52 environmental challenges

Meena Raghunathan

Greetings, Gurus of Green Warriors!

We know that you are keen to sensitize your students towards sustainability, climate change and related issues. So here is an annual plan for you, using which you can help your students explore critical issues, and also suggest ways in which they can go from awareness and knowledge to action.

We have divided the year into 12 themes, so that there can be a single focus each month. The first week of each month will be for students to learn about the issue, and the remaining three weeks, to plan and take action. While some actions have to be taken individually, others can be done in groups. You can decide how your class will go about it.

The flow here is only indicative and you can choose to take up the themes in whatever order works best for you. And if you think it makes sense to drop some themes and substitute with something more relevant to your students, please go ahead and do that.

Here’s to a Green Year!

Month 1: Water
Week 1: Learn about the issue
Research and answer this water quiz:

  1. What is Day Zero?
  2. How many people in India do not have access to clean drinking water?
  3. How do you think we, as individuals, contribute to water pollution?
  4. Research a way to measure the rainfall in your area on a given day.

Week 2: Focus on indoor use
Count all the taps and flushes inside your house. Check if any are leaking. Observe to the extent possible, how water is used. Is your younger sibling leaving taps open while they brush their teeth? Is the tap left open while dishes are being done? Estimate the daily water usage in the house – washing hands, bathing, toilet use, washing dishes, washing clothes, mopping, cooking, drinking, etc. Set a target by how much your household can reduce this and work on it with your family.

Week 3: Focus on outdoor use
Do you have a garden? Or maybe pots? How much water does this consume? What kind of water is this – regular water, recycled water? How can this usage be reduced?

How are the vehicles in your house washed? How often? Are hoses used to wash them or buckets? How can you reduce water use?

Week 4: Study water bodies around you
Visit a lake or tank or water body near you. Does it look healthy? What is the water level? Do any birds, animals, etc., use it? What uses is it being put to? Is pollution entering from anywhere? What role does it play in the lives of the community?

Prepare a photo-report on the status of the water body and share it with your suggestions on social media and with your friends around the locality.

Month 2: Electricity
Week 1: Learn about the issue

Find out roughly how much each of these sources contributes to India’s energy production

Coal and lignite
Total fossil fuel
Other renewables (Waste to energy, biomass, etc.)
Total renewable

Find out how much electricity is used by each of these sectors in India:


Week 2: Focus on domestic use
Count all the electrical fittings in your house. Observe how electricity is being used – is someone leaving the lights and fans on when they leave the room? Is someone using AC even when it is not so warm? Study your electricity bill. How many units are you using? How much are you paying? Set a target by how much your household can reduce this. Take action!

Week 3: Use renewables
Do you have a solar geyser in your house? Or do you have panels for electricity? If so, are you and your parents happy with it? Can you convince a friend or neighbour to go in for the same?

If not, find out more about the requirements, the cost-benefit, etc., and discuss with your parents to see if you can get the same.

Week 4: Focus on school
In Week 2, you did an electricity audit of your home. Now, do the same for your school, working in groups. Prepare a report of findings and recommendations and present to the school management.

Month 3: Garbage
Week 1: Learn about the issue

  1. What do the following terms mean:
    Non biodegradable
    Toxic waste
  2. According to a 2019 report in India Today, India produces more than 1.50 lakh metric tonne (MT) of solid waste per day. It is estimated that only 20% of this waste is processed and the remaining 80% is dumped in landfills. While people in small towns and villages generate about 0.17 kg per person/day, those in cities generate about 0.62 kg per person/day.

Why do you think people in cities generate so much more waste than people in villages?

Week 2: Focus on household garbage
Weigh the total garbage generated in your house per day (do it for three days and average it). How much is biodegradable and how much is not? How can you reduce each? Make a plan and implement.

Week 3: Start composting
If you have a garden, start a compost pit. If not, find out about composting in pots – there are even readymade composters available. You can easily find out how from the internet. There will be teething troubles and you have to work through them. But persistence will pay off.

