A new research has determined the importance of school children in developing more sustainable communities, revealing that kids are not only passionate about environmental issues, but more than capable of driving forward sustainability initiatives.
Children already play a key role in becoming more sustainable by encouraging changes in behaviour of those around them whether in terms of recycling, saving energy, growing vegetables and healthy eating.
But, according to researcher Dr Barry Percy-Smith, these changes alone are not enough; we need to encourage learning and change across whole communities.
Children are well placed and also keen to take on wider roles and responsibilities as active (rather than passive) citizens in improving their communities - for example, as activists in community based projects and campaigns, as community researchers, and as ambassadors of change in other schools and in community groups.
Some of the children in this study, for example, engaged in projects to encourage more sustainable approaches to food consumption involving community research into shopping habits, publishing a booklet about local opportunities for buying sustainable food, and lobbying supermarkets to decrease packaging and increase the stock of local produce.
In another school, young people organised a No/Low Energy day in the school to explore what might be possible in reducing energy consumption.
"With their dynamism, energy and new ideas children demonstrate considerable potential as agents of change," said Dr Percy-Smith.
"But as a society we neither encourage nor harness that energy and creativity. We have too little respect for the abilities of children and too many people feel that children either can't or shouldn't take a lead on change," he said.
"Many children are very keen to use their learning to educate others about sustainability. We have to create opportunities where children and young people can contribute to development within their community," he added.
If Government goals are to be achieved and if learning is to spill over into successful lifestyle change in homes and communities, several significant changes must occur, according to Dr Percy-Smith.
First, children need both the right conditions and appropriate support to take on a more significant role as agents of change.
Second, Education for Sustainable Development needs to be made a priority for schools.
Researchers further envisage a new extended role for schools that goes beyond simply educating children so they function as 'sustainable community learning centres' for adults, as well as children and as catalysts in terms of leading, initiating and supporting sustainable community activities beyond the class room.