Everyday Sustainability

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Who gets what, where and why?

The distribution of energy consumption is very uneven around the world, as this diagram shows.

Use the image to provoke a discussion with pupils and ask them if they are surprised by this statistic. Then, using a globe, ask them to guess places where they think people do not consume as much energy as we do in the UK - and then ask why.

It helps to model the percentages with younger children using marbles or grapes as the 'energy' and dividing them up accordingly between the class to show the unequal distribution.

Whilst there might be a clear pattern of inequality globally, there is also a pattern of inequality in the UK. Geography reminds us to examine issues at different scales.

'The Help the Aged charity estimates one in four pensioners live in fuel poverty,
which is three million people.'

- Source: BBC, 2008

NB: Fuel poverty is when households spend more than 10% of their income on fuel.

Comparing countries

Making connections between one country's needs and another's energy output is another area for geographical enquiry.

For example, it's a popular perception that rapidly modernising countries such as China are building new fossil fuelled power stations as their demand for energy increases, and that this counter balances any decreases we make. Yet, in China, the energy consumption from fossil sources per capita is less than it is in the UK. In addition, the increased demand for energy is in part due to the demand for consumer goods from western countries.

Many of the clothes and toys we buy are imported from China - every time we buy some of these goods, are we also responsible for the energy and pollution costs in manufacturing them? What does your class think?

Photo by Flickr user DerekTGreen available for use under a Creative Commons licence.


How might you explore the notion of interdependence with your pupils through the goods we buy in our everyday lives?

Can you jot down one or two key enquiry questions that you might want your pupils to respond to?

Location and access to energy

Try the following activity in class. Get pupils thinking: how would life be without electricity? Imagine a typical day at school and think what would be different if there was limited access to energy to produce electricity. Think about heating, lighting, ICT, lunch times and safety for starters. Then when you get home there is still no electricity and it gets dark at 6pm. No lights, no television - how would you feel? How would it change your everyday life? What about the rest of your family?

A follow up activity might be to watch the four minute film Practical Action Peru.


Practical Action has used micro-hydro plants to supply electricity to homes and small businesses in remote villages in the Andes. The following main points can be drawn from the video:

  • Mountain villages have no mains power
  • Micro-hydro provides electricity for homes, schools, small businesses and entertainment
  • Fewer people move to cities when there is electricity in their village

Ask pupils how having electricity in this village has made a difference to the people who live there. Pupils could imagine how they might feel after the changes brought about by the increased access to energy.

You might want draw out some of the social, (how has it changed the way people work and play together?) environmental (how has this affected the environment and it is in good or bad ways?) and financial benefits (how has it affected the ways in which people earn a living?). These three dimensions work together and underpin sustainability.


How might you explore thinking about the role of energy with your class? If you were to follow some of the ideas suggested in 'a life without access to energy' how would pupils present their ideas and feelings? E.G. through drama? Newspaper reports? Diaries? Letters?

Which aspects of geography would you want to emphasise? What other subjects might link to this topic?

Fuel in rural areas

Rural areas in distant localities often have no access to a national electricity scheme but rely on either fossil fuel powered means for heat and light such as kerosene or diesel generators, and wood powered stoves for cooking.

As well as contributing to increased carbon dioxide; such systems are unhealthy for the inhabitants e.g. increased respiratory illnesses for women and children through exposure to wood smoke in cooking areas and because of the increased fire risk to property.

There are also negative effects for the environment where there is a heavy dependency on wood as deforestation often occurs.

New technologies such as wind, solar, hydro and biogas are starting to change the lives of small communities in remote areas by providing solutions that are cheaper, cleaner and better for the environment.

The Ashen Awards website has many short films from around the world which are updated yearly and provide unique snapshots of different lives and sustainable solutions. Two suggested follow up films might be:

Walking On Water

In the plains of Uttar Pradesh - and in similar terrain across parts of eastern India - many farmers rely principally on a single monsoon crop, typically wheat or maize. This limits their income and forces many to work as urban labourers for part of the year, sometimes 'seasonally migrating' with their whole families for six months or more to cities such as Lucknow, so disrupting the children's education.

Those that can afford it have used diesel powered pumps to raise water for irrigation thereby improving their crop production. However, the introduction of a cheap treadle pump that can be powered easily by children and older people alike through 'walking on water' has meant that two or even three crops can be grown in a year instead of one. This has improved quality of life, increased financial rewards for the farmer and, unlike diesel powered pumps, does not give off any carbon dioxide so it is good for the environment.

This project is an excellent example of sustainable development as it tackles environmental, social and economic needs.

Shaanxi Mothers

Led by one determined woman, Wang Mingying, the Shaanxi Mothers have overseen the installation of almost 1,300 biogas systems in farming households across the province. The main source of the gas is waste from humans and household pigs. By replacing wood as a cooking fuel, it is saving families time and money, as well as contributing to China's reforestation efforts. It is also having an impact on the health of families exposed to the smoke from cooking using wood.  

These films are concerned with sustainable living and quality of life. Download a copy of the Unicef Rights for Every Child Charter for more information.


Read the short booklet about the Rights of the Child. Which sections do you think relate to this kind of work about energy access and quality of life?


How has learning about access to energy and its use in other communities impacted on pupils' learning?

  • How did you manage to portray other cultures positively and show that we can learn from what they do (for example the community in Peru)?
  • How well did pupils appreciate and begin to understand the link between location and energy access and the levers that enabled this to happen?
  • What are the impacts on energy use in your own school and how has it changed pupils' thinking? If it has, what was it about the process or the type of content offered that enabled this to develop?


Ashden Award films - many more films about winners of the Ashden Awards.

BBC News - 'Million more suffer fuel poverty' (02.10.08)

UNICEF - global organisation focusing on children's rights

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