Week 4: Focus on school
Make groups and study the garbage generation in school. Start a compost pit on the grounds. Focus on how to reduce paper waste as well as reuse and recycle it.

Month 4: Greening
Week 1: Learn about the issue
Find out:
a. How much oxygen does a mature tree produce in a year?
b. How much oxygen does a human need in a year?
c. How many trees are there around your house? Will they suffice for the people in the neighbourhood?
d. How does a tree:
i. help in reducing pollution?
ii. in regulating temperature?

Week 2: Trees around you
Take a count of the trees in your area – your colony, neighbourhood, nearby park, wherever. Estimate the height, measure the girth, and identify them (there are many sites that help you do this, e.g., flowersofindia.net/treeid/). Post about these on social media every week. Ask your friends to do the same. It will get a lot of people interested in trees!

Week 3: Plant a tree and care for it
We all talk about planting trees, but sometimes we don’t do it quite right. Resolve to plant a tree. Ensure that you plant the right tree (preferably one that is native to your location and one which does not require too much maintenance); plant at the right place (where the soil is good, and it is not likely to be eaten by animals or destroyed in other ways); plant at the right time (during the rains). Once you have decided on all these after research and survey, procure a sapling and take the help of a knowledgeable person to plant it. You need to visit, water, and take care of your tree till it reaches a good size.

Week 4: School tree action plan
Do a survey of the trees in the school and their status. Find out whether you can plant anymore. Prepare a plan and present it to the authorities and then go ahead, keeping all the tips above in mind.

Month 5: Outreach
Week 1: Learn about the issue
We all know smoking is bad, yet so many people smoke. We all know the use of fossil fuels is causing serious damage to our planet, yet we drive around in cars. There is obviously a big gap between ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’. Even when we know, it does not mean we will change our behaviour.

  1. Find out what Behaviour Change Communication is.
  2. Research the six stages of Behaviour Change Communication.

Week 2: Identify an issue
For this, you need to work in groups of 5-8. Each group should brainstorm, observe, and finalize a sustainability issue they want to create awareness about. A clear objective needs to be set, e.g., ‘increase car-pooling among students using private vehicles by 10%’; or ‘reduce paper waste in school by 20%’. Based on this, a Behaviour Change Communication Strategy needs to be drawn up after research – whom to target, what media to use and how critical messages can be shared.

Week 3: Prepare your communication tools
In discussion with your teacher, prepare posters, scripts, social media communication or whatever you have decided to use. Get your products produced, your performances practiced.

Week 4: Deploy your communication
Unleash your communications! Make sure you take feedback and monitor the impacts over the next few weeks and months. Discuss at the end of three months if you met your objective. Why? Why not?

Month 6: Conscious consumption
We as consumers drive the economy. If we want to change our fashion every six months, the fashion industry obliges, at a big cost to the environment. If we want cheap goods and services, industry will squeeze the wager of labourers. Conscious consumption means engaging in the economy with more awareness of how our consumption impacts the environment and society at large.

Week 1: Learn about the issue
Think about 3-4 products of everyday use. Research the environmental and social costs of their manufacture, use, and disposal.

Week 2: Focus on your wardrobe
Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. What’s more, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year (UNECE, 2018) and washing some types of clothes sends significant amount of microplastics into the ocean.

Take stock of the clothes in your wardrobe. You probably don’t use half of them. Then why did you buy them? Make some resolutions – how often you will buy clothes, what kind of clothes you will buy, etc.

Week 3: Focus on clothes not in use
Think hard about how you will dispose of clothes you no longer use. Find out about organizations like GOONJ and see how they help in this issue. Or are there people nearer home you can give them away to? Whatever the option, ensure you wash, iron and mend the clothes before you give them away. This is the minimum respect we need to show for those who will use them after us.

Week 4: Focus on the community
Identify an institution where you can give clothes in bulk. Organize a collection drive in your colony or school. Ensure that you get only cleaned clothes in decent shape. Pack them well and deliver them to the institution.

Month 7: Out in Nature
Week 1: Learn about the issue
Who are these people?
i. Arachnologist
ii. Paleontologist
iii. Ichthyologist
iv. Lepidopterist

Read The Fall of a Sparrow, the biography of Dr. Salim Ali, India’s eminent ornithologist.

