Sustainability. Climate change. Plastic pollution. There’s a lot going on when it comes to our planet – as today, Earth Day, reminds us. So how do we help our youth groups and churches become part of the solution? We know that the climate crisis, widespread plastic pollution, and unsustainable societies are harming our world. They’re putting our global neighbours on the front line at risk, and destroying this beautiful creation God gifted to us, so let’s take action!
Below are five of my top tips for integrating sustainability into any youth group space. Together we can all journey as individuals, young people, churches, and local communities to join with the growing global movement of eco warriors.
1. Talk about it
Earlier this month, Martin Saunders wrote a blog looking at the biggest issues we now face with youth work happening face-to-face. In this, he looked at the importance of allowing young people to talk about how the last year has impacted them, and creating a safe space for every young person. Talking is one of the biggest tools we have for not just conversations about lockdown, mental health, school, friends, or family life. Talking is also essential for understanding sustainability, and hearing from young people. We know that climate change is a huge issue which young people care about, and our research with Tearfund; Burning Down the House, highlighted that it is critical for churches to begin acting for this crisis. That’s why having a conversation about sustainability is a great starting place for your youth group!
Christian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe has said that having a conversation is one of the most important things we can do in the face of climate change. In your youth group, why not bring sustainability, plastics, and climate justice into the room to learn together. Whether you do Katharine Hayhoe’s Bible study, listen and discuss this podcast I was on with the We Are Tearfund team looking at plastic and waste, or watch the new BBC documentary with Greta Thunberg to ignite your group's interest in these issues.
2. Lead the way
Now that we are beginning to return to what we used to know as normal, we have an opportunity to think differently about what our new normal looks like. There are so many amazing activities and events we can encourage our young people to engage with to learn and act in a sustainable way. Thinking about the ways we can reduce our waste when having socials and encouraging more individual actions. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Plastic free picnic in a local park
- Hosting a clothes swap for your young people and their friends
- Planning a sustainable food banquet for when we can return to more indoor activities
Our church buildings are also very important. We have a unique opportunity as we re-enter into new rhythms to make our practice better when it comes to sustainability. Why not ask your youth group whether they are interested in leading some improvements into your church space? Could you implement a no plastic policy, getting people to bring their own mugs for tea and coffee, or get the church lunches to go meat-free? You could also go further and think about switching to renewable energy, encouraging people to walk, cycle, or bus to church, or even think about any space you have which you could use to improve local biodiversity. My church in Glasgow is saving 15,000 single-use plastic cups every year now that they encourage people to bring their own after the service, and planted a community orchard right on the church grounds, and we can’t wait until our first apple harvest!
3. Love your local area with a litter pick!
One of the best ways to love your local environment is through a litter pick. We know that it shouldn’t be down to individuals to clean up this mess, but it is something we can do to benefit our community. This is also a great time to spend reflecting on how we have treated our world, and pray about how we can live better in line with God’s plan for our world. You could join this with some time spent looking at organisations like Bin Twinning, who are helping to bring sustainable solutions to those around the world.
Take on a litter picking challenge around your community, go plogging*, or adopt the street your church sits on!
*Plogging = litter picking + jogging!
The environmental crisis we are in is huge. At times it may feel overwhelming. One thing we know is that we can always come to God with our prayers. He will listen. Praying with your youth group will be powerful in bringing this issue to the heart of your group, and aligning environmental activism with faith!
Why not get creative with your prayers? Taking your youth group out to a local green space and praying over each beautifully unique part of creation which is in your local area. Spend time admiring the beauty of our natural world which God has instructed us to care for.
5. Make it fun and challenging
If you’re looking for a fun and easy challenge to help bring sustainability into your youth group a great recommendation is trying out Shuffle: Green Edition. A small pack of cards giving you and your youth group 42 days with 42 challenges looking into the world of sustainability. This resource was built to equip and empower people of all ages to have a difference when it comes to living differently everyday.
My journey to becoming an environmental activist started with many of the tips which are in these cards. Finding plastic free alternatives, creating meals out of food waste, exploring my local outdoors and discovering fun things like upcycling. These challenges will help show how sustainability is accessible to everyone, and we can all play our part. There's also a special offer for these cards on the Youthscape Store: you can get a 10% discount on them today with the promotional code: EARTHDAY10 .
We all have an opportunity to live a little lighter on the planet, to help our world and global neighbours in the fight against the climate and waste crisis. God has called us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with him (Micah 6v8) and creation care, environmental justice, and living a little differently is doing just this. Be encouraged as you journey on with your youth group, learning together and making it fun!
Laura Young (@LessWasteLaura) is an environmental activist, passionate about intersectional climate justice issues. Based in Glasgow, Laura works for Tearfund as the COP26 Campaigns and Advocacy Coordinator alongside being an ethical influencer online under the name Less Waste Laura. Her work looks to educate, challenge, and inspire people to think more about the system in which we live, specifically speaking into Christian groups and churches as we look towards the United Nations COP26 Climate Summit which will be being held in Glasgow, November 2021. You can find out more about her work here.