This section is intended to provide a range of activities to introduce ideas of sustainability to students. They are based on activities used in training days.
All activities are in the same format, indicating how and when they can be used. Teachers are likely to be more familiar with some activities than others. We suggest you use those with which you feel comfortable.

The activities will give an insight into how our decisions as consumers impact on the lives of other people, both now and in the future. They will help students understand how our lifestyles may be unsustainable - and how they may be making life more difficult for other people elsewhere. They will also encourage students to think about future generations - will our current lifestyles mean that people in the future will not be able to enjoy the same way of life because we are using up too many resources?

They will also encourage students to think about their approach as designers and makers. Some argue that consumers consume what producers produce and that producers produce what designers design. It may not be as simple as that, but certainly designers must take some responsibility for whether or not we have a sustainable future.

"Design and technology prepares pupils to participate in tomorrow's rapidly changing technologies. They learn to think and intervene creatively to improve quality of life. The subject calls for pupils to become autonomous and creative problem solvers, as individuals and members of a team. They must look for needs, wants and opportunities and respond to them by developing a range of ideas and making products and systems. They combine practical skills with an understanding of aesthetics, social and environmental issues, function and industrial practices. As they do so, they reflect on and evaluate present and past design and technology, its uses and effects. Through design and technology, all pupils can become discriminating and informed users of products, and become innovators."      ( National Curriculum for England)


To help the students to get a perspective on sustainable development.

Fine for both.

Suitable for use at the very beginning of the work but could be used later, possibly when students understand the links between their choices and problems like pollution and malnutrition.

Groups - it works best through discussion between students.

Any and all.

It will help their understanding of sustainable development and of the role of environmental, social and economic issues.

• Print out the list of words provided on thin card (preferable recycled and enough for each group to have one list). Cut them up (or get them to do it).
• Provide them with a sheet of blank card so that they can add their own ideas. The given list is deliberately not comprehensive.
• Ask students to brainstorm what’s wrong with the world, what they think the really big problems in the world are, the things that they would like to change if they had three wishes. Using the “three wishes” always seems to work. Point out that it is issues resulting from human behaviour that we are looking at - not natural disasters.
• Divide them into small groups (3-5 in a group) and give them the words and blank card. Tell them to put these issues into an order of priority, using the blank card to add others that they feel are important.
• Decide whether you want students to put them into a particular form (e.g. a linear list or a diamond or pyramid shape) or one they choose themselves. A particular form puts a lot of pressure on people to discuss things in depth. It puts them in the position of making difficult choices, particularly if they have to put one issue as the most significant one.
• Give them a time limit for this discussion (10 minutes) but then be flexible about stopping them. If every group is absorbed in an interesting discussion at the end of 10 minutes let them carry on.
• Get each group to feed back their conclusions and the reasons for them at the end.
• There are no right or wrong answers to this but there are points to consider about problems that are local and those that are global in their impacts and those that have a temporary impact as opposed to a very long term or permanent one.

It is important to pursue a discussion of what emerges as the biggest problems and then to see how those things fit into a bigger picture.
Sometimes students will say ‘crime’ or ‘smoking’. All responses provide the opportunity to talk about how a particular issue fits into sustainability.

You can then select the most ‘popular’ problems and construct a definition of sustainability which starts with those problems and turns them on their heads. So, for example, if the problem is hunger, one would say:
In a sustainable world the whole of the world’s population would:
have enough healthy food etc.

You will probably end up with a list that is very worthy and relates closely to people’s needs. It is worth throwing in at the end the question of fun and beauty. (What would be the point of preserving the existence of people on this planet if we did not enjoy it?)

Sustainable development is, of course, about ensuring that we can go on providing for the needs of the world’s population into the future, not only now.

You can pursue the discussion by looking at what we do that adds to the problems and what we could do to move towards sustainability. Inevitably it leads you into talking about prioritising, into the relative significance of the actions we can take to improve the world.

