Thankfully more and more institutions and organizations are embracing environmental responsibility and becoming advocates for sustainability. This is fantastic, and not a moment too soon. But how, as educators, can we inspire and motivate our students to take action in their own lives as well? As most students spend more time in classrooms than anywhere else, let’s start right there. The following steps will not only inspire students to take leadership in sustainable practices, it will encourage them to do the majority of the actual implementation so it doesn’t fall on the educators shoulders.
Ways students can support a sustainable classroom: The best way to achieve this so students ‘want’ to, rather than ‘have’ to, is to make it fun!
1. Reuse, reduce and recycle. If you and your students aren’t already doing so, here are some great ideas to start creating lifelong sustainability habits:
- Hold a recycling contest. First make sure you have multiple recycling bins that are clearly labeled, then challenge the students to see who can recycle the most in a day, week, or even a month? You could divide up your class into two to four different teams, or challenge another classroom in the school, or even have a teachers-versus-students contest.
- Turn recycling into a game. If your students can see their progress with recycling, they’re more likely to continue doing it long enough so it forms a habit, one that hopefully continues outside the classroom as well. To illustrate how much paper your students have saved or the number of bottles and cans that they’ve collected, you can use a sticker chart, take photos, or just acknowledge and praise students when you see them recycling.
- Upcycle plastic containers. Plastic containers are everywhere and make great organizers for all kinds of classroom items. Challenge your students to look around their homes or in their recycling bins to find something that can be upcycled or reused. For instance, a yogurt container can be used as a pen and pencil holder, and a plastic bottle can be quickly transformed into a plant pot or a vessel for science observations or experiments.
- Repurpose objects for creative projects. Fill an area of your classroom with objects that would otherwise end up in a landfill, then invite your students to use them within their art projects, or even projects about recycling and environmental responsibility. Encourage students to be creative and bring in their own items as well.
2. Minimize waste
Reducing waste is one of the best ways to make a space more sustainable and eco-friendly. In this age of computers and cloud technology, it can be very easy to minimize or even completely remove waste. A lot of school work that is conducted on paper can be moved to computers that produce zero paper- and supply-waste. Another way of minimizing waste can be achieved through paper management. Handouts and tests can be printed on both sides and with smaller margins, and students can learn better ways to write notes and reduce empty space on paper. You can also designate a container for scrap paper, and establish a rule in your classroom that both sides of a piece of paper must always be used. If students have a piece of paper that hasn’t been used on the back, have them put it in a container. The reverse side is great for notes, art, and other creative projects.
Ways Educators can create an environmentally responsible space
1. Pick the right furniture
One of the most important aspects of a classroom is the furniture. You want to create a welcoming, inspiring environment that meets your learning goals, but to create a sustainable classroom, the furniture in it needs to be sustainable as well. Unfortunately, much of the learning furniture available isn’t sustainable: whether that’s because of the materials used, the unethical production processes or the unrecyclable nature of the product.
Environmentally responsible learning furniture companies do exist, such as Natural Pod. We have a deep commitment to both creating better educational environments and our responsibility to sustainability. All our quality, modular furniture products are designed to be very durable, made with FSC (Forest Stewardship Certified) materials and we only use plant-based non-toxic finishes. We provide a product that is not only flexible and long-lasting but also recyclable and compostable at the end of its life-cycle.
Having sustainable furniture in your classroom also acts as a great lead into environmental education. In the classroom, educators and children can learn where the products come from, what they are made of, and how choices they make can impact their learning environment and their global community.
Natural Pod’s goal is for educators to gain a full understanding of the importance of making meaningful choices when creating or adding to their spaces. We compel educators to choose items that will not end up in a landfill, to encourage inquiry-based learning, and to promote inspiration from the natural world.
2. Green education
Aside from creating green and sustainable environments, modern classrooms also have to create environmentally responsible people. So, make sure to implement information about sustainability, eco-friendliness and the effects of pollution, waste and resource exploitation. You could bring in a guest speaker – do you know another teacher, parent, or community member who’s super passionate about recycling or being green? Invite them to your class to get your students excited and learning even more about the subject.
To help support you in environmental education: Here are some great lesson plans from ‘We Are Teachers’
Sustainability also includes being conscious and cautious about the energy we use in the classroom. This part of becoming eco-friendly can be easy to achieve. For instance, reminders to turn off and unplug devices when not in use can be placed on electronics. For instance, the reminders to turn off and unplug devices when not in use can be placed on electronics. Traditional bulbs can be replaced with energy-efficient and durable LEDs, and the need for artificial lighting can be reduced by letting in as much natural light as possible and having a pale color palette. Tip: white is better at keeping the space bright, even when there’s not a lot of sunlight outside. You can also bring the outside in by introducing living plants into your space.
Making classrooms greener and more sustainable doesn’t have to be hard and expensive. With only a few changes and small investments, we can achieve a lot. By creating green sustainable classrooms, we are creating future generations who understand the importance of taking care of each other and the planet.
Natural Pod is deeply committed to both creating better educational environments and our responsibility to sustainability. Our goal is always to honor both these areas by supporting you in creating healthy, sustainable, beautiful play and learning spaces that welcome and inspire your students and relay the message that they’re valued, they matter and they can make a difference.