These hashtags are pledges made by 19 young geography students at a recent workshop that we ran at Making Places Last – Sustainable Homes and Communities conference in Birmingham. The call to action is clear – stop using single use plastic. On this very same day the word “single-use” was named as the word of 2018, showing an increasing awareness of environmental issues that we are facing all around the globe. And the awareness is already high in these young adults, a UK generation which have grown up with a recycling bin in the home.
The workshop was aimed at engaging the students in the big environmental challenges that we are facing; climate change, mass extinction and resource use. They were asked to get creative and design a poster, record a video or use any other creative form which could be shared on social media to potentially have an impact beyond friends and family, beyond Birmingham and perhaps even beyond the UK. Because when you put something on social media it has the power to go global in an instant. It was an opportunity to show these teenagers that their voice can and should be heard, they can influence others to act. And this can be a truly powerful thing.
To get the youngsters started we connected with inspirational speaker Simon Jordan. I say connected, because as this was a session about technology being used for good purposes it felt natural to have Simon attend virtually via Zoom from his home in Dorset, not only being able to share his passion for reducing single-use plastics and cleaning up our littered environment but also sparing those tons of greenhouse gases it would have costed to travel all the way to Birmingham. I do recognise the challenge to get 19 students attention, after a packed morning of corporate presentations and literary no break to enjoy their lunch – the students were brilliant, and Simon’s engagement clearly inspired the creative session. “We don’t feed our pets plastic – so why would we feed the animals of this planet plastic?”
Simon is the creator of #5thingsclear, a hashtag which went viral within a couple of months. One day in June last year he was walking on the beach with his dogs and found a bird with a plastic ring around its neck – nothing could be done for the bird but it made Simon think; no one can pick up all the litter, but if we each pick up just five things, it would make the world a better place, a cleaner place, and less animals would die. #5thingsclear was born.
With Simon’s 5 key recommendations for creating a pledge and equipped with crayons, felt-tip pens, coloured paper, scissors, glue, paint and magazine clippings, the students set to work. In a short time, the whole workshop was only one hour long, the three groups had created a poster each, clearly inspired by Simon’s talk.
My favourite hashtag is #reducenotabuse. A simple rhyme and play with words, a call to action for not keeping abusing our planet and the encouragement to reduce resources. Not just recycling but reusing which is the only way we can work our way towards a circular economy and away from a state where we humans use what the Earth can sustainably produce in one year, in just eight months. Having spent precious time engaging with the students and their teachers for this workshop, I feel hope for the future and a determination on my part; to leave our children and future generations a planet to care for in a way which we have clearly not done.
Carolina Karlstrom is an Associate of Ecoed Life. Ecoed Life aims to raise awareness, educate and inspire people, communities, schools and organisations to action to tackle the big environmental challenges that we are facing. We do this through workshops, engagement activities, CSR and sustainability consulting and by using our own game app – Ecoed.
Simon Jordan is a brand and marketing professional helping coaches and consultants make a positive and profitable difference in the world. He is the creator of #5thingsclear.