Malnutrition Homelessness
Hunger Discrimination
War Climate change
Violence Over-consumption
Racism Lack of health services
Pollution Lack of schools
Lack of water  
Lack of clean water  


To help students to think about their own ideas and understand other possible viewpoints on sustainability issues as an ordinary teenager.

This activity can be used with both AS and A2 level students, though the statements should be simpler for AS level as suggested below.

It’s likely to be most useful when students are dealing with sustainability for the first time at AS or, less likely at A2. It’s intended to make them think as ordinary consumers, not as designers. At A2 you may wish to use it as a reminder to students embarking on major coursework that we all bring values into our designing and making decisions.

It can be used with a small group or a whole class.

The activity can be tailored to meet your own requirements at the time you use it. You can use only environmental, only social/cultural, only economic or all three. Teachers can make up additional statements as needed - those given are suggestions only.

As a starter activity, this may not be anything more than something that sows seeds but students should become more aware of themselves as consumers whose decisions impact on lives and livelihoods elsewhere as a result of completing the activity.

• Prepare a number of statements in advance dealing with the sustainability issues you want students to consider. Print them in bold, large print on cards so students can read them from a few feet away.
• Give each student a card to write his/her name on, also bold and large.
• Organise students on chairs in a circle, and include yourself in the circle, participating if you wish.
• Explain to the group that you are going to place a card on the floor in the centre of the circle on which is written a statement. Tell them you will ask them to think about their opinion about the statement. You will then ask them to place their name card as near to or as far away from the statement as their opinion is near to or far away from the statement itself. The limits are the front of their chairs and next to the statement card.
• Explain that they must only put down their name card when you say so, not when they’ve made up their mind. This avoids everyone following the ‘leader’ in the group and should ensure everyone thinks about the issue.
• Read out the first statement, put it in the centre, read it again and allow about 30 seconds thought, then ask students to put their cards down. Include your own if you wish.
• Ask one student to explain why they have put their card in a particular position. It may help to choose an extreme view. Ask others to explain their positions and debate for as long as appropriate.
• Do the same thing with further cards until you are happy that issues have been raised. If you wish, ask students to write down the values they have at the moment about the issues highlighted.
• Draw some conclusions about how our values affect our choices as consumers and designers.


AS Environmental
• I believe it’s the government’s job to make sure waste is disposed of properly, not mine.

• I believe people who use cars should have to pay high taxes to pay for the damage they cause to the environment.

• I believe we don’t need to bother about using up resources. There will always be plenty for everyone.

• I believe people in other countries should learn to look after themselves. They’re not our responsibility.

• I believe women are exploited far more than men in the world.

• I believe it’s more important to be trendy than environmentally friendly.

• I believe that what I buy in the shops is my business and doesn’t affect anyone else in any way.

• I believe people should always get a fair wage for the work they do.

• I believe the most important thing in choosing what we buy is value for money.

A2 Environmental
• I believe we’ll always find new resources even if we use up those we’ve got now.

• I believe it’s just not possible to produce something without it doing a bit of environmental damage.

• I believe that wherever possible producers should try to use renewable materials and sources of energy.

• I believe it makes sense to try to design all products in such a way that they can be reused or recycled.

• I believe it’s much more important to be able to get a product easily than to be bothered about where it has come from or who made it.

• I believe that people have a free choice about where they live. If they choose to live where there’s a danger from pollution then that’s their problem.

• I believe that when children are used to make products, their families will be better off because there’s another income.

• I believe there’s poverty in every country. We should be bothered about our own poor people, not those in other countries.

• I believe people who make products have a much harder job than those who sell them so they should get more of the profits.

• I believe it doesn’t really matter whether something is needed or not - making new products always creates jobs for people.



To encourage students to think about how sustainability issues are embedded in many day-to-day activities throughout a product’s life cycle
To show how sustainability issues have implications for all designing and making activities.

Use in the same way with both.

Line-ups is best suited for use when first discussing sustainability but could be used as a revision activity later if students have forgotten how integral it should be to their thinking.

