Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Teaching Your Teens to Embrace a Sustainable Lifestyle

By Ryan McNeill

Besides fluctuating hormones and insatiable appetites, many teenagers share another trait: wasting energy. Today’s teens spend more time plugged in than any other generation in history. And teenagers have always been notorious for energy-wasting habits like hour-long showers and leaving the refrigerator door open.

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Teaching your teens to reduce their carbon footprint at an age where waste and excess are common is critical to shaping their environmental awareness. However, it’s important not to trigger their tendency to rebel. Here are a few basic ways to work with your teens to drastically reduce their carbon footprint, and maybe even enjoy an improved relationship with them, too!

Demonstrate a caring attitude. Perhaps the most important thing you can do to encourage teens to take care of the earth is to show that you care about them. At its deepest level, sustainability is much more than reducing carbon levels in the atmosphere. It’s about ensuring well-being for all humans, indefinitely into the future. Our teens are the future. If they don’t feel they are valued, how will they learn to value the environmental systems that sustain them?

In a recent study by the American Psychological Association, teens reported greater levels of stress than adults. Take the time to be with — and really listen to — your teen, not just when it’s convenient, but when they need you.* This may be more often than you think.

It’s also important to respect their need for sleep. Most teens don’t get enough. There is a real parallel between how we treat our bodies and how we behave toward the natural world. When their own natural cycles are respected, it’s easier for teens to understand how to behave respectfully toward others and the environment.

Take them into Nature. Another thing you can do to encourage sustainability is to foster your teenagers’ love of nature. This is the perfect age for outdoor adventuring. Take them fishing, camping or wilderness backpacking. If your teen isn’t the adventurous type, try astronomy or bird watching. If they care deeply about the natural world, they will naturally want to protect it.

Guide them in sustainable practices. Finally, here are some practical things your teens can do to reduce their carbon footprint and live more lightly on the Earth:

  • Use a laptop rather than a desktop when possible. Laptops use up to 80 percent less energy than desktops, according to Energy Star.†
  • Power down. Save maximum energy by shutting gadgets down completely when not in use. Unplug to avoid phantom loads. Also, turn off the lights on bright days or when leaving a room.
  • Dress for the weather. Set your thermostat at moderate temperatures, and encourage your teen to dress appropriately.
  • Recycle. Challenge your teens to see how little waste they can produce. They are great at coming up with creative ways to re-use and recycle just about anything!
  • Use alternative modes of transport. Don’t let your teens get in the habit of driving everywhere. When possible, tell them to bike, walk or take the bus.
  • Use filtered water. Get your teen a refillable water bottle and encourage him or her to keep track of how many plastic bottles are saved by using it.
  • Use equipment wisely. E-waste has been referred to as a “global time bomb” by Professor Ming Wong, the Director of Environmental Sciences at Hong Kong Baptist University.‡  Help your teens understand that using equipment longer is a smart move, both for the planet and their pocketbook.

Of course, telling them to do these things will only work if you do them, too. In fact, if you are doing your job right, you may soon find your teenager taking the lead in showing you how to lead a more sustainable lifestyle!


Ryan McNeill is the president of Renewable Energy Corporation and is an expert in the solar and alternative energy industry. The website is

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