Many communities' definition of sustainability includes some reference to preserving our environmental, social, and/or economic resources for the future - whether it be "the future" generally, "future generations", or even "our children." Who are we referring to? A high energy asset for sustainability success!
While a primary benefactor of building a more sustainable community is the its youth, engaging this target group may be more easily said than done. However there are communities who have experienced success in this feat - some having utilized innovative ways of doing it - and have found it to be an invaluable endeavor.
The City of Baltimore's Youth Strategy
Baltimore's Commission on Sustainability and Office of Sustainability integrated a youth strategy into their public engagement plan to develop a community sustainability plan. They convened 11 individuals from youth development organizations and schools identified as leaders, described the Baltimore Sustainability Program to them, expressed the desire to include the youth involvement, and solicited their advice and guidance in how to include them in the process. This group expanded to form a Youth Advisory Group comprised of 15 students from local public and private schools who decided to organize a one-day, hands-on, entertaining, and educational event to gather feedback from youth. As a result, GreenScape '08 was attended by over 150 young people, highlighted the issue of sustainability for the youth and community, and allowed the city to hear the concerns of the group.
This effort gave youth in Baltimore the opportunity to take some ownership of the issue, and they have retained it. Through the City Schools Energy Challenge, public schools are offered $1,000 grants for projects that provide an opportunity for students to become leaders in energy conservation, educating and empowering school communities to save energy, and spreading the message of saving energy and money to the greater community. As Baltimore works towards its goal of helping its schools meet the rigorous requirements of certification as Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education "Green Schools," student involvement has been a critical asset.
More resources for engaging youth in sustainability initiatives:
Resources exist in methods of effective and meaningful engagement of youth in sustainability efforts, but perhaps additional focus may be warranted given the diverse opportunities presented by sustainability initiatives, such leadership development, alternative activities, and access to often remarkable competency in new technologies. In building more sustainable communities, consider the value of instilling a consciousness of environmental, social, and economic impact of human activity in the minds of our youth. For whatever problems that we might not be able to solve in our careers and lifetimes, the earlier in life generations ahead begin thinking about them the better the chance they may have at solving those issues for our collective future.