Use in groups, probably no more than 10 being involved at a time - you can ask some students to be involved in one line-up then involve others in the next.

Although an introductory activity, it can be used to bring out any and all issues, depending on the topics you choose.

The activity is not intended to meet specific criteria but will certainly help students understand fundamental issues of sustainability (AS - F1 and F2; A2 - F1, 2, 3.)


Choose an everyday activity that brings out the existence of environmental, social and economic issues, e.g. making a cup of tea or coffee
Ask students to think about the process of making tea or coffee in their household - what usually happens, from sourcing the ingredients to the end of their life.
Ask them to think about how far the choice of ingredients normally takes account of the following things

  > Where the tea or coffee came from and who was involved in its production - has it come a long distance, was it fair-traded, who picked the tea, coffee?
  > Where the milk came from -milkman, supermarket, local farm, a central depot
  > Where the sugar came from - distance travelled, amount of processing involved.
Now ask them to get up and to stand at different points from one end of the room to the other depending on how they assess themselves. For example, if they buy fair-traded tea, buy local milk and unprocessed sugar, they stand at far end of room. If they never consider any of those points they go to the other end of the room. If they buy fair-traded tea but don’t consider milk or sugar they stand somewhere between.
Repeat the line-up activity but now thinking about the making phase:
  > Do they measure the amount of water according to the number of cups that are to be made?
  > Do they leave the kettle and have to re-boil it again because the water has cooled?
Complete a third line-up using the end of life-cycle, asking students to assess
  > What they do with any leftover water
  > What they do with coffee filters or tea bags/leaves
  > What they do with the packets the tea or coffee came in.
Review the activity to bring out the point that there are sustainability issues in most everyday choices we make.
The same activity can be used with any other daily activities, such as,

Cleaning your teeth
Think about cleaning your teeth this morning and how much water you used while doing it.
  > If you had the water running all the time you were cleaning, then go to the near end of the room.
  > If you only had the tap running for the minimum amount of time necessary, go to the far end
  > If you had the tap running some of the time but could have reduced the amount of water, place yourself somewhere in the middle.

What’s it got to do with sustainability? It’s an example of how we should try to reduce the amount of scarce resources we use in any activity, especially when we are designing something.

Disposing of waste at home

Think about how you dispose of waste in your house and how much of it you think about recycling.

If you recycle everything that is potentially recyclable - paper, plastics, glass, clothing, biodegradable waste, go to the far end of the room.
If you put everything in the bin regardless, go to the near end.
If you recycle some, go to somewhere in the middle.

What’s it got to do with sustainability? It’s important to think about what will happen to a product when we’ve finished with it when it’s being designed.

The last article of clothing you bought
Think about the last article you bought and whether or not you thought about any of the following things before you bought it. Who made it and what did they get paid for making it out of the total price? Which country was it made in and how much did transport cost to get it to you? Which materials is it made from, what sort of dyes were used?

If you thought about all of those things, go to near end.
If you thought about none, go to the far end.
If you thought about one or two, go into middle.

What’s it got to do with sustainability? Our decisions as designers and consumers have all sorts of impacts. They create jobs for some people but do they get a fair deal? Energy consumption may be increased because we want cheap clothes mass-produced in China. Environmental damage may be increased through the use of chemicals.


To help students start thinking about the values that lie behind their choices as consumers when they go shopping for anything and have to decide which of a number of different products to buy.

More suitable for AS students, though worth using as a thought-provoking activity with A2 level students in a new school year.

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.

Better done in groups to encourage discussion.

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 issues (AS - F1, 2, A2 - F1, 2, 3.)


