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Raising Our Children to Support Sustainability in a Capitalist Society

Image credit: PlanToys

When I was a kid, after a certain point I stopped wanting to do the things my parents forced me to do. You may have had a similar experience. The harder your parents tried to make you stay away from candy and obey curfew, the more you wanted to eat a ton of candy and break curfew.

When it comes to down to a power struggle between you and your child, experts recommend letting your child make his or her own choices in a controlled environment. Learning how to make the small choices now prepares the child to make good decisions later. “Why are some people leaders? Someone spent time with them and developed these decision-making skills,” says Lorri Fabry, Senior Advisor of Quality and Accreditation at KinderCare Learning Centers.

Moreover, when you explain why you make a choice for your child, and for yourself, your child learns values and critical thinking skills. Let a child choose between a variety of things for breakfast, and the child is learning how to make choices. Explain why you won’t let them eat sugar cubes out of a bowl with a spoon, and the child will learn the reasoning behind why some choices just aren’t right. Your child will learn how to make smart choices if you explain your reasoning as they progress.

Later on, your child will apply this reasoning to consumption as an adult. Decision-making skills and personal empowerment are crucial to sustainable consumption. If someone doesn’t feel they have a choice in the matter because they simply don’t have enough money to switch to renewable energy, and all the so-called experts are telling them what to do when they can’t see any evidence of climate change with their own two eyes anyhow, they’re not going to choose renewable energy.

Decision-making skills, critical thinking, personal empowerment: Aren’t these the things people need in order to become authentic, conscious leaders? Companies now and in the future need leaders who can make the right choices for society, not just for monetary gain.

Instilling endless sustainable possibilities

When you’re a kid, the last thing you want is for your parents’ words to be hollow. And one of the most common things kids hear is, “You can be whatever you want to be when you grow up.” Unfortunately, when kids grow up, what they want to be tends to clash with the viability of turning passion into a career. “You can be whatever you want to be” seems hollow for some.

One thing you can do is tell your kids about how people have turned their love for sustainability into a career. For example, Thai sustainable toy company PlanToys arose from the founder’s love of nature and design, and awareness of the amount of waste in the rubber tree industry – the company now manufactures toys from what would have been incinerated rubber wood (and recycled sawdust goes into creating water toys) with solar power and gas power. Or Back to the Roots – a California startup focused on ‘undoing food’ with a range of simple food products aimed mostly at kids. Not only is its line of simple, organic cereals proving to kids that foods that don’t have a ton of sugar, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives can taste even better than those that do; its ‘ready-to-grow’ line of herbs and vegetables is reintroducing young ones to the fun and flavor of homegrown food.

Another fantastic example is visionary architect and designer William McDonough, co-creator of the Cradle to Cradle design framework, an approach to the design of products and systems modeled after nature's processes, which views materials as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms. The methodology is now being applied worldwide to everything from fabrics and chemicals to packaging and buildings. Sometimes the things innovators do to promote sustainability seem close to fantasy or science fiction. 

The purpose isn’t to try and get your kids to start a sustainable business (although, if they did, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing). It’s to show them there are people passionate about sustainability who are turning their passion into a career. As they get older, kids who are aware of these types of businesses are more likely to support them, simply because they know the option exists.

Your kids are the world’s future consumers. Kids need to know they have options beyond the most convenient, cheapest choices. Combine that with empowerment, and you’ve got a great recipe for the future.    


Daniel Matthews earned his Bachelor's in Creative Writing from Boise State University. Besides the witten word, he loves writing songs and plays multiple instruments. Please find him on Twitter.

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