Generation Z—the generation currently working its way through high school, college, and into the workplace—has made sustainability a priority like perhaps no other generation before it. As a May 2021 Pew Research Center survey found, Gen Zers are talking more about the need for action on climate change and doing more to get involved with the issue than any other generation. This group also carries much anxiety about climate change and its impact on their future. Those Gen Zers surveyed by Pew Research reported feeling angry that more isn’t being done to reduce the impact of climate change.
Sustainability education can help ease this anxiety by providing members of Gen Z (and all preceding generations ready to make change) guidance on steps they can take to help drive global sustainability improvements. While education can take many forms, it is particularly critical for the young generation ready to carry a passion for sustainability into the workplace and deeper into their communities. Given that individuals aged 24 years and younger today account for nearly 40 percent of the entire global population, sustainability education can serve as a powerful tool for helping today’s youth drive needed reductions in global warming.
Why sustainability education is important
While the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration’s (NOAA) 2020 Annual Climate Report found that the combined land and ocean temperature has increased an average rate of 0.13°C (0.23°F) per decade since 1910; however, the average rate of increase is a little more than twice as great (+0.29°C / +0.52°F per decade) since 1981. The total rise is now 1.1°C according to the latest IPCC report. The impact is being felt more keenly today, with extreme weather events ranging from droughts to hurricanes becoming more intense and more frequent as a direct result of global warming.
There is still an opportunity to turn this around. A United Nations special report on the impacts of global warming says the planet can avoid the most dire impacts of climate change by limiting warming to no more than 1.5°C (2.7°F). Making this change is possible, with the commitment of governments and business—and individuals.
As UNESCO notes, education for sustainable development empowers “learners to take informed decisions and responsible actions.” With broader and more far-reaching sustainability education, individuals begin to recognize the importance of even small actions. They also begin to develop a mindset that encourages continuous searching for sustainability opportunities.
For example, many people don’t recognize the impact of their personal food waste on global warming. Every day, Americans waste approximately 400 g (one pound) of food per person. In 2017, this was equivalent to roughly 37 billion kg (81.4 billion lb) of food waste in the U.S., or roughly 30% to 40% of the U.S. food supply. The majority of that food waste is sent to landfills, where it degrades through an anaerobic (lacking oxygen) process that produces methane gas. Although methane drives only about 25% of today’s global warming, it is 87 times worse for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over its first 20 years. This means that cutting methane emissions can drive significant and immediate reductions in global warming. Better still, cutting these emissions can be as simple as community composting.
How education supports sustainability in communities
Making more of the small changes that add up begins with awareness and education. Coupled with the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit for which Gen Z is known, and programs like PilotCity—the education technology startup empowering students to shape the future of their communities and cities—make a strong case for driving the local change that can have a global impact.
Through its support of PilotCity, Power Knot is committed to helping students turn sustainability education into action. Power Knot, the market leader for onsite organic waste management solutions, is among 32 employers participating in the program that encourages students to build projects to win internships, jobs, and fellowships. As a partner in this program, Power Knot is encouraging students to take the first step in gaining technical knowledge in the workplace and further a career in sustainability.
Iain Milnes, Power Knot founder and president, explains on the PilotCity Employer Podcast that students can start to gain this knowledge by focusing on their schools. An analysis of food waste in schools, for example, can help create a benchmark by which impactful improvements can be measured. Milnes encourages students to ask questions, such as, “How much waste is generated every day? Where does that waste go? What does it contribute to global warming? If they put a biodigester onsite, what would the carbon footprint of the school be? Based on the price of the biodigester, does it make economic sense to do so? … And if it doesn’t make financial sense, how do you convince the establishment to do something different?”
For PilotCity participants, asking these questions is the first step to winning a potential internship. However, these simple questions are also the first step to discovering how to drive sustainability action into the workplace and into communities. When students build the habit of looking for opportunities to improve employers, and communities, win.
To learn more about how students can gain sustainability insight and work with Power Knot on a PilotCity internship, contact Power Knot today.