Youth involvement in green practices could help market your town

Environmental safety and health improvement practices can increase community attractiveness for newcomers and visitors. Youth involvement in planning and implementing such green public service can also help long-term community sustainability.

The green economy refers to renewable energy and reducing waste streams. The sustainable label applies to those community and business practices that allow for future generations to have a good quality of life and to continue prospering. In recent years, many communities have been promoting more and more health iniatives and lower energy usage amenities. Walking and bicycle paths, household hazardous waste collections and recycling programs are becoming common even in small towns.

If the new economy is about people choosing where they live, not only because of where they work, but because of the features of the area, green iniatives are at least partially about selling potential residents and keeping current residents. Healthful places to live rank high among younger family builders, e-commuters and retirees.

Take the small community of Onaway, Mich., population 974. Juniors and seniors at Onaway High School developed and applied for grants to assist with their service learning projects. The students developed a community-wide recycling program, managed the construction of a 30-foot by 48-foot greenhouse with energy efficient updates for a community-based garden project, and purchased a wind turbine and solar panels help power the school.

For their efforts, Onaway High School was recognized by the Michigan Green Schools as a green school. The school was also awarded Evergreen status, the highest honor awarded through this program. The school was also honored as the 2010 Michigan Community Service Commission‘s School-Based Program of the Year and one of the school’s educators, Scott Steensma, was recognized nationally with a 2011 Chevrolet GREEN educator award. A key difference from many school public service projects is that the students were the ones who planned the practices, obtained the regulatory approvals and sought out grants to fund them.

Companies or families considering locations for e-business or e-commuting should realize their children are likely to have an interesting, challenging set of opportunities to build their capacities — academically, socially and in real-world situations. Also, young people involved should know their participation is valued and their ideas and ability to manage are respected. One of the keys to revitalizing small communities in the new economy is to entice the town’s children into returning once they become adults. And one way to do that is with positive memories of their youth.

This community story is an example of sustainability from three views: First, the community’s physical environment will likely be healthier due to the demonstration of a walkable community and waste recycling; second, the attractiveness of the school is enhanced for outsiders and residents; and third, there may be an increased likelihood of young people returning to town someday as a result of their own investments in bettering the community.