5 Ways You Can Spark a Sustainable Movement at Your School

Make a difference in your community and inspire your classmates to get involved in these green projects.

By now I’m sure we’ve all heard how much Taylor Swift flies around in her private jet. According to sustainability marketing firm Yard, it cost her over 8,000 tons of carbon emissions last year. Pretty ridiculous, right?

But what if I told you that the place that you spend the majority of your time also makes a pretty big dent on the place we call home? The amount of waste and energy consumption your high school creates adds up. But there are ways to make your school more green.

“Environmental consequences can have effects on your own neighborhood and also countries across the world,” president of Drake Environmental Action League Jenna Baker says. “Environmental issues affect everyone in some capacity. You can always find ways to apply different sustainability issues to your local area.”

If you want to initiate change, spreading awareness is the first step. Whether you want to embark on a solo journey or you want to rally up a sustainable super group, check out these five projects that will educate your school and inspire them to make a difference.

1. Start an Environmental Sustainability Club

This is a great way to find out who else is interested in sustainability at your school. This club can act as a tool to educate your school on various sustainability topics. Encourage reusable water bottles and include a giveaway (everyone loves a giveaway). Influence students to track how much waste they create throughout a week and share results on social media.

Students interested in all subjects can use their abilities to help improve their community’s sustainability, Drake University Sustainability Coordinator Hannah Remke says. Those interested in business can conduct a cost analysis for projects to discover if future benefits will outweigh initial costs. Theater kids can help write and give speeches at various events around town.

Once you have a club established, make sure everyone is on the same page about sustainability. Become familiar with the United Nation’s 17 sustainable development goals. Sustainability doesn’t just involve recycling and planting trees, but also includes the economy and social justice, Remke says.

2. Conduct a Phenology Project

Feel the soft, squishy dirt beneath the soles of your feet. Hear the rustling wind sing as it shakes the slender branches of trees. Smell the dew that paints the grass. You’ll be surprised by the beautiful treasures that often go unnoticed.

Document and study the changes of a chosen spot by capturing photos every day for as long as you want. Discuss what you see with your sustainability club after school. Or make your own environmental social media page and share what you find. Get #Nature’sSecrets trending.

“Take the time to sit there,” Drake environmental sustainability student Jacob Lish says. “Really investigate from the bottom to the top of the ecosystem. Investigate different smells, sounds, sights. Use all 5 senses.”

Put that phone away and explore your surroundings. According to the American Psychological Association, spending time in nature improves attention, lowers stress, and brightens your mood. You will reap benefits in every aspect of your life.

3. Track Your School’s Sustainability Metrics

Curious to know how different schools in your area rank in their sustainability efforts? Track metrics like waste production and energy consumption to see where your school is at currently and what can be improved. It can also help you see if the sustainability practices you decide to implement help your school, Drake environmental science Professor David Courard-Hauri says.  

It is likely that your school tracks this information in some sort of way, so contact administration and facilities staff with these questions, Baker says. Time to flex your investigative journalism skills. Once you have these metrics, post them online to help hold your school accountable. Staff and students probably never think about the school’s footprint, so paint the picture for them.

4. Implement Eco Coins

Eco coins are a great way to get all students excited about sustainability. Create incentives for students who implement sustainable practices into their routines, such as carpooling. Students can exchange their eco coins for prizes, but make sure to keep them sustainable, Remke says. How cool would it be to win a sick parking spot? Or what about free sports tickets?

We all know that you and your fellow high schoolers like to make everything a competition. This is no different. See what grade can raise the highest number of coins. Not only do the winners get bragging rights, but they could get the chance to make some big decisions at your school, such as the homecoming theme. This project ensures students and faculty never forget about sustainability.

5. Participate in Living Labs

Living labs allow students to take on an actual problem in their community and come up with solutions to solve it. These projects are cost effective, and they give students real-life experience that they can use after high school, Remke says.

If you don’t quite know where to start, check out what other schools have done and search for living lab portfolios online. A school in Europe built a bee hotel to protect the pollinators in their area. Utretch University has teams that collaborate all over campus, including one that monitors air quality, noise, heat stress, and mobility streams to inform campus redevelopment.

Talk to your science teachers to see if you can conduct a living lab project in the classroom. When you come together to work towards a common goal, you’ll make bonds that could last a lifetime. Encouraging sustainability at your school not only helps the environment, but also changes your life for the better.

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