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Sustainability: Reduce Your Environmental Impact!

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Grade Range
Group Size
1 student
Active Time
4 hours
Total Time
2 weeks
Area of Science
Environmental Science
Key Concepts
Sustainability, environmental impact, ecological footprint
Svenja Lohner, PhD, Science Buddies
Drawing of the logo for the Your Plan Your Planet initiative from Google


Global warming, pollution, and deforestation are just a few examples of how human actions affect our planet. How can we reduce our impact on the environment? In this lesson, students will find out by using an online tool called Your Plan, Your Planet. Based on their findings, students will come up with their own action plans aimed at reducing their personal ecological footprint and assess its effectiveness after implementation.

Learning Objectives

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Science & Engineering Practices Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information. Obtain and combine information from books and/or other reliable media to explain phenomena or solutions to a design problem.

Engaging in Argument from Evidence. Construct and/or support an argument with evidence, data, and/or a model.

Use data to evaluate claims about cause and effect.

Make a claim about the merit of a solution to a problem by citing relevant evidence about how it meets the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Use evidence (e.g., measurements, observations, patterns) to construct or support an explanation or design a solution to a problem.
Disciplinary Core Ideas ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems. Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth's environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things. (MS-ESS3-3)

Typically as human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth unless the activities and technologies involved are engineered otherwise. (MS-ESS3-3), (MS-ESS3-4)
Crosscutting Concepts Cause and Effect: Mechanisms and Prediction. Cause and effect relationships are routinely identified, tested, and used to explain change.

Stability and Change. Change is measured in terms of differences over time and may occur at different rates.


Background Information for Teachers

This section contains a quick review for teachers of the science and concepts covered in this lesson.

Nowadays, reports on climate change, global warming, air and water pollution, or animal extinction are published on a daily basis. All of these issues are caused by human actions on Earth. We use our planet's natural resources, such as fossil fuels, minerals, trees, or water to generate energy, food, and other products that we consume every day. As a consequence of this consumption, we face the depletion of freshwater resources, global warming due to emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases contributing to the greenhouse effect, destruction of natural habitats, and unprocessed trash (Figure 1). These issues are described in reports released by global organizations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or the United Nations (UN). This is why sustainability has become an increasingly important topic over the last century. For a refresher on the concept of sustainability, read the background section in the Sustainability: How Our Actions Affect the Environment lesson plan.

Four photos of human impact on the environment

Four photos show the changes to the landscape and environment caused by humans. From top-left to bottom-right the photos include: a landfill, a section of forest that has been cut down, smoke being emitted from chimneys at a factory, and trash washing up on the shore of a beach.

Figure 1. Human impacts on Earth include landfills full of trash, deforestation, carbon dioxide emissions, and environmental pollution.

To mitigate or reverse the negative impacts our actions have on the environment, these issues must be resolved. A lot of research and development focuses on new technologies and solutions that help minimize our impacts on Earth's systems. For example, wind and solar energy technologies are being developed to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, electric or hybrid cars reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, industrial processes are being optimized to use resources more efficiently, and water-saving irrigation technologies are being developed for the agricultural industry. To your students, these challenges might seem overwhelming. It is helpful for them to realize that there are plenty of things every individual or community can do to contribute to positive change on a global scale. These actions are primarily about how we behave as consumers of food, energy, water, and stuff on a daily basis. These four factors have the biggest environmental impact on our planet.

In this lesson, students will use the online tool Your Plan, Your Planet, to assess their individual impact on the environment by evaluating some of their personal consumer habits in each of the above-mentioned areas. Based on their findings, they will come up with their own action plans on how to reduce their environmental impact. As they gather data on their consumption of water, food, energy, or stuff before and after putting their proposed actions into practice, they can realize their own agency and ability to effect change.

Prep Work (10 minutes)

Engage (30 minutes)

Explore (120 minutes)

Reflect (90 minutes)


Make Career Connections

Lesson Plan Variations

Free science fair projects.