Tis the season to be sustainable

Few could fail to have been moved by the extraordinary speech made by teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg at the United Nations Summit in Katowice, Poland earlier this month.

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This impressive 15 year old has made international headlines since launching a school strike in her native Sweden a few months ago to demand more radical action from politicians to stop global warming, showing a level of maturity and clarity of thought far beyond her years.

Messaging to and by children (some more subtle than others) on the impact of climate change has become more prominent, also making its way into mainstream advertising this season.

In the battle of the Christmas TV ads, the UK supermarket giants go head to head every year to create emotive and entertaining commercials. This year, however, the ad for one food retail chain Iceland Foods, didn’t even make it to air before being banned, leading to enormous publicity. Rang-Tan tells the story of palm oil cultivation and its devastating impact on local communities and endangered species through the eyes of a young child who finds an uninvited orangutan in her room.

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Iceland used the ad to promote its new “No Palm Oil” range of private label products. But as it was created by Greenpeace it was deemed overly political and was not approved for broadcast. The ad was subsequently uploaded to the Iceland YouTube channel where it generated 3.7M views within the first 3 days of being released.

As part of Iceland’s Choose a Christmas without Palm Oil campaign, a lost and lonely, ultra-realistic animatronic orangutan also took to the streets of London in search of a new home.

Result – a great campaign with an extremely important message.

My own two primary age sons have been learning about climate change in the past few weeks, specifically the impact of pollution. My older son’s class learned about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – an enormous collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean.

He lists out hard-to-believe facts. It’s three times the size of France. The rubbish spins around in perpetuity. And the inevitable question follows that’s very hard to answer “why does so much litter end up in the ocean”?

About 80% of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch actually comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia. It accumulates because much of it is not biodegradable.

Similarly my 6 year old was told a story in his class about a whale that died after ingesting plastic. Plastics, he learned, do not wear down; they simply break into tinier and tinier pieces.

Clearly changed behaviours and attitudes come with education and, for children (and indeed their parents), it also has to be fun. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Iceland ad struck such a chord.

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The good news is that children are receptive to new information. There are some great resources online including Ecowatch’s guide here on activities to help children understand abstract environmental concepts.

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