out of the finite resources that are projected to disappear at the current rate of usage. Since a majority of students are engaged in the topic of sustainability, teachers should lead by example and bring these methods into the classroom.

Start Recycling

The easiest way to teach students about sustainability is through recycling. Although most schools already have recycling programs, many students have not internalized what recycling means and why throwing certain types of trash into certain bins is helpful to the environment. To provide kids with a hands-on recycling experience, teachers can put blue bins in the classroom and let them sort plastic for themselves. Once the bins are full, teachers can bring the bins and the students to a recycling plant, where they can observe all stages of the process.

Use Green Cleaners

If students are required to keep the classroom tidy, teachers may want to provide them with green cleaners rather than those with harmful chemicals. Doing so would keep the children safe while teaching a valuable lesson on sustainability. Green cleaners, otherwise known as eco-friendly cleaning products, are sustainable because they use ingredients that don’t pollute the environment and come in reusable or recyclable containers. However, just because they are green doesn’t mean they are anti-allergenic. Be mindful of students with allergies when introducing “natural” cleaning products to the classroom. These may contain allergens like ammonia and sodium lauryl sulphate.

Fun Ways to Compost

Composting is one of the most sustainable methods because it is completely waste-free. All compostable material can be broken down and reused by the Earth and its inhabitants. Teaching students about this process is as simple as starting a classroom-run garden or worm farm. Both can be sustained with food leavings from students’ lunches.

Since the majority of American students are interested in sustainability, teachers have a captivated audience on which to impart environmental wisdom. And, since hands-on is one of the most effective methods of learning, bringing recycling bins, green cleaning supplies, and gardens or worm farms into the classroom will be a crash course on sustainability.