Environmental clubs are a mainstay in schools and colleges. They reflect the school’s commitment to the community and the students’ eagerness to create positive change in the world. By establishing an environmental club, students acquire skills to identify problems, investigate alternatives, and propose solutions that will contribute to a better school environment and tread lighter on the earth. Whether you are just starting an environmental club or are looking for ideas to ramp up your activities in time for Earth Day, here are 3 questions to give your team focus and impact.
- Who is missing from the discussion?
Clearly, too many members in a club will hinder its ability to create a unified vision, make decisions, and carry out tasks. But a strategic sampling of students and teachers, who have strong ties to other groups of students, administrative staff, custodians and the school community, is necessary. Diversity of student participants will spread enthusiasm throughout the student body and avoid the stigma of an environmental clique. Encourage specific individuals to join the club. They may just need a little nudge.
Consider inviting special guests to participate during key discussions. If the custodians have not been consulted on the energy conservation efforts, or if the purchasing officer is not included in the investigation into green school and cleaning supplies, chances are high that your club will be seen as pushing an agenda, instead of creating momentum.
- Do the activities have meaning to those outside the club?
If the parents are told the school will start boomerang lunches and discover that means the lunchboxes will come home smothered in yogurt and half-eaten food scraps, will they understand the issue being addressed (i.e. to increase awareness of food and packaging waste, and not to transfer trash disposal responsibilities from the school to home)? Will they understand the impact of the activity? (The average school-age child generates 67 pounds of waste per school year, the equivalent of 13,000 pounds of waste per year for a school with 200 students.)
Of course, communication is key to creating understanding and ownership among everyone involved beyond the club membership. Regular communication will help teachers, students and parents keep the environmental issues on their minds. But rather than simply repeating your club’s message over and over, try sharing best practices, testimonials, where the school is at in meeting its goal, and any lessons learned.
- Have you gone beyond the cliche?
Think of ways to inspire your club beyond planting a tree and picking up litter in the park on Earth Day. Evidence of an inspired environmental club is when environmentally-responsible practices have permeated different aspects of the school, from daily operations to school ground greening to student learning. How about a green prom, field trips to the local landfill, or fundraisers to purchase eco-friendly school supplies? The Teens Turning Green chapter at San Rafael high school in California recently carried out a series of fundraisers, including hike-a-thons and bake sales to purchase 9 sets of Austen refillable and non-toxic dry-erase markers. Those 9 kits mean that the environmental club has saved 2,215 markers from going to the local landfill. There’s nothing like original ideas to inspire a school community into action.
Including the right people in your club’s discussions, generating a true appreciation for your activities, and thinking outside the box for original club activities should mobilize your club to take green to the next level.