If you haven’t yet decided what to do for your Green Apple Day of Service project this year, consider letting your students decide! Giving students autonomy allows them to act on their passion for sustainability in their own school and measure their impact. Additionally, with the global rise in youth climate activism, empowering students to use their voice to directly influence their community can be meaningful and easy with the right resources and support.
While some students will know exactly what issue they’d like to tackle, it may be helpful to provide some example projects they can work from. Here are our three favorite project ideas for students to take the lead:
1. Lead a cafeteria waste audit and reduction campaign.
Cafeteria waste reduction is a great place to start on sustainability issues, because it’s a central location where every student spends time each day. Help students set up an audit of the school’s food waste, measure a typical day’s worth of waste and identify ways to reduce the amount being sent to the landfill. Students can work with cafeteria staff to develop a new system for the cafeteria waste flow and educate others on using the new system. After a week has passed, schedule another audit to measure landfill waste and identify the items that are sorted incorrectly. Keep the initiative up all year by setting a waste reduction goal and communicating your progress to the rest of the school.
There are many resources to get students started on a cafeteria waste project. WWF's Food Waste Warrior Toolkit is a three-part lesson for every step of a food waste audit. If your students are interested in food donation, check out our Sharing the Table: A Roadmap to Reducing and Recovering Surplus Food in Schools.
2. Advocate for green cleaning policies.
School cleaning policies have major consequences; harsh chemicals can lead to an increase in asthma incidents and absences and are often harmful to the environment. Get a team together to review current policies, research alternatives and any possible expenses, and draft new green cleaning policies to bring to leadership at the school. Once the policies are approved, educate fellow staff and students on how they can contribute to keeping their school healthy and clean.
This green cleaning project idea has all the resources and steps you’ll need to help students get started. Additionally, our School Board Advocacy Toolkit will help you take the issue up with your school’s leadership and the district for an even bigger impact.
3. Create a map of the school’s sustainability initiatives.
Does your school have bike racks, recycling bins, compost bins and other easy-to-miss items and initiatives? Your students can get their peers and school staff involved by identifying all the ways they can contribute through a school map. Educate everyone on the proper use of each and hand out the maps for easy reference. You can even assign student roles, such as student ambassador and sustainability monitor.
For inspiration, check out Northeastern University’s similar project from this year. Krissy Govertson, a Ph.D. student, worked with a mapping expert and volunteers to update campus maps with sustainable initiative markers to improve the campus’ overall sustainability. Find guidance and resources for this project.