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 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, to note their choice, and to write down a brief reason why they made the choice (e.g. looks better, know the brand). Do not mention sustainability - they should make their choices as ordinary students.
Report back on reasons for 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, now give students background information about the two products and their relative sustainability.
After the explanations, ask students to consider their choices again. Does the knowledge 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, e.g.
Long life milk versus milkman’s local milk (brings out processing, energy use, transport, local employment)
Fair trade, organic coffee versus coffee from a large international company (fair trade, transport, fertilisers, pesticides)
Standard mouse mat versus recycled mouse mat (recycling, reuse, packaging, product need)
T shirts - one made from unbleached, organic cotton and fair traded: the other sweat shop made and using artificial pesticides, bleaches etc. (fair trade, toxic emissions, social impact of products)

However, if you want to look for more extreme items to identify specific issues as clearly as possible, the following ideas may be useful starting points. The ideas are suggested by Edwin Datschefski.

Environmental issues
Remarkable recycled plastic cup pen, from, tel. 0208 741 1234 (10 for £4.25) compared with a cheap biro sourced locally.

Issues to consider
• What is the barrel made from?
• How long does the ink last?
• Can old pens be reused in any way?

Organic cotton socks from compared with locally sourced synthetic socks.

Issues to consider
• Use of fertilisers and pesticides
• Use of synthetic dyes compared with natural colours
• Energy use

Compare the finger toothbrush with an electric toothbrush sourced locally.
For details of the finger toothbrush see

Issues to consider
• Energy in use
• Materials needed in manufacture
• Possibility of disassembly
• Packaging

Shopping Bags
Compare the Fair trade Sisal Durable Shopping bag £12.95 with any conventional shopping or plastic bag.

Issues to consider
• Durability
• Litter
• Waste

Social issues
Compare a Razanne doll (
Razanne Dolls £12.50 each inc p&p) with a Barbie.

For more details of Razanne, see Barbie Converts to Islam

• Do toys encourage awareness of other cultures or reinforce stereotypes?
• Use of materials to make toys - recycled textiles.
• Barbie to be made from recycled plastics?

Chicken soup
Compare a ‘standard’ chicken soup and kosher Jewish soup.
The Jewish religion includes dietary laws. These laws determine which food is acceptable and in conformity with Jewish Law. The word kosher is an adaptation of the Hebrew word meaning fit or proper. It refers to foodstuffs that meet the dietary requirements of Jewish Law.
Telma Chicken Parve Soup Mix £2.59

• What is the social and cultural impact of choosing certain products?
• Is it important to conserve culturally different ways of doing things?

Economic issues
Compare a locally sourced product made by, for example, Mars or Nestle with Green & Black or Divine Chocolate, both available locally or from

An article by the Daily Telegraph's Rachel Baird warns, ‘Up to 40 per cent of the chocolate we eat may be contaminated by slavery.’

Ivory Coast is the world's biggest producer of cocoa beans with over a million cocoa farms and plantations. A British TV documentary, ‘Slavery,’ claimed that 90 per cent of Ivory Coast cocoa plantations use slave labour. Most are young men and boys from impoverished areas in Benin, Togo and Mali. They are enticed by traffickers who promise them paid work, housing and an education. Instead, they are sold to Ivory Coast cocoa plantation owners who beat them into submission and offer no pay for gruelling, 18-hour days.

Big companies like Nestle purchase their cocoa on international exchanges where cocoa from Ivory Coast is mixed with cocoa from other countries and loses its identity as a slave-made product.

Compare Qibla Cola,
(Email: [email protected],
Qibla Cola Company Ltd
PO BOX 6440
Derby DE1 9NE
Tel: 01332 371 001 Call for details of your local distributor)
with a locally sourced coke.

The boycotting of major brands, such as Coca-Cola, across the Muslim world, has highlighted the anger felt by consumers towards such companies. Increasingly Muslims are questioning the role these brands play in their societies, and are seeking out alternatives - brands that don’t use the revenues they earn to support injustices.

Questions that Qibla Cola ask of other brands of cola:
1. Do your products contain any alcohol or animal extracts?
2. Does your company contribute towards the state of Israel or any other states that oppress Muslims?
3. Does your company contribute to third world causes?
4. Does your company exploit the work force in the third world?


To show how our choices as consumers (and therefore the initial choices of designers and producers) can impact on the lives of other people now and in the future. It should also help students to see how choices have economic and social impacts on people now, and in future generations.

