EarthTalk: Environmental Clubs at School

Dear EarthTalk: We just started an environmental club at our high school. What issues and activities do you recommend we get involved with to make the most difference? — Kurt Perry, Cedar Park, TX

Participating in an environmental club is an excellent way for high school students to learn about environmental issues while providing measurable benefit to their community. Given their local focus, most clubs focus on issues close to home. Many undertake hands-on activities like cleaning up local riverbanks and beaches strewn with litter, restoring degraded wildlife habitat and planting and managing a community organic garden. Other worthy ideas include starting a recycling program (or setting up a compost bin) on school grounds, involving the school or community in measuring and lowering their “carbon footprint,” organizing energy- and emissions-saving carpools for students who drive, and asking school officials to print all documents double-sided (to save paper).

Another way for an environmental club to get involved is to offer assistance to a local green group already working on a project, be it an effort to preserve a threatened parcel of open space, promote bus ridership, get a wind turbine installed in town or pressure a local polluter to clean up its act. Polling club members on what issues matter most to them is a good way to get started on picking projects and activities.

Several national nonprofits also help environmental clubs find focus areas and accomplish their goals. One of the leaders is EarthTeam, formed in 2000 with the mission of “creating a new generation of environmental leaders” by introducing teens to inspiring environmental experiences. The group’s website offers up extensive resources for starting an environmental club, finding resources and getting going on various environmental projects. The group also helps facilitate collaboration among clubs.

Some popular events among EarthTeam clubs include tree plantings, river and beach clean-ups, visits to local wetlands and nature preserves, and holding environmental awareness days at schools. Movie nights are also popular. Showing a relevant environmental documentary on the big screen in a school auditorium or some other venue is a sure way to get a larger membership base and stir up student interest. Some recent releases that might stimulate discussion and ideas include: The Cost of Cool, an in-depth look at the environmental consequences of excessive consumerism, hosted by former Baywatch star Alexandra Paul; A Crude Awakening, about the impact of global oil dependency; and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

Another great resource is Earth Tomorrow, a national network of high school environmental clubs administered by the National Wildlife Federation. Through the network, clubs gain access to a wide range of resources on which they can base projects. Examples include the Schoolyard Habitats How-to Guide, which walks high schoolers through the steps involved in enhancing wildlife habitat and ecological health on school grounds, and the Science and Civics program, which shows students how to use science, economics, the law and politics to address a local conservation issue and implement an action plan. Beyond these pre-packaged resources, Earth Tomorrow members can tap each other for project ideas, help and general guidance to help make their club experience as productive and rewarding as possible.

CONTACTS: EarthTeam,; Earth Tomorrow,

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