Kids Web Japan

Looking After the Earth Together: What We Can Do Right Now to Help the Environment

Children and a globe

Our desire to own lots and lots of things has led to a problem: the Earth's environment is becoming polluted. Because of this, people have been paying more and more attention to the environment recently. For example, the United Nations has adopted what are called the "Sustainable Development Goals" (SDGs). These goals aim to create a better world where we can live sustainably (meaning we interact responsibly with our environment to avoid running out of natural resources and allow for long-term environmental well-being) by the year 2030. Across Japan, environmentally conscious and eco-friendly activities are taking root in schools and homes. Here, we'll introduce the things Japan is doing to help the environment, including the actions people are taking at home and at school.

Eco-Friendly Activities in Daily Life

Eco-friendly activities are things you can do to protect the environment while being considerate of nature in your daily life. Did you know that you can look after the environment just by being thoughtful and taking little actions every day? Some common ways of saving electricity are taking care to turn off the lights in rooms when nobody is using them, and not leaving the TV switched on. In Japan, there are some other ways, too: "living walls" and uchimizu, for example.
Living walls are walls or windows that are covered with climbing plants like ivy morning glories or bitter melon plants. They block out the strong summer sunlight and help keep the indoor temperature down. This saves electricity because it means you need to use less air conditioning. Uchimizu is another way of keeping out the summer heat — it's a little bit of wisdom that has been used in Japan since ancient times. It involves sprinkling water on the road and yard in front of your home on hot summer days. When the water evaporates, it uses up heat from its surroundings. This lowers the temperature of the surrounding air, leaving it nice and cool.

This living wall is made from climbing plants that have twined themselves around nets hung in front of the windows, and it acts as a sunshade. Uchimizu works best when done in the morning and the evening, rather than in the middle of the day when it's hottest.

You can also be eco-friendly when you go shopping. One eco-friendly action is choosing to buy products marked with an environmental label, which gives buyers environmental information about the product. And you might already know this by now, but you can cut down on waste by using a re-usable bag instead of taking a plastic bag at the checkout, by making sure not to buy more groceries than you need, and by eating up all the food on your plate. This cuts down on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted when garbage is burned, helping to prevent global warming.

Left: The eco mark, an environmental label that can be found on certain products in Japan, is an environmental label that indicates products that only have a small burden on the environment throughout their whole lifecycle, including everything from getting the raw materials, to finally disposing of the product. (Image provided by Niigata Prefectural Tourist Association)
Right: A Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-label — you'll only find this on natural marine products that have been caught by fisheries using sustainable methods that are mindful of the environment. (Image provided by Marine Stewardship Council)

It's very common nowadays to take your own bag when you go shopping.

Helping the Environment at School

Japanese schools are making lots of efforts in environmental education. Students in the lower grades of elementary school take part in activities like growing ivy morning glory flowers and observing dragonfly nymphs (the young stage of a dragonfly) and medaka fish. This helps to get the students interested in the nature and ecosystems that surround them. When they get to the upper grades, they learn about these things in more detail in lessons on science, society and more. The students also go on educational field trips: they might visit a water quality testing facility to learn about the water cycle, or a waste incineration plant to learn how garbage is used. In recent years, the students also go to exhibitions where companies introduce new products and services that are considerate of the environment. There, the students go round the booths and learn about what's being done to meet the SDGs.

When the school swimming pool is drained, the students rescue the dragonfly nymphs that are growing in the water, and they look after them and observe them in the classroom. The picture on the right shows the rescued dragonfly nymphs. (Image provided by Tokyo Toshima City Environmental Policy Section)

An excursion to look at nature — integrated learning led by an external teacher. (Image provided by Shibata Yoshihide)

Students look around the booths at an exhibition introducing environmentally conscious products and services. (Image provided by Vinyl Environmental Council)


Learning about the Environment in All Sorts of Ways

Books about the environment are also popular. Huge numbers of them are being published, from picture books for young children to books explaining SDGs for middle- and high-school students. These motivate children to get thinking about environmental problems.

Looking at how the problems affecting Earth just now are connected to the way we live, in "Let's Think about the World with Mottainai Grandma" by Shinju Mariko, published by Kodansha. "SDGs for Teens: What We Can Do Right Now" by Hara Sachiko, published by Otsuki Shoten. (Images provided by Kodansha and Otsuki Shoten)

There are also local eco-friendly activities taking place. In a twist on the traditional Japanese card game karuta, students at Takezono High School in Ibaraki Prefecture came up with a deck of English-language "SDG karuta" cards that can be used to learn English while studying environmental issues. They gave the cards out to local elementary schools. The cards are designed featuring local places and products and expressed with easy English words and phrases so that elementary school students can understand and have fun learning about SDGs

The karuta cards show information about the 17 SDG goals, and each card starts with one of the 26 letters of the English alphabet, from A to Z. (Image provided by Takezono high School, Ibaraki Prefecture)

Non-profit organizations (NPOs) and businesses also support children in eco-friendly activities like river surveys and clean-up activities. This is part of their efforts to fulfill their corporate social responsibility (CSR), which is where organizations take responsibility for society by taking care of the environment.

Nowadays, environmental problems are a hot topic all over the world, and students in Japan are getting active in eco-friendly activities. They are finding out about the issues facing the Earth where we live, thinking about what they can do about these problems, and taking action.