Teaching children about their environmental footprints

Blog Post by Hannah Williams 30 April 2015

Footprints – we make them everywhere we go, but unlike the marks left in mud or sand which we can see, environmental footprints are invisible, despite the impact they have.

An easy way to get children thinking about the environment is to show them how the choices they make and the things they do every day affect the planet. You can do this by getting them to calculate the size of their environmental footprint.

What is an environmental footprint?

An environmental footprint is the amount of the environment needed to produce the goods and services necessary to support a particular lifestyle.

As humans we depend on the Earth. The Earth provides us with food, air, water and energy. All our actions – eating, drinking driving, switching the light on, and buying clothes have an impact on the earth; we use a part of nature. An environmental footprint is a way to describe the human impact on the earth - the imprint that we leave when we use nature.

The WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) have created an environmental footprint calculator that asks easy-to –answer questions and takes less than five minutes. Depending on the child’s age it may be advisable for an adult to take them through the questions.

Once they have measured their footprint by answering the questions they will get an answer in number of planets, for example 2.76 planets. This is how many planets are needed if everyone in the world consumed resources at this level. Using this example, we would need nearly three planets.

Top tips

The calculator will give some tips and how to reduce footprints. Some actions suitable for children you could suggest are:

  • When you are finished watching TV, updating Facebook on your tablet or playing a video game, turn them off.
  • Don’t leave the tap running when you are brushing your teeth.
  • Try to drink tap water rather than buying bottles of water.
  • Make sure you recycle as much waste as you can – paper, glass, cans, plastic.
  • Be a drip detective – report water leaks to an adult so they can be repaired.
  • Decide what you want before opening the fridge so it doesn’t stand open longer than needed.
  • Turn off lights when leaving a room.

To teach children more about environmental footprints, a classroom activity could be to get the children to write solutions to the following categories:

How do we reduce our footprint?












You can view WWF’s environmental footprint calculator here. Ask the children what are they going to do differently when they go home, or even in the classroom? A good way to encourage children to take on board the tips is to suggest they recalculate their footprints once they have changed some habits.

Climate change, footprints, emissions, green house gases, o-zone layer, it’s no wonder children can get confused when it comes to the environment. They're the next generation who will live on the planet inherited from us, so the more we can help them understand their impact the better.


How to calculate your organisational carbon footprint. A step-by-step guide, that will show you what data you'll need and what you need to do with it.


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