Robert Pridgen

Helping kids get into sustainability

Environmental, Social, & Governance (ESG) and the sustainability market has expanded dramatically in recent years, for both better and worse.  We have seen an incredible investment in information targeted at adult decision makers, captains of industry, and other people in the mature business community.  Money and resources have flowed.  This is great to see and is making a difference.  But the lifespan of that difference is limited by what will come next.  Who will be the future stewards of this effort?   

MIT, Walmart, Harvard, Goldman Sachs, NASA, P&G, NASCAR, and most other businesses have an ESG platform.  Everyone in the complex and disparate business world as referenced in the named examples above are part of this commercial eco-system.  How broadly this span is expertly summarized by the United Nations.  Their Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) program has 17 main sections with 169 individual targets.  The 169 targets have been agreed to be achieved by all the 191 UN members by the year 2030.   

Wow.  That seems big.  Having a look at the UN SDG program does reveal some big stuff, and that is great for the larger initiative.  Not only do sovereign nations subscribe to this, but large corporations do as well.  We see those UN SDG logos in many ESG corporate reports.   

And that is terrific.  It remains a treasure of information for us all.  But what can be additionally useful is how to do something on a smaller scale, something at the school/house/apartment.  Maybe not so grandiose.  After all, we are all citizens of those countries and consumers of those products.  We are the next level of that layer cake, the individual.   

What this is about now is not nations or corporations, but life at the house and the individual address downtown or out in the suburbs.  How to introduce the next generation of children to this worthy effort?  Children are the next step, they will drive the cars, fly the airplanes, make the decisions, buy the products, cast their economic votes, and be the leaders of the future.  They will get the cards the current generation gives them.    

Localize the grand ideas

How can we then localize the grand ideas exemplified by the UN and other huge corporations on a practical and personal level?  Here are a few ideas to help:

  1. Learn the realities of our everyday – what does it take to make your favorite shirt, do your favorite hobby, and to have your kids’ favorite toys on the shelf.  As an example, trace the origins of a present recently given over the holidays.  If it was a typical toy from a large retailer then it was likely designed via a prototype in a studio, market tested, changes made, plastic models and manufacturing bill of materials made, POs sent out, raw material sent to one or more factories, production completed, final product assembled for shipping, placed on a transportation conveyance, delivered to port, cleared, dispatched to a distribution warehouse, consolidated for further delivery, sent to the store or e-commerce warehouse, then onto your house.  Each step consumed energy and expelled carbon.  This is an essential and required part of our globalized production cycle.  But now that we know, we can take the necessary steps to offset what was created during production and delivery. Have a look at your coffee mug, where did it come from?      
  2.  Learn about you and your family’s impact at a high level, and trace where your energy comes from (gas + electricity)-  This winter the house is warm, thank our lucky stars.  Not everyone is so fortunate.  How did the house get warm?  Either electricity or gas was made and transmitted to your house then turned into heat.  What is heat? It is the transfer of kinetic energy from one medium or object to another, or from an energy source to a medium or object.  That process is not free and has an impact on our environment.  What would happen if we all turned our thermostat down one degree?  Or two? 
  3. Create a compost with the kids – this is a wonderful way to show the circularity of our food refuse and how, over time, it can become healthy and nutrient rich soil for a home garden
  4. Chart what the thermostat is set at and the thermals consumed over 90 days – charts don’t lie!  It is also a great way to introduce kids to the process of measuring results, which is a big part of the scientific method.  
  5. Eat one less meal of meat-based protein a week – not everyone is so lucky to have food whenever desired.  This idea helps with not only reducing overall consumption but also is a valuable way to give an example of how important food availability is.
  6. Even better, skip a day of eating anything solid (only if healthy and possible!)
  7. Go for a walk – get out into nature and spend time talking with the kids about things important to you and your family and start that process of being in awe of the amazing world around us
  8. Turn off the electronics – stimuli from these devices is certainly important in our lives and useful way to share information with society and loved ones.  But, just like with anything, too much can be debilitating and harmful.  Spend time connecting in a way outside of the current availability of electronics like phones and tablets
  9. Collect rainwater – having a rain barrel or two at the house can save money on the bill and also is a big step in reducing the water your house consumes keeping it available 
  10. Clean up the local park – and document the weight/size of the waste collected
  11. Repurpose plastics used in the house – turn plastic bottles into planters for a mini-herb garden for the kitchen 

Start small

We hope these ideas ‘sparq’ additional thought and conversations in your family and social network.  The efforts in the larger corporate community are certainly valuable, but we can also make a huge difference at the local level while also creating a new generation of leaders that can take this important effort to the next level.  

In the endless quest to coin a new term or create the latest acronym to parade and monetize sometimes it might be best to slow down and revisit the basics to be in a better position to speed up for the future.  Sustainability science is more than a body of knowledge, it is a way of thinking.  If this awe-inspiring information is in the hands of but a few, then the rest are left to the unregulated and untested information of the Internet.  Sources of information free from the rigorous standards of the scientific method.  Sustainability science invites in all manner of ideas, but equally rejects those that are not supported by objectively scrutinized and peer reviewed facts and favors those that achieve this proven standard.      

What we see today is projected and imagined uncertainty.  Just because it might be cold today in Washington DC does not mean global warming is not real.  Weather does not equal climate.  How is that?  The roadmap is in the scientific method.  Science is both imaginative and disciplined.  We should have an incredible openness to new ideas while holding them to the most unyielding skepticism.  All proven or not by established scientific method.     

How to get there?  Start small to end big.