Innovations: Environmental Innovations

Use this lesson to introduce how innovations can help bring about environmental changes. 

Objective: Students will build on what they've learned about environmental innovations to explore careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Time Required: 40 minutes, plus research and presentation time

Materials: A Career in STEM worksheet, pen or pencil, access to Internet

Warm-up Discussion: Dealing with Environmental Issues
Pose this question to your class: How do people go about finding solutions to environmental problems? Where do they begin?
2. Ask: What are some general ways to deal with environmental issues? Explain that there are three main tactics:

  • Help outlaw inflicting harm upon endangered species (i.e., contact local government officials, etc., with ideas/suggestions for legislation to protect endangered species).
  • Repair something that has been damaged (i.e., clean up trash from beaches).
  • Find a new and improved way to do something (i.e., drive an electric car versus a gas-fueled vehicle to reduce air pollution).
3. Tackling many environmental problems involves a combination of these solutions. Ask students to think of a way all three could be used to deal with the problem of deforestation (i.e., make it illegal to log trees to protect those that remain; plant new seedlings to regrow the forest; find an alternative to wood as a building material, so there’s less need to cut down trees in the future).

Main Lesson: Environmental Innovations
Explain that many times fixing an environmental problem requires a new and creative innovation—a method, idea, or invention that fills a need or improves people's lives.
2. Share the following examples of environmental innovations with your class. Display the websites using a computer and projector or interactive whiteboard:

3. Engage students in a classroom discussion about the innovations by asking:
  • Would some of the ideas be harder to put into action than others? Why?
  • Describe some of the inventors' thought processes. How did they come up with their ideas? What do you think is the key to creating a useful environmental innovation?

Wrap-up Activity: Using the Student Worksheet
Many environmental innovations have a technological component, even urban farming and bike shares. Technology is one of the basic building blocks of STEM. Ask: Has anyone heard of this acronym before? What does it stand for? (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.)
2. Explain that there are many types of careers in STEM fields. Ask: Can you name some types of STEM professionals?
3. Distribute copies of the A Career in STEM worksheet to each student. Have students use the resources listed to investigate a STEM career that piques their interests. Note: They'll need access to the Internet. Then have students create an informational and inspirational TED-style talk (the Sapling Foundation's Technology Entertainment Design conferences) about their chosen career and its societal importance. For their talk to be most effective, provide the following tips:

  • Connect with your audience by including personal stories about people who work in this field and why this career would be a good fit for you.
  • Share facts about your chosen career that are surprising or interesting.
  • Use different forms of media, like videos, audio, and graphics, to help drive your points home and keep the audience interested.
  • End your talk with a question-and-answer session.
4. The activity shows students the wide variety of careers in fields they may not have considered strictly STEM. Further challenge their ideas by asking: Can you think of a career outside of science, technology, engineering, and math that still requires STEM skills? For example, fashion designers need good math skills to be able to measure patterns and size clothing, as well as run a successful business. They also need to be able to use technology to draw and share their designs.

Take It Further (optional)
Encourage students to be innovative by entering the Lexus Eco Challenge! With your help, student teams create and implement an Action Plan to help solve an environmental issue. Their creativity could earn them a chance to win prizes totaling up to $500,000 in scholarships and grants!

Here's how it works:

  1. Choose a Challenge: Student teams and their teacher advisor should go to and choose a Challenge to enter: Land & Water, Air & Climate, or both! Then select one of the topics provided to address.
  2. Research Your Topic: Provide class time for teams to research their topics. 
  3. Develop an Action Plan: Instruct each team to create an original Action Plan describing how they can help solve their selected environmental issue. 
  4. Put Your Ideas Into Action: Teachers will guide teams to implement their Action Plans in their community. Remind students to keep track of the process, including successes and challenges.
  5. Submit Your Entry: Enter online at by having students submit a PowerPoint presentation or by using the online tool! Visit the site for complete entry details and official rules.

This lesson supports the following Common Core skills:
Speaking & Listening

  • Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions
  • Present information, findings, and supporting evidence 
  • Make strategic use of digital media in presentations

Next Generation Science Standards
Earth and Human Activity
Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.
Engineering Design
Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
Crosscutting Concepts: Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology on Society and the Natural World
New technologies can have deep impacts on society and the environment, including some that were not anticipated.


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