The Way We Live

Engage your students, 
and maybe even your community!

One of the best ways to have a positive and significant impact on the environment is to be a smart shopper. (Here are some reasons why.) What does it mean to be a smart shopper? 

Well, it means to think carefully before buying. Ask yourself if you really need and want the item. Do you love it? Will it give you joy one month from now? Is it worth the time you spent earning the money to pay for it? 

Then, wait 24 hours before buying.

For this semester--or for a week or month between now and Earth Month--we challenge you and your students. Go seven days without buying anything new.

It's called the Unshopping Challenge, and can have many variations. You and your students get to create the rules.

You may decide to go seven (or 21 or 30) days without buying water bottles. Or seven without buying any new clothing. (Fast, disposal, cheap fashion is passé in the environmental world.)

Or you can go for 30 days without buying any new stuff. Some students at UNI recently tried this and it was life changing. Listen to a 12-minute interview on Talk of Iowa while you are making dinner or read one student's abbreviated journal entries below, or do both.

UNI Student's 30 Day Unshopping Blog 
Week one:  My bank account loves this.
After one week of the 30-day Unshopping Challenge, I must say my eyes are open wide. Already, I am differentiating between a “want” and a “need.” I have seen items that I would LIKE to have, but have forgone them for the challenge. Honestly, it is not that hard, and my bank account has thanked me…

Week two: My room loves less clutter.  
Week two is down. The challenge is half over, and is in fact less of a challenge than I predicted …  I look around my room and see all of these things I no longer need. I have already given away about eight shirts! It feels good to be less cluttered, and I honestly can’t wait to give away more things at the end of the challenge!

Week three: I love the weight off my shoulders!
Week three is down, and I have succeeded again! I have given more clothes to my mother that I no longer needed. I can already feel a weight lifted off my shoulders when I get rid of the things I no longer need or use. What an eye-opening experience this has been! This has been extremely helpful in my life, especially since life itself can get messy at times.

Week four: I will keep going!
Where has the time gone?! I cannot believe it has been a full month already. My bank account is grinning from ear to ear. The last week of the unshopping challenge is done and I will keep going. Looking to the horizon, I think I can go a few more weeks before having to buy …

Interested in doing this now with your students, after the holiday consumption frenzy? Or is it something you’ll plan to do for Earth Month? Below are some resources for such an engagement project.

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Water bottle unshopping. This NY Times quiz, this 8-minute Story of Bottled Water video, PBS Kids Don't Buy It lesson plan or Comedians' Penn and Teller's Water Bottle Survey (4-minute video) are four spectacular resources for introducing problems with water bottles. They may be just what you and your students need to give the Unshopping challenge a try.  


Don't buy this jacket ad.Patagonia says:
Don't buy what you don't need
On Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), 2011, Patagonia first placed this provocative ad in The New York Times. Use this ad to evoke curiosity. Use it to instill the concepts that our “stuff” has a significant environmental impact. And give your students a glimpse of a radically different way of doing business.
Assign a review and analysis of this ad and its accompanying blog to your 6-12th graders.  Then, have students answer these questions… What surprises you from the article and the advertisement? What do you agree or disagree with, and/or what resonates with you?  What do you think Patagonia’s advertising writers meant when they said that Black Friday puts the economy of natural systems firmly in the red?* What are the five actions/pledges that Patagonia encourages readers to do?  What do you think Patagonia means when it says the environmental cost of its jacket is higher than its price? Finally, do you really think Patagonia doesn’t want people to buy their jackets?  (Answer this last question with a narrative—not just a “yes,” “no,” or “maybe.”)
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*Taking more than nature can replace, causing—in essence—a deficit.
We invite you to explore product lives with your students

Recently, a former math teacher in my eLearning workshop was geeking out over some graphs I shared about the life of products.  He and other teachers discovered that waste and disposal—though important issues to address—are some of the smallest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

What are the largest sources?  Well, heating and cooling our homes contributes about 25%. Personal transportation about 24%. But, a whopping 42% of GHG emissions comes from our “stuff” (US EPA). And our NEW Life of a Product resources help you and your students learn about this and problem-solve to find solutions.  

We invite you to explore product lives with your students, and have compiled a list of some of our best educator resources to help you.

Favorite Educator Resources on Life of a Product:

·         Life of a Hamburger lesson plan  

·         Secret Life of a Mobile Phone Life Pscycle-ology Sustainability Animation (5:30 min.)   

·         Electronic Gadgets video (2 min.)   

·         This is Your Life Cycle (4:59 min.)  

·         Sources of GHG pdfNEW!    

·         Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things book

·         National Public Radio’s Planet Money’s Life of a T-shirt  

·         Why “Stuff” Matters--this is the ppt one of our teacher friends geeked out about. (We think it’s confusing to non-math oriented folks, so we created this friendlier version, too!


Other ideas:

·         Students track for 24 hours the products they use.

·         Google search “life cycle of (paper, pencil, milk carton, etc.)”

·         Students make posters of life of products to help them “get” it.  NOTE: Teachers say that students have a difficult time with the concepts of extraction and manufacturing. It helps to do something like making a poster.  One teacher suggested that having students research name-brand products rather than generics is better because more information is available on the web about name brand products.  A teacher was gratified when, after the lesson, a student said, “I can’t believe how much it takes to get a bag of chips to me.”

By Susan Salterberg, instructor, Helping Students Protect the Environment and Live Well eLearning course and face-to-face workshop




Partners and Supporters: The CEEE appreciates the support received for this project from foundations, non-profit and for-profit organizations, landfills, solid waste agencies, governmental agencies and corporations.

Portions of The Way We Live website were prepared with the support of ...

Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program (REAP CEP) : Invest in Iowa, our outdoors, our heritage, our people. REAP is supported by the state of Iowa, providing funding to public and private partners for natural and cultural resource projects, including water quality, wildlife habitat, soil conservation, parks, trails, historic preservation and more.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Solid Waste Alternatives Program Agreement Numbers 08-G550-18, 10-G550-26, and 12-G550-25FL. However, any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDNR. 

Recycling and Reuse Technology Transfer Center, University of Northern Iowa