Guangdong, China

The Life Cycles of Food and Clothing

Students in China learn how everyday choices impact the climate and environment.

One of the keys to sustainability education—and one of its biggest challenges—is connecting simple, everyday choices with environmental impact. This is especially true in Guangdong, one of the most industrial places on the planet, known as China’s “factory to the world.”

To help primary school students understand how they can make a difference in their daily lives, ISC added two lessons to our Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) curriculum: a food education workshop, which helps students understand the life cycle of the food they eat; and a clothing campaign, which illuminates the environmental impacts of producing and buying new clothes.

The Origins of Curry

Like many 10-year-olds, the students at the Zhenneng Primary School (one of ISC's ESD pilot schools) hadn’t thought much about where their food comes from, or all that goes into producing it, packaging it, and bringing it to market. The workshop helped 40 children and their parents get up close and personal with every step.

Curry producer House Foods Production explained how their food goes from farm to grocery, and the solid waste treatment firm Daiei described what happens to the leftovers and packaging that are thrown away.

Prior to the workshop, ISC, our partners—the Learning and Ecological Activities Foundation for Children (LEAF) and Green Point Youth Environment Education Center—and the two businesses worked with teachers to help them build on the cooking class and bring more food-related education to the classroom.  

Clothing: Reduce and Reuse

A monthlong campaign at the Central and Nanmen Primary Schools encouraged 800 students to dig into how their clothing choices impact their environmental footprint.

First, the children visited a nearby fabric and textile factory to observe the clothes manufacturing process and learn about the materials, chemicals, and energy that go into it. Their teachers followed up with lessons that showed how that process impacts the environment—both locally and globally—and showed how buying just one fewer item a year could make a huge difference.

All the 4th and 5th graders then brought in at least one old piece of clothing from home to donate or reuse. The children collected some 5200 items, some of which they turned into reusable shopping bags, pillowcases and other household items. The rest were given to other local nonprofits in need of children’s clothing. Through reduction and reuse, an estimated 3.4 tons of carbon emissions were averted over the course of the campaign.

Preparing the Next Generation

The two lessons are all part of ISC’s effort to help schoolchildren in China—and by extension, their families—learn how to safeguard their environment and shrink their carbon footprints. A three-way partnership between educators in China, Japan, and the U.S. is informing a new curriculum on sustainable development that will benefit children in each country.

Most recently, our work was shared among 300 school teachers and local environmental leaders through a forum in Guangzhou held in conjunction with our partners, the South China Normal University and Green Point Youth Environment Education Center. The forum featured both international experts, such as LEAF (of Japan) and Shelburne Farms (from the United States), as well as local experts, such as professors from Beijing Normal University and Southwest China Normal University and representatives of nonprofits from all over China.

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