Probably better for use at A2 level where students have greater understanding of issues, but could be used as an introductory activity for AS as well.

When you are trying to help students understand that their decisions have implications for others.

Any size group. However, with very small groups, ask students to take it in turns to read out different statements until all have been covered.

Teachers can choose statements to bring out different aspects of sustainability, though the statements included are mostly related to environmental issues.

As with all introductory activities, this is most relevant to AS - F1 and 2; A2 - F1, 2 and 3.

• Have a series of statements prepared which illustrate the impact on the planet of current lifestyles. These are put in envelopes and distributed.
• When asked, each participant reads out the statement and makes an immediate response to it. Some suggestions as to the statements are given on the separate sheet, ‘The Bigger Picture.’
• Discuss why we need to consider sustainability issues in D&T. Ensure that a link is made between issues such as climate change, deforestation, overuse of resources and our decisions as designers/consumers.

Downloadable PDF

• About 1000 million people in the world (approximately one in five) don’t get enough food each day to be able to lead productive lives.

• More than 1 in 10 people on our planet cannot access the critical minimum diet necessary to stay healthy and maintain body weight.

• 25,000 people die each day from using dirty water.

• The people of Europe consume three times their share of the world’s resources compared with an equal share for everyone.

• Recycling 1 kg of aluminium saves 8 kg of bauxite, 4 kg of chemical products and 14 kw of electricity.

• Only 11per cent of our rubbish is recycled in the UK. Switzerland, Holland and Germany recycle half their waste, so why can't we?

• In 1999 we bought 654 million batteries. The current rate for recycling consumer rechargeables is just 5 per cent and virtually no consumer disposable batteries are recycled. Most batteries in the UK end up in landfill sites where heavy metals may leak from them and pollute the environment as the outer coating corrodes.

• It is estimated that an average of ten tonnes of resources are used to manufacture every tonne of product that we buy.

• The average person in the UK throws out their body weight in rubbish every three months. Most of this could be reprocessed but instead it is sent to incinerators or landfill.

• Half of all UK fruit and vegetables contain pesticide residues. Removing pesticides from UK drinking water costs us £120m a year.

• Friends of the Earth calculate that to live within our environmental limits and allow a fair distribution of the earth’s resources, by 2050 the UK needs to consume 73 per cent less timber, 15 per cent less water and 50-88 per cent less virgin minerals than we do now.

• Over six million electrical items are thrown away every year in the UK. It is estimated that over half of them are still working or could easily be repaired.

• People buy and consume what producers make. Producers make what designers design. Designers are therefore the most important decision makers in determining how we use the earth’s scarce resources.


Footprint analysis is a useful tool for getting students to think about the environmental impact of their lifestyles. It is developed much more fully in this section.

This introductory activity can be used at either level. It is particularly useful in making students think about their own behaviour as consumers and the impact they have as individuals.

Early on, when trying to make a link between consumption patterns, lifestyles and sustainability.

The website activity is intended for use as individuals but discussion can take place in groups afterwards.

It brings out the environmental impact of our lifestyles particularly forcefully.
Footprinting gives a measure that is easy to understand - how much of the earth’s surface we need to continue with our existing lifestyles.

• Go to Scroll down the home page until you find

New Footprint Lifestyle Calculator
Are you living within the means of nature?
A simple test will reveal the answer

• Click on test. A new window comes up.

• Click on Estimate your footprint
You are asked a number of questions about your lifestyle. As you give the answers, you can see how many planets are needed to support the way you live - if everyone lived the same way. You can see what you might do to bring down the environmental impact.

The SDA website develops foot printing analysis further, as well as offering some introductory activities to help students understand the ideas behind it. It will also include an activity enabling students to use footprint analysis to assess their own product designs.

What is sustainability?
A1: Whats wrong with the world?
A2: Belief Circles
A3: Line-ups
A4: Product Pairs
A5: The Bigger Picture
A6: Footprint Analysis