No Impact Project: Consumption
Examine how advertising affects our consumption habits and consider how we can get what we need in ways that do less harm to the environment. Create an alternative gift registry with items that are non-material, secondhand, homemade, service-oriented (such as “fix my bike”), experiential (such as “take me to a concert”), or that come from companies that are socially and environmentally responsible
Time Required: 50 minutes
By the end of this lesson, students will:
•Use viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret a video clip that introduces issues related to consumption.
•Use listening skills and strategies to understand informational text.
•Discuss the prevalence of advertising and society’s constant push to buy more.
•Identify strategies for environmentally-responsible consumption.
•Create an alternative gift registry with ideas for presents that are non-material, secondhand, homemade, service-oriented (such as “fix my bike”), experiential (such as “take me to a concert”), or that come from companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.
1. Ask students to journal for a few minutes on what brings them the most happiness during celebrations like birthdays, holidays, etc.
2. Invite a few students to share what they’ve written. Lead a brief discussion that seeks to determine whether the students’ happiness at these times comes from receiving gifts (acquiring “stuff”) or to some other factor like time with loved ones, etc. What brings us the greatest happiness?
3. Tell students that you are going to show them a brief video clip that will introduce them to the Beavan family of New York City, who set out on a radical experiment they called No Impact Man, where they exchanged old habits for more environmentally-friendly ones over the course of a year. Focus student viewing by having them take notes on the types of lifestyle changes the family decided to make. Then show the video.
4. Explain that getting rid of the TV was Michelle’s idea. Then, read the book excerpt to the class.
•What problems did Michelle and Colin think the TV caused for them?
•Do students think that TV causes similar problems in their own lives? Why or why not?
•What role does advertising play in our society?
•The combined marketing budget of companies who advertise to kids is $17 billion. Where have students already encountered advertising today before coming to class? (Possible answers might include ads on TV, radio, Internet, buses, vending machines at school, logo T-shirts on other students, sponsored textbook covers, etc.) Emphasize the prevalence of advertising and the consistent message to spend money on products that may or may not be needed.
6. Explain that as part of the No Impact experiment, Colin and Michelle committed themselves to not buying anything new throughout the year, except for food. The idea was that by reducing their consumption of goods, they wouldn’t be asking industry to tap environmental resources and cause pollution to create and transport something they didn’t really need. Colin and Michelle allowed themselves to buy used or recycled items from local sources, from Craigslist or thrift shops, or to get necessities for free using services like Freecycle. Putting secondhand items to good use also helped the environment because they were then diverted from the landfill. The Beavan’s purpose wasn’t to deny themselves things that they needed, but rather to avoid being wasteful and consuming things unnecessarily, just because advertisements told them that they should. The result was that they found they had more money, more time to have fun with family and friends, and a greater sense of gratitude for what they already had.
•What benefits did the Beavans’ redesigned shopping habits bring to themselves and the environment?
•Do students think they could go for a week without buying anything new? What about for a month, or a whole year like the Beavans? If not, why not?
•How do students feel about using secondhand items?
8. Point out to students that when they buy something new, it is better for the environment to purchase products from companies that use resources responsibly. Such businesses often label their products as “green,” but such labeling can often be confusing because the business practices of many so-called “green” companies don’t fully support the values associated with that description. To help people make more informed purchasing decisions, organizations like Center for a New American Dream have carefully screened many companies for particular social and environmental attributes. They then feature products from the companies that meet their standards in the Conscious Consumer Marketplace. Shoppers who use this resource can also find tips on how to reduce, reuse, and recycle items to meet their needs.
9. Ask students if they’ve ever received a gift that they didn’t really want or need. Gift giving is a wonderful tradition, but it can also lead to excessive spending, waste, and harm to the environment. To prevent this from happening in the future, and to help students demonstrate what they have learned about environmentally-friendly consumption habits, have each student create an “alternative gift registry” using the Alternative Gift Registry (30 kB)
10. To complete the alternative gift registry, students should first determine the event for the gift registry, such as a birthday, a holiday, to help get ready for college, etc. They should then get ideas for the types of items they might include in their registries by reviewing the entries in the sample registries at the New American Dream Alternative Gift Registry site. Students should recognize that in an alternative gift registry, the idea is to encourage people to give presents that are non-material, secondhand, homemade, service-oriented (such as “fix my bike”), experiential (such as “take me to a concert”), or that come from companies that are socially and environmentally responsible. The description entry for each item should include detail about the item and where to find it (if applicable), and also explain why it is an environmentally-friendly gift based on what the students have learned in this lesson. Each registry should include ten items.
11. Students should finish their registries outside of class by a date of your choosing.
Students can be assessed on:
•Participation in class discussions.
•Creating an alternative gift registry based on the requirements of the assignment.
Web Pages Used
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