A recent survey conducted by OnePoll found that 88% of people believe that it’s important to teach the next generation about being environmentally friendly, with a massive 80% believing that the responsibility to do so falls onto teachers first.

A lot of New Zealand’s schools currently cover sustainability issues, but it’s often not in enough depth and children aren’t always taught about how all sustainability issues are connected to one another. In order to create a chance for a more sustainable future, the topic needs to be given a lot more time and attention in schools so that children will develop certain standards and expectations from a young age.

Ways to teach sustainability issues to children

When children are learning about things like global warming and plastic pollution, the issues can feel too big to grasp. There’s also the potential of scaring them, so stay away from topics like melting ice caps and greenhouse gases until they’re a bit older. Instead, schools can teach young children about how plants benefit the environment and about basic carbon cycles.

New Zealand’s Sustainable Business Network points out that teachers can help children to relate current events to their own lives, such as what could have caused a recent big storm and what the implications of it are.

They also suggest that teachers can get children to bring recyclable plastics from home to learn about how some have a higher recyclable value than others and sort them into separate piles as a class and then recycle them. Discussing things like where water comes from, where it goes when it’s flushed away, and what air and oxygen are helps children to understand that the environment is their immediate surroundings and that they can influence it. This also helps to prepare them for understanding bigger issues and how they’re all connected once they get older.

Ethical and sustainable shopping

Information gathered from the Sustainable Business Network also highlights how “one of the most important aspects of sustainability is its interconnectedness.” An obvious example of this is the use of plastics. For someone trying to eliminate their use of single-use plastics, they’ll quickly discover that their whole lifestyle may be affected. Plastics, especially single-use ones, affects the health of every species on the planet and leads to ocean and land pollution, and makes people look at the role big businesses play.

Thus, teaching children about how their shopping choices affect a lot more than they may realise is essential for them to be able to make choices that revolve around sustainability. For example, choosing Fair Trade products not only guarantees a fair wage for the farmers involved but also focuses on things like growing the product sustainably so that fewer pesticides and fertilizers are used, which in turn helps to protect ecosystems and human health. Additionally, Fair Trade is focusing on wider issues like selling their coffee in fairly traded recycled plastic containers so that the overall end product is as fair and sustainable as possible.

Eating a sustainable diet

What someone eats can be a very personal decision and not many people like to be questioned on their food choices, even when it comes to how sustainable it is. However, more and more research is showing that some foods or certain diets aren’t sustainable. This is why it’s important to teach children from a young age so that they’re not so set in their ways and more willing to question their food choices and make sustainable decisions around their lifestyle.

A big part of a sustainable diet is buying locally produced foods as they’ll have travelled fewer miles and this usually helps to support local farmers. Additionally, eating meat and dairy is one of the most unsustainable diets due to the amount of land, feed, water, and other resources needed for the animals. In fact, livestock consumes 90% of the world’s soybeans, 50% of grain, and 40% of caught fish, highlighting the amount of food needed to produce meat.

The power of consumers

One of the biggest ways people can make a difference is by understanding the power they have as a consumer. Fair Trade Australia and New Zealand commented on this by pointing out that teaching children from a young age makes them feel empowered and also shapes their expectations of themselves and others. They have the knowledge and awareness to “ask the right questions so that they can make informed decisions and align their actions with their values and the world they want to help create.”

As a consumer, it’s easy to feel like you’re in the minority when you try to step away from buying things in single-use plastic, animal products, and Fair Trade products. It can feel like you’re not making any difference, but society is starting to see big changes because the minorities are getting bigger and businesses are having to change what they’re offering and their ethics in order to stay relevant.

Children are the future

Ultimately, the health of the planet is in crisis and that’s down to previous generations. Young people are motivated by the fact that action needs to be taken now and want to do their part. This includes anything from recycling and aiming to live a lower waste lifestyle, as well as encouraging their parents to do the same, to trying to find new and innovative ways of doing things that have a lower impact on the planet. As children are so eager to learn and take action, it’s vital that schools educate them on the subjects and show them how they can get involved.

Teaching sustainability in schools is essential to help mould children into having certain expectations and standards of both themselves and other people. The science is already there, so passing it on and teaching how action can be taken is one of the best ways for a sustainable future.


  1. I hope we teach logic. It is total emissions, not the emissions associated with transport which is relevant. Shifting to a high emission producer who happened to have fewer transport costs could be counterproductive. That would be the case if British consumers shouted from NZ exports to local supplies.


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