6 Ways Schools Can Improve Sustainability & Promote Student Engagement

Schools are the foundations for the minds of the leaders of the future to grow and visualize a world greater than it is. Students spend six hours a day, five days a week, in the most influential environment they will have in their lifetime. Making your school more sustainable is not only better for the environment, but helps mold your students into responsible members of a greater global community.

Check out these six (6) strategies and lesson ideas to make the best impact possible in your school.

1. Plant A Garden

Children have an inherent love and fascination for living things. As they grow up, they learn to shun dirt and believe that tree in the backyard should be cut down because of the mess of leaves it makes in the autumn. This should not be the case. Planting a garden at your school gives students the opportunity to appreciate nature and gives them a sense of pride in a job well done as they watch it grow.

Planting a Garden
source: PBS

Planting A School Garden Lesson Idea:

For younger students, teach them the life path of plants from seed to sprout. If your teaching tweens and teenagers, discuss climate change with them, as well as how CO2 emissions from other sources are harmful for both people and plants. Teach them how plants emit oxygen, which replenishes our atmosphere and is healthier for all living things.

2. Reduce Lunch Waste In Your School Cafeteria

Lunch makes up the most waste in a school, but there are many ways to reduce it. Talk to your janitorial and lunch staff. What is being thrown away most and how many garbage cans are filled on a daily basis? With this information, lunch menus can be re-strategized to find alternatives to food that is often uneaten and thrown away. Instead of plastic to wrap pre-made sandwiches and other foods, opt for reusable wax cloth that students can deposit in a bin to be washed once they’ve finished their meals.

Child Eating Sandwich

Reducing Lunch Waste Lesson Idea:

Do a pop-up lesson or project on the benefits of eating locally grown and in-season foods.

3. Recycle In Your School & Classroom

Schools often use excessive paper and supplies that are fully recyclable. By having bins in each room and hallway to place such waste will greatly benefit your schools sustainability practice. If you would like to take it to the next level, have separate bins specifically for different waste, such as: plastic, glass, paper, and organic.

Recycle Message on Chalkboard

Recycling Class Lesson & Group Project Idea:

Conduct a lesson or project where students will learn what different materials can be made into, what paper can be recycled into, what plastic bottles can become, and how their old technology can be used to create something new. Seeing and understanding the possibilities will make the practice much more personal and interesting.

4. Only Print What You Need In Your Classroom—Get Students Writing!

Today people rely more and more on printed items. Print ONLY what is necessary. Have students handwrite their papers hand homework. This will not only save trees and energy, but it will help to ensure student honesty and better their handwriting, which is sadly becoming a lost practice.

Get Students Writing

Interesting Handwriting Lesson Idea:

To get students interested in writing again, do a quick and fun lesson on how handwriting is individual to each person. You can take it even farther by doing a psychology lesson about how handwriting can reflect personality. Students will find it interesting, especially if the lesson is taught like a detective game.

5. Let The Sunlight In: Turn Off The Lights In Your Classroom

Arrange your classroom so that maximum natural light comes in. Natural light psychologically increases positivity and reduces the amount of energy the school uses. Of course, depending on where some classes are located, this may not be possible, so be sure to shut the lights off whenever the classroom is not in use.

Turn Off the Lights in the Classroom

Renewable Energy Lesson & Project Idea:

Have your students break into teams and present to the class their findings on the benefits of renewable energy like solar and wind power. Students learning from each other can be very beneficial and can further their interest in the pursuit of Earth-saving energy strategies.

6. Take Your Class Outside For Focus & Appreciation of Nature

On a sunny day, have your students take their books outside for class. Teachers are often surprised to find that students are focused and willing to participate when they take this mini field trip. This is because people are part of nature—all of our technology cannot separate our biology from it. Studies have proven just how sunlight affects the human body and truly does make people happier. By conducting class outside, a teacher does many things: make students happier, engaged and willing to learn, and gives them an appreciation for the outdoors.

Class Learning Outside

Lessons & Classes Where Outside Is The Best Classroom Environment:

The classes that work best for outside lessons usually require minimal materials, such as a book or notebook. These are the studies that can best take advantage of the outdoors:

  • Literature
  • Debate
  • Drama
  • Scavenger Hunts
  • Art
  • Public Speaking
  • Science (younger students)

The goal of a sustainable school is to inspire students to continue the practice as adults in their own companies and businesses. Already, companies like Mills are stepping up and taking responsibility for their carbon footprint by becoming B-Corp Companies. Our students of today will transform this idea into something greater than we can imagine, take this responsibility farther than we thought companies could take it.

See How Mills Has Become More Sustainable