Week 2: Bird watching week
Get yourself a standard bird book – Book of Indian Birds by Dr. Salim Ali is a good place to start. Go to the section which tells you how to identify birds and then set out over the weekend. Note down the characteristics of the birds you see, take pictures and try to identify them. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t see too many. It takes patience and practice.

Week 3: Bug watching
Not necessarily only bugs, this is the week to look out for the myriad of smaller creatures around us. Butterflies, moths, bees, snails, ants, spiders, worms… keep a tab for the whole week on what you saw, where, and when. Proactively look for them. You WILL find some creatures anywhere you are – inside the house and outside. It will bring home to you that the Earth is not home just to us humans. In fact, we are far outnumbered by other creatures – there are an estimated 10 quintillion insects on Earth. Taking the human population at seven billion, there are thus 1,428,571,428.57 insects for every person on the planet. Rounding off, there are about 1.4 billion insects for every human. But only humans contribute to the serious destruction of the Earth, which is home to all!

Week 4: Bee buzz
Chemical pesticides have devastating effects on bees. And bees are essential for pollinating plants – in the wild and in cultivated areas. Research the impact of pesticides on bees, as well as alternatives. Switch from chemical pesticides to alternatives in your house. And discuss with your school authorities how this can be done in school also.

Month 8: Paper
Week 1: Learn about the issue
Find out:
i. How many trees it takes to make one tonne of paper.
ii. How much water is needed to make a tonne of paper.
iii. What per cent of paper in India is recovered for recycling? How does it compare with Japan, US, and Germany?
iv. India imports paper waste. True or False?

Week 2: Newspapers
Most homes get at least one newspaper. Find out what your family does with these once they are finished reading them. Are they stored and then sold to an old newspaper dealer? Accompany your parents on their next trip to the dealer and find out how much paper he gets every day, what he does with it, and what finally happens to the paper.

Also find out alternative uses – there are some NGOs which look for donations of papers to make paper bags, etc., with. Would you like to donate to them?

Week 3: White paper
While about 20% of paper is recycled in India, the proportion of white paper that gets recycled in much less. It is critical to ensure we reuse/recyle white paper. Towards this, take at least one of these actions during the week: donate old textbooks to younger students; donate other books to libraries; take out unused pages from old notebooks and stitch them together to make rough books; ensure that you always print on both sides, or use the second side for rough work.

Week 4: School plan
Form groups and study the paper usage and wastage in the school. Keep the points from Week 3 in mind. Develop a plan to reduce this by 10% in the next three months and put the plan in action with the help of your teachers.

Month 9: Reduce petrol consumption
Week 1: Learn about the issue
India is the world’s third-largest consumer of petrol and diesel. Find out the average monthly petrol and diesel consumption.

Find out the problems caused by pollution from these two fuels. Estimate how much pollution is caused by these fuels.

Week 2: Your petrol consumption
How do you go to school? Where else do you go regularly? How much fuel is consumed in a month? Resolve to cut your fuel consumption by 10% and then find ways to do this. Taking public transport, carpooling, cycling, cutting down on trips – all could figure in your plan.

Week 3: Your family consumption
How many vehicles does your family own? What is their total monthly consumption? Study your family’s vehicle usage pattern and come up with a plan. Share it with your family and convince them to cut the household consumption by 10%.

Week 4: School plan
Your school may have hundreds or even thousands of children commuting every day. In groups, study how different children commute, and how many use each type of transport. Interview students who use personal transport and try to convince them to reduce their school consumption. Share the findings of the interviews about reasons why some students use personal vehicles to come to school – maybe some changes can be made, e.g., starting more bus routes, or rationalizing routes, etc.

Month 10: E-waste
Week 1: Learn about the issue
Can you imagine what life would be without gadgets? Impossible, you say? Indeed!

