The Way We Live

Don't buy this jacket ad.Patagonia says:
Don't buy what you don't need
On Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), 2011, Patagonia first placed this provocative ad in The New York Times. Use this ad to evoke curiosity. Use it to instill the concepts that our “stuff” has a significant environmental impact. And give your students a glimpse of a radically different way of doing business.
Assign a review and analysis of this ad and its accompanying blog to your 6-12th graders.  Then, have students answer these questions… What surprises you from the article and the advertisement? What do you agree or disagree with, and/or what resonates with you?  What do you think Patagonia’s advertising writers meant when they said that Black Friday puts the economy of natural systems firmly in the red?* What are the five actions/pledges that Patagonia encourages readers to do?  What do you think Patagonia means when it says the environmental cost of its jacket is higher than its price? Finally, do you really think Patagonia doesn’t want people to buy their jackets?  (Answer this last question with a narrative—not just a “yes,” “no,” or “maybe.”)
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*Taking more than nature can replace, causing—in essence—a deficit.
We invite you to explore product lives with your students

Recently, a former math teacher in my eLearning workshop was geeking out over some graphs I shared about the life of products.  He and other teachers discovered that waste and disposal—though important issues to address—are some of the smallest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

What are the largest sources?  Well, heating and cooling our homes contributes about 25%. Personal transportation about 24%. But, a whopping 42% of GHG emissions comes from our “stuff” (US EPA). And our NEW Life of a Product resources help you and your students learn about this and problem-solve to find solutions.  

We invite you to explore product lives with your students, and have compiled a list of some of our best educator resources to help you.

Favorite Educator Resources on Life of a Product:

·         Life of a Hamburger lesson plan  

·         Secret Life of a Mobile Phone Life Pscycle-ology Sustainability Animation (5:30 min.)   

·         Electronic Gadgets video (2 min.)   

·         This is Your Life Cycle (4:18 min.)  

·         Sources of GHG pdfNEW!    

·         Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things book

·         National Public Radio’s Planet Money’s Life of a T-shirt  

·         Why “Stuff” Matters--this is the ppt one of our teacher friends geeked out about. (We think it’s confusing to non-math oriented folks, so we created this friendlier version, too!


Other ideas:

·         Students track for 24 hours the products they use.

·         Google search “life cycle of (paper, pencil, milk carton, etc.)”

·         Students make posters of life of products to help them “get” it.  NOTE: Teachers say that students have a difficult time with the concepts of extraction and manufacturing. It helps to do something like making a poster.  One teacher suggested that having students research name-brand products rather than generics is better because more information is available on the web about name brand products.  A teacher was gratified when, after the lesson, a student said, “I can’t believe how much it takes to get a bag of chips to me.”

By Susan Salterberg, instructor, Helping Students Protect the Environment and Live Well eLearning course and face-to-face workshop


Helping Iowans protect the environment and live well

The Center for Energy and Environmental Education (CEEE) and Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) offer interdisciplinary, PreK-12 lesson plans, resources and workshops to help Iowans protect the environment and live well.  Our focus is on the products Americans use daily—“the stuff of life.” These products have lives: They are extracted, transported, manufactured, used and disposed of around the globe. Students study how this “stuff” is a primary source of environmental problems, how this relates to life satisfaction, and then they DO something about it. View details about our workshops here.


Partners and Supporters: The CEEE appreciates the support received for this project from foundations, non-profit and for-profit organizations, landfills, solid waste agencies, governmental agencies and corporations.

Portions of The Way We Live website were prepared with the support of ...

Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program (REAP CEP) : Invest in Iowa, our outdoors, our heritage, our people. REAP is supported by the state of Iowa, providing funding to public and private partners for natural and cultural resource projects, including water quality, wildlife habitat, soil conservation, parks, trails, historic preservation and more.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Solid Waste Alternatives Program Agreement Numbers 08-G550-18, 10-G550-26, and 12-G550-25FL. However, any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDNR. 

Iowa National Science Foundation EPSCoR project under Cooperative Agreement 1101284.

Recycling and Reuse Technology Transfer Center, University of Northern Iowa