Teaching sustainability in the classroom

Educating children about sustainability is crucial to their understanding of the world around them. Global Footprints define sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. With the evidence of climate change becoming apparently clear, it is vital to strengthen education around the wider subject in the classroom in order to raise awareness and better prepare future generations. This will allow children to consciously change their behaviour and reflect a respect for the environment. 

So where do we start? Let’s take a look at some top tips for teachers on how to integrate the discussion of sustainability further into the classroom. 


One way to engage children with environmental issues may be to introduce the issues through interactive activities. Exploring recycling as the topic in a more hands-on, physical approach will be far more appealing to a child than a sit-down lesson. For example, why not create a game which involves a number of different items on a table in which children have to debate and decide whether they are for the rubbish or recycling bin. 

Introducing games with a competitive element is also very likely to engage a child with the topic. Creating a game which allows children to have the opportunity to organise behaviours which can benefit the environment is a great way for them to learn how they can make an impact themselves. Examples in the game could include brushing teeth with the tap off rather than leaving it running, removing plugs for devices connected to the wall and reusing plastic bags and cups. Turning this into a team activity or pairing pupils creates a lively and fun competitive element, awarding points to each team that is able to demonstrate the most sustainable outcomes. 

Working together

For older children, collaboration and brainstorming activities are fundamentally important to develop a deeper understanding of sustainability. Examples of this could be asking groups of pupils to investigate the sustainability of tourism in a particular country such as Thailand, and asking them to come up with solutions to make sure tourism is sustained in future years. Another example may be to brainstorm responses to saving energy costs within a school. Students can discuss ways as to how their school might be able to cut energy consumption and efficiently reduce their overall use, including factors like switching off lights and computers, changing energy suppliers and controlling how much heating is used in the summer months when the school is empty. 

Image removed.Practical changes 

Not every example in the classroom has to be theoretical though. Teachers could also allocate responsibility for behaviours to students by creating ‘eco warriors’ in the classroom. These students, either in primary or secondary school, can be responsible for demonstrating good eco-friendly behaviours in the school. Environmental positions such as this encourages practical approaches to proactive behaviours and provides students with the opportunity to show responsibility. In addition, the warriors can be exemplar role models to other students who may then be interested in becoming warriors.

Of course, it isn’t just students who should set the example. Teachers should be environmentally conscious in everyday life too. Many of us are already environmentally aware, but going out of your way to demonstrate good behaviours can have a positive effect on students. One example could be to use alternative travelling options to school. If teachers are able to cycle, walk or take public transport to school then this can encourage students to do the same. After all, practice what you preach! 

Clearly, there are many options available for schools and teachers to integrate sustainability and environmental problems into the classroom. Without mentioning the obvious benefits to the environment that this approach to education can create, there are also several other benefits for students. These activities can provide opportunities for collaboration, extending their knowledge and practice of real life skills. Global warming and the worry for the world is ever increasing and with the definition of sustainability suggesting we should be doing more to allow for future generations to flourish, surely one way to do this is to teach them of the global risks we face with the environment.


By Mark Stevenson, Managing Director of Bright Spark Energy