But making all the circuits, transistors, microchips and other components that go into our laptops, printers, monitors, televisions, mobiles, etc., takes a big toll on the environment. Every device produced has a carbon footprint and contributes to global warming. Manufacture of a tonne of laptops releases about 10 tonnes of CO2. And once we are done with the devices, we are landed with e-waste. E-waste can be toxic, is not biodegradable and accumulates in the environment, in the soil, air, water, and living things. Find out what is e-waste and how it affects the environment.

Week 2: Gadget scavenger hunt
Every household has many discarded gadgets – mobiles, tabs, laptops, etc. Hunt them out and check which are in working condition. Consider what you want to do – give them away or give them to a shop for money or exchange. Many students and schools need devices. Try to find out about them and give them after refurbishment if needed. If something is not in working order, keep it aside for now.

Week 3: Find out about e-waste recyclers
There are now organizations that take e-waste and recycle them safely. Make groups and find out about such companies in your city or town. Have a discussion with them and find out the details – how can you get your waste to them, what will they do with it, etc. Let each group present about the dealer they have researched so that you can discuss which seems best.

Week 4: School plan
Schools often have large numbers of computers and other devices that have been replaced with newer models. As a class, make a survey, including how many are in working order and how many have to be discarded.

Discuss with school authorities and identify a nearby school which could use these. Refurbish and give them the computers.

Organize a collection drive in the school so all the students and teachers can bring in their e-waste. Tie up with the e-cycler of your choice to collect these from the school on a designated day.

Month 11: The food we eat
Week 1: Learn about the issue
Did you know that agriculture and livestock contribute close to 20% of GHG emissions? Find out how. Also find out what is climate-smart agriculture.

Week 2: Reduce food waste
The less food we waste, the less food that needs to be produced. Study the food habits of your family. Does anyone in your house leave food on the plate? What do you do with leftover food? During food preparation, are there parts that can be used but are being discarded? Based on your understanding of how serious the situation is, prepare a plan to cut down on food waste in your home.

Week 3: Reduce your food carbon footprint
What are the main foods cooked in your house? Make a list of the ingredients that go into these. Find out the carbon footprint of each of these items. Discuss with your family how you can make a shift to menus with less carbon footprints.

Week 4: Source locally
Apart from food production, transport of food also involves carbon emissions. So the more locally you buy, the better. Help your family to buy from your local vegetable and fruit vendors or even from nearby farms; buy seasonal vegetables; buy freshly-grown vegetables.

Month 12: Volunteering
Week 1: Learn about the issue
A volunteer is a person who does something, especially helping others, willingly and without being either paid or forced to do it. To see the difference that volunteers can make, visit the iVolunteer site and the Better India site. Read about five volunteers and make a poster on their work. On the last day of the week, all the posters can be displayed.

Week 2: Visit week
With the help of your teachers, make groups of 6-8 and organize visits to different institutions in your area that use volunteers. Have a discussion with the head of the institution before the visit, understand the dos and don’ts, and brief your classmates and ensure that the visit is conducted with utmost respect and empathy. During the visit, find out what the institution does, how, and how you can volunteer. Let each group prepare a presentation on their visit.

Week 3: Volunteering planning
Let all the groups present their visit experiences. Then each one can decide where they would like to volunteer depending on what resonates with them. With the help of the teacher, rationalize who will go where and form groups of reasonable size. Discuss the details of the visits with the organization and plan your volunteering. Be practical – start small. Don’t plan on going twice or thrice a week, you probably will not be able to.

Week 4: Start volunteering
Start your volunteering after proper briefing from the organization. Keep notes and discuss your experiences with other group members and the teacher. Stick with the organization at least for three months.

Green Gurus, these are just a few ideas to get your students on the path of thinking about and taking action for the environment. As they grow more interested, set them challenges – finding substitutes for plastic straws, researching environment-friendly building designs, installing water-efficient flushes in the school, etc. With your support, they can change the world!

The author worked at Centre for Environment Education for close to two decades. After that she set up and headed the CSR arm of the GMR Group. She writes for children and teachers, as well as others. Her latest book is: Doing Good: Navigating the CSR Maze in India (Harper Collins). She can be reached at meena.raghunathan@gmail.com.

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