The intersection between youth, activism and new media technologies continue to grab the attention of brands, educators and policy-makers with growing interest.  “Green” has become the new face of youth activism and millions of young people around the world are participating in environmental initiatives discovered through online portals.

Here in the United States, there’s also a growing movement connecting the natural environment to traditional school subjects including math, science, reading and writing.  As we guide our youngest generation towards environmental literacy, how much of a role should social media play (given the “brand dominant” nature of the conversations) — and is it in conflict with the social and environmental justice sought by our parents, educators and policy-makers?

On Saturday, September 25th, 2010, KooDooZ founder, Lee Fox, will moderate a free workshop entitled: “Social Justice, Social Media & Environmental Education.”  The purpose of this blog post is to offer some context for anyone interested in adding their voice to the conversation. 

 

#1: Are we on the brink of experiencing a new generational divide…
that’s green in color?
   

It should not be lost on any of us that today’s kids have been witness to the most severe environmental disaster our country has ever seen, that climate change has become a big part of our national dialogue and that the lives of millions of people, irrespective of age, geography or socioeconomic status have been directly affected by — as stated in the 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study — “the irresponsibility of big business.”

82% of kids polled by Scholastic News stated they were concerned about the BP oil spill, and 48% said they were most concerned about its effect on the animals and the Gulf ecosystems.  Kids of all ages demonstrated their commitment to the environment by joining their voices with the public’s out-cry:

  • 14-year old Lauren Spaulding who confronted BP representatives at a town hall meeting about its lack of initiative to educate children about the spill.  She pointed out that kids were “worried about the environment and their parents’ livelihoods,” and wanted to learn more about how they could help. 
  • 11-year old, Olivia Bouler, who contacted the Audubon Society looking for ways she could help fund relief for the wildlife impacted by the spill and raised $175,000 dollars.
  • 13-year old and 16-year old Toth sisters who collected dishwashing soap to be used to clean birds and animals affected by the spill.

While there’s overwhelming evidence that youth want to make a difference, it’s also apparent that our scholastic infrastructure has of yet to provide kids with the educational basis to translate their green altruism into leadership. 

Last year, a groundbreaking study revealed that U.S. students ranked 34th out of the 57 countries surveyed in both environmental science and geosciences.  Being that school is the main source of eco-education for 85% of kids (13-17 years old), isn’t it clear we need some kind of an upgrade to help support the youth values of:

  • LIVING GREEN:
    87% recycle; 84% turn off lights; 80% reduce water use; 73% user energy-efficient light bulbs
  • GREEN BRANDS: 
    76% feel it’s very important or important for brands to get involved in the green movement (though not all are willing to pay the higher prices for the luxury).

#2: If there’s a sense of collaboration and conversation, will youth turn to brands they trust to get information?

Luckily, trust is earned, never bought.  It comes from years of doing rather than saying.  Still, it’s extraordinarily important that parents, educators and policy makers understand that brands are committing larger and larger budgets to building trust, and that cause-marketing is one of the vehicles.  When youth have high trust in a brand, they use the resources the brand gives them to advocate and spread the word.

BP is going to be an interesting case-study in the years ahead.  Though their brand-value was “destroyed” by mal-handling many aspects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP does have a viable opportunity to rebuild trust by staying committed to the community’s needs and working closely with the people of the Gulf to rebuild their livelihoods and restore the environment that supports them.  BP’s best asset is that it had a name consumers once trusted.  Now is the time for BP to exhibit profound green-leadership.

It bodes well for the oil giant that in recent years it has spent heavily on green education initiatives in California.  Just last week, BP completed a 7-year project which culminated in a 13,000 page curriculum designed to update California’s Environmental  Science Education offering for its’ K-12 public schools.  The curriculum is expected to be taught to over six million pupils in some 1,000 districts.  While many people support the investment California is making in environmental education, others are questioning the practice of allowing a brand — that has paid to avoid prosecution, more than $370-million dollars in fines after admittedly breaking environmental and safety laws — to shape the curriculum intended to foster critical thinking and open-mindedness on this subject. 

#3: Will environmental literacy extend past the classroom and into our homes?

Eco-friendly behaviors are measured in a variety of ways — by people’s transportation patterns, household energy use, consumption of goods, and what’s being done to minimize the impact these activities have on the environment.  

At the surface, Americans do appear to be environmentally literate and capable of making sustainable choices.  According to the 2009 Cone Consumer Environmental Survey, 70% of Americans pay attention to what companies are doing in regard to the environment.

Sustainability has crept up the corporate agenda, now higher than ever before.  A company’s commitment to social and environmental issues has undeniable weight in the marketplace, and transparency has become a key component to building public trust and managing consumer expectations.

However, when it comes to practicing what’s preached, everyday Americans are not taking the same action-oriented approach to environmental stewardship that they demand of their brand counterparts. 

According to National Geographic’s Greendex, (a survey tracking global consumer choice in regard to the environment), U.S. consumers continually ranked last among 17 countries surveyed.  This is perhaps not all that surprising being that a Roper Report revealed 80% of American adults are environmentally illiterate.

A potential for discord exists between the next generation and the rest of us, if a higher commitment is not soon made to embrace social and environmental literacy.

#4: Is the social web, as a real-time medium, a viable tool for environmental education?

Join KooDooZ,  Green My ParentsAlliance For Climate Education, Team Marine, Real Curriculum and ReUse Connection as we explore whether or not the time is ripe with opportunity to incorporate 21st century skills in our schools to heighten relevance in the classroom.

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