How Mindsets About Sustainability Have Changed 

by Bria Zegarelli


March 30, 2024

In the last few years or so, I have definitely noticed a shift in how people talk about sustainability. However, there are also differences in how the education system teaches children about sustainability from when they are younger to when they are older. 

As for the first type of shift, I think people used to view sustainability as just a helpful thing to do in order to aid the environment and to maintain the nature around us. However, it has now turned into a dire necessity, and people seem to be a lot more urgent about the topic. There has always been urgency for action due to the patterns of how climate change is progressing, but in the past few years, at least from my perspective, the average person — or the average person from my generation — is a lot more aware and involved in trying to be sustainable. 

I’ve also noticed a similar shift in how kids of different ages are taught about sustainability. When I was younger, sustainability was just about “helping the Earth” and had a lighthearted tone. Now when I am in school, it is talked about in a more grave way. The word “sustainability” was never even really used in class when I was younger. I’m not sure if that was due to our age or just the time period, but when I was in elementary school, the way we were taught about sustainability was a very nature-based approach, or, in other words, “being nice to nature.” Overall, we were learning more about nature itself as well as other simple ways to help, such as not leaving lights on or not leaving water running. 

In middle school, teachers started introducing ideas less about nature but more about sustainability itself. This was around the time when we started talking about conserving energy and water as well as carpooling and recycling. I remember having to do an entire presentation about sustainability in sixth grade, which was the first time I remember focusing on sustainability and not just nature itself. However, we were still just learning about the basics. 

High school was when I started learning more and more about environmental damage such as global warming and carbon emissions. I was starting to hear more about the types of detriment that humans have been adding to the environment, and students were beginning to be more thoroughly informed about the long-term effects. I also was hearing a lot about how reversing this needs to be a large-scale effort, and politics were tied into this as well. I especially hear more about the political side and current events now that I’m in college. Thrifting clothes and avoiding fast fashion have also been a lot more prevalent over the past few years, especially with Gen Z. 

What’s nice about being in college is that people take these important conversations outside of the classroom. These types of discussions are not only brought into casual settings, but also people are truly happy to talk about them because they genuinely care about what is going on. Hopefully, this attitude will become even more widespread, and maybe children can be taught more about sustainability from an earlier age. The fact that so many more people are aware of what is happening with environmental damage now shows that this issue is becoming more prevalent and needs extra attention — especially to make up for the lack thereof in the past. 


Bria Zegarelli is a regular contributor to The Green Voice.