by Celie Manuel

Berlin - Worldwatch Institute Europe launched its new report “From Consumer Kids to Sustainable Childhood” on 15th November 2012 at a symposium event co-hosted by Worldwatch Institute partners Ecologic Institute and Germanwatch.

Felix Finkbeiner, the boy who, when he was 9 years old, founded the organisation ‘Plant for the Planet’ initiated the symposium via a video message. He spoke of sustainability quoting the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois Confederacy which states that with every decision we take, we must consider its impact on the next seven generations. Since 2007, his own organisation has involved over 100 000 children in 100 countries in planting trees with an aim to creating CO2 balance globally. He was followed by the girls Luciana and Lillian – Plant for the Planet ambassadors - who spoke about their goal of ‘putting carbon into the museum’ and encouraged the audience to ‘Stop Talking – Start Planting’! Currently, over 12 billion trees have been planted through the Plant for the Planet Initiative.

Worldwatch senior researcher Trine S. Jensen then presented the report “From Consumer Kids to Sustainable Childhood”. The report examines how children can grow up to become guardians of sustainable living rather than merely consumers. It is based on primary and secondary research conducted by Worldwatch Institute Europe and looks into the mechanisms underlying consumerism in childhood and links them to family lifestyles and childhood development. The report includes interviews with families across Europe and presents visions for a sustainable childhood.

Andreas Krämer, the director of Ecologic Institute, and Robert Engelman, director of Worldwatch Institute continued the presentations speaking about supportive environments for sustainable action and childhood in western societies respectively. Both interesting presentations discussed what shapes our choices, transformative potentials, and the interconnectedness of sustainable childhood with sustainable adulthood.

After the presentations, the audience split into groups to share insights, experiences and ideas about (1) Family lifestyles and media use, (2) Education for sustainable living and (3) Consumption and marketing in children’s upbringing. The three workshops involved lively conversation.

The family lifestyles group talked about how societal norms dictate our use of time, about work-life balance, values, and the need to learn to participate in society rather than learning how to consume. For instance, instead of military service, societies could introduce civil service where youth learn to steer society in a more sustainable direction.

In the education for sustainable living group, there was agreement that current mainstream school systems are not developing in a way that aids child learning and development through narrow curriculums. Rather, schools could promote self-steered knowledge development and critical thinking. Sustainability could play a much larger part of existing curriculums, for instance in the form of project weeks dedicated to sustainability exploration through practical learning approaches.

The group focusing on marketing and consumption had an engaged discussion about the possibilities and drawbacks related to advertising in the context of children’s development. One of the challenges the group identified was that of parents ‘giving in’ to children’s demands. An idea was to focus more on empowering parents – perhaps through a kind of toolbox for use in situations where rational thinking is not necessarily at its height, such as when tired parents return home after a long day at home and decide to use the television as babysitter. It’s not information that is missing when parents make decisions that are not necessarily conduce to positive child development, but rather viable alternatives.

In conclusion, all workshops identified a need for cultural change within the different aspects of society they discussed. As someone remarked: “There are no sustainable products, only lifestyles.”

Watch the video message from Felix Finkbeiner:

See the full programme for the symposium here.

Below are the various presentations that were given:

Berlin presentation Trine Jensen.pptx628.46 KB
Berlin presentation Sara Trier.pdf998.37 KB
Berlin presentation R Andreas Kraemer.pdf627.56 KB