What is Sustainability? - Lesson for Kids

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  • 0:02 What Is Sustainability?
  • 0:58 Sustainability & the…
  • 2:03 Our Unsustainable Life
  • 2:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Expert Contributor
Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

If something is sustainable, it means that we could keep using or doing it for a long time. In this lesson, you'll learn about sustainability and why it's important.

What Is Sustainability?

Imagine you have a magic candy jar. The jar refills itself, so every time you take a handful of candy, more candy just appears in the jar. Candy all the time! Sounds pretty great, right? With the magic candy jar, the candy is sustainable. That means that you can keep using it for a long time without it running out. It doesn't matter how much you take out of the jar, because more candy will just appear. It's magic!

But in the real world, we don't have magic candy jars like that. If you keep taking candy out of a real candy jar and never put any more back in, the jar will eventually become empty. Taking candy out of the regular jar without putting any more candy back in is not a sustainable practice. You can't keep doing it for a long time, because the jar will run out of candy.

Sustainability isn't just about candy jars. In this lesson, we'll talk about how the idea of sustainability applies to the environment.

Sustainability and the Environment

If you think about the two candy jars again, the world is like a regular candy jar that doesn't refill itself. But instead of candy, the earth is full of natural resources. Natural resources are things that people find in nature and use.

One example of a natural resource is water. Humans didn't make water, but we use it for drinking, bathing, and other things. Another natural resource is oil. We dig oil up from the earth and use it to make fuel for cars and trucks.

Natural resources are like candy in the regular candy jar. There's no magic replacement if they're destroyed or used up. If we live in a way that destroys or uses up all our natural resources, it's not sustainable. It's like taking candy out of the jar without putting any more in.

Let's review the main characteristics of resources that aren't sustainable:

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Additional Activities

Make Your Home More Sustainable

In this scientific investigation, students will examine the sustainability of their own homes and look for ways they can be more sustainable. Then, they will implement the change and collect data about what they did. Some examples that students might choose to focus on include reducing electricity use, increasing recycling, or decreasing water use. They can track electricity and water use through the monthly bill with the help of an adult.


In this science investigation, you're going to be creating a more sustainable life for yourself and your family. You're going to examine the way your family lives in a way and look for practices that are unsustainable, such as using too much water or electricity, driving, or throwing things away and not recycling. Then, you're going to create a solution and track how the solution changes your sustainability over time.

  1. Start by choosing a problem to focus on. Do you want to reduce water use in your household? Increase recycling? Decrease electricity use? Or something else?
  2. Next, decide how to help that problem. For example, you might have everyone only take 5 minute showers or turn off the lights when they aren't being used.
  3. Consider a way to keep track of your data. For electricity or water use, a parent could help you track the use on the monthly bill. If you're increasing recycling, you could count the number of times you have to take the trash out each week.


  1. How did your efforts increase sustainability?
  2. What other steps could you take to make your life more sustainable?

Expected Results

Students should see a change in the electric or water bills, if everyone keeps with the agenda to decrease use. If they are trying to increase recycling, there should be less trash to take out each week. If students don't see the expected results, have them consider reasons why. Are people not sticking to the agreement? Are there other confounding variables? Have students consider additional measures, such as planting trees, cleaning up trash, or implementing these strategies at their school.

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