This activity aims to help students start thinking about the values that lie
behind their choices as consumers when they go shopping and have to
decide which of a number of different products to buy.
When to use the activity
As an introduction to sustainability at AS level or as a revision activity at
the start of an A2 year. It can also be used as an introduction to a product
study or product analysis, especially where a comparison is required.
Who is the activity for?
This is more suitable for AS students, though worth using as a thought-provoking
activity with A2 level students in a new school year. It is better done in groups to encourage discussion.
Sustainability issues considered
Teachers can tailor this to meet their own requirements by the products they
choose to use. It is possible to consider all aspects of sustainability or it
may be easier (especially where A2 students are involved) to try to look at
environmental, economic and social issues separately.
This is an awareness raising activity as a result of which students should
become more aware of themselves as consumers whose decisions impact on lives and
livelihoods elsewhere. It is therefore helpful in thinking about fundamental
and hints on how to organise it
• In advance, buy a selection of product pairs that are relatively good or bad
from a sustainability point of view in the area you want to consider (economic,
social, environmental or general). Number each product, e.g. 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B etc.
• Place the ‘paired products’ on a table at the front of the class or at
points around the classroom where
everyone can see them.
• Ask students to imagine they are going shopping and have your chosen products
on their shopping list. Ask them to choose one item from each pair, note
their choice and write down a brief reason foe their choice (e.g.
looks better, know the brand, more reliable). Do not mention sustainability – they should make
their choices as ordinary students.
• Report back on the reasons for their choices. Write them on a board and summarise the
main criteria people use when making decisions as consumers.
• Raise the question of sustainability – is it a criterion commonly used in
decisions as consumers?
• At this stage teachers may choose either to stop the activity and return to it
when more work on sustainability has been completed or they may wish to follow
up the sustainability issue immediately.
• To continue, give the students background information about the products in
each pair and their relative sustainability.
• After the information has been handed out, ask students to consider their choices again.
Does this lead to any changes in their choices?
It is possible to run this activity effectively using almost any commonly
available product pairs to bring out issues
- Long life milk versus milkman’s local milk (brings out processing, energy use,
transport and local employment issues)
- Fair trade, organic coffee versus coffee from a large international company
(brings out fair trade, corporate social responsibility, transport and
fertiliser and pesticide issues)
- Standard mouse mat versus recycled mouse mat (brings out recycling, reuse,
packaging and product need issues)
- T-shirt made from unbleached, organic cotton and traded fairly versus t-shirt made
in a sweat shop, using artificial pesticides and bleaches (brings out fair trade,
toxic emissions and social impact issues)
However, if you want to look for more extreme items to identify specific issues
as clearly as possible, click here to
access extreme items, as suggested by Edwin Datschefski.