M. DeLong, M.A. Casto, M. McKinney

University of Minnesota (UNITED STATES)
Sustainable best practices will become more critical to consider for inhabitants of planet earth in the future. This involves cooperation in rethinking what it means to live sustainably, defined as living within our resources today so as not to sacrifice the future quality of life of our children (McDonough & Braungart, 2002). Youth will be important in pursuing such life sustaining practices in terms of their attitudes and behaviors about the environment, economy and society. A comprehensive literature review indicates that to be effective, education for youth must create the idea that sustainability is necessary, focusing on one issue at a time, selected to relate to real life experiences of those involved. Adopting an agenda of sustainable practices must empower youth toward social action (Hayward, 2012; Sterling, 2001).

Youth ages 10-14 years who live in an urban area of Midwestern USA participated in educational interventions on sustainable best practices regarding the clothing they wear—something with which they can identify. The youth groups were involved in various interventions that included hands-on activities, experiencing and evaluating prototypes related to themes, ideating and sketching their own designs, applying the concepts of sustainability and discussing the future of sustainable design. A survey completed by the 240 participants consisted of questions about their awareness of best sustainable practices, listing what they consider to be best practices, then checking those they actually practiced, and responding on a 7-point scale to the importance of sustainability. Finally data included interviews with the six educators who facilitated the workshops.

In this presentation, we analyze the data to interpret best practices in educating youth about sustainability. Data analyzed included evaluations and the survey responses completed by the youth participants, and observations and interviews of the educators who facilitated the various hands-on exercises. One theme of the prototype designs was “up-cycling”, that is, creating something of value from discarded clothing. As the youth discovered through the prototypes that clothing need not be discarded, they felt free to plan and execute ideas for reuse. For example, many of the participants listed some transformative activities they could practice, such as dyeing or adding surface embellishments. Additionally, the process of transforming a garment into something ‘new’ fostered an emotional connection with the up-cycled object. This connection reflects a sustainable outcome, for when a garment provides accurate self-expression or has embedded significance for the owner the item has an extended life and is therefore less likely to be discarded.

Building sustainability into the practices of youth involves the interaction of many abstract and complex issues that need to be made concrete for participants. Data showed that the various workshop activities had the effect of generating a sense of agency and ownership. From comparison of the youth groups according to the types of activities they experienced we concluded: the importance of concrete hands-on activities; the need to consider the specific activities according to sustainable best practices and to the outcome of a sense of empowerment, and finally, the importance of consistency in facilitators and optimal leadership of the groups.