Improve: Eco-friendly Communities

Use this lesson to help students think critically about improving the environment at the local level.

Objective: Students will create an environmental profile of their hometown, and then research ways to make their community more sustainable.

Time Required: 1 hour, plus research and writing time

Materials: Sustainability Scorecard student reproducible, photocopied maps of your city or town (optional), a pen or pencil, access to the Internet or a library

Warm-up Discussion: Understanding Sustainability
Ask: What do you think it means for something to be sustainable?
2. Explain that when activities or things are sustainable they allow people and nature to coexist in harmony. This idea ensures that people continue to have the natural resources necessary to live healthy, productive lives, while protecting the environment at the same time.
3. Have students consider how their daily actions could be done in a more sustainable way. Use the following prompt to launch a classroom discussion:

You eat lunch every day, which creates trash. But that waste doesn’t have to end up in an overflowing landfill. You can make lunchtime more sustainable by recycling leftover paper, plastic, and cans, composting food scraps, choosing not to use disposable utensils or trays, and packing your lunch in a reusable container.
4. Call on students to give their own examples of behaviors they engage in every day—for example, using the Internet or riding in a car. Then, where possible, have them examine how each activity could be made more sustainable.


Main Lesson: Growing Greener Cities

1. Help students extend the idea of sustainability beyond their personal actions to those of their community as a whole by asking:
  • What types of changes could be made to your community to make it more sustainable?
  • How could you get people involved in making these changes?
  • How might improving the environment benefit the lives, health, and interactions of people within your community?
2. People living in metropolitan regions around the globe have already taken great strides to reduce their environmental footprint—a measure of human demands on nature as people consume Earth’s resources and generate waste. Various organizations or government agencies in these “eco-cities” have made changes that make it more affordable for residents to reduce their energy use, to help cut down on pollution, and create a greener landscape. These changes also improve the quality of life for local citizens.
3. Have students investigate the following eco-cities’ green initiatives, and mention that you’ll open up a classroom discussion to encourage reflection on what the students find out: 4. Making sustainable changes on a community-wide scale requires a lot of planning and cooperation among residents, businesses, and the local government. Ask:
    • What efforts might have been required for eco-cities to put their sustainable plan into action?
    • How might different groups have had to work together to make these projects a success?
    • Could these improvements be applied to any city or are they specific to one location?

    Wrap-up Activity: Using the Student Reproducible
    Divide students into groups and give each group a Sustainability Scorecard reproducible. It might also help to distribute a photocopied map of your city or town.
    2. Tell the groups that they’ll be using the reproducible to research and collect data in order to create an environmental profile of their community. The profile will assess their city or town’s level of sustainability in several key environmental areas. Students will need access to the library or Internet for this portion of the activity.
    3. Once students have identified and assessed their communities’ environmental strong points and/or shortcomings, they’ll do one of the following, depending on how well their city or town scored:

    Low Total Score:Students will choose an environmental area they’d most like to see improved in their community and recommend possible solutions. After choosing one of their ideas, they’ll write an argumentative essay to explain why they think this particular solution would be beneficial from a sustainability standpoint. Students should:

    • Use the information on eco-cities from the main lesson for inspiration in order to find sustainable solutions for their community.
    • Understand that environmental areas might overlap (for example, transportation and air quality), and that they should discuss these connections in their essays.
    • Students should take into consideration accessibility of economic resources for sustainability projects in their city/town.

    High Total Score:If students live in a city or town that already has good green practices, they’ll write an argumentative essay that defends their community’s sustainable philosophy. They should discuss what elements enabled their city or town to become a green leader. Students should take into consideration how their city or town was able to reduce its broader footprint as it relates to accessibility of economic resources for sustainability projects.

    4. Before students complete the writing portion of the assignment, direct their attention to the “Writing Tips” box.

    • What is the purpose of an argumentative essay?
    • How should claims be supported in your essay?
    Stress that:
    • Essays should be logical and organized so that your reasoning is clear.
    • When addressing opposing views in your essay, consider any unintended consequences of a sustainable solution in your community. How realistic or practical are/were these solutions in the long run?

    5. As a homework assignment or for extra credit, have students use their essays to help them draft a letter to a local or state official to encourage them to implement their solutions in their community or other nearby cities.

    Take It Further (optional)
    After completing this lesson, your class already has a jump start on addressing a specific environmental concern facing their local community. All they need to do now is create and implement an action plan in order to enter one of their ideas into the Lexus Eco Challenge! For eligible teams, $500,000 in scholarships and grants for students, teachers, and schools awaits.

    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 each team to research its topic. 
    3. Develop an Action Plan:Instruct each team of 5–10 students 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:Teachers will enter the team’s entry 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.

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