As schools remain closed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), students are adjusting to learning at home. Fortunately, GRACE Communications Foundation (GRACE) recently expanded their Water Footprint project to include free, downloadable lesson plans titled “Lessons for Understanding our Water Footprint,” which can help educate students during this time.
“During the current pandemic, people’s eyes have been opened to the huge, complex systems that produce their everyday goods and services,” Kai Olson-Sawyer, Senior Research and Policy Analyst at GRACE, tells Food Tank, “Our goal is to help students gain insights into the systems that make contemporary life possible [and] to recognize the enormous amount of water it takes to produce all our food, energy, and consumer goods.”
Fresh water use has increased at more than twice the rate of the global population growth, and more than 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, according to UN-Water. As countries around the world continue to grow, there is a need to recognize that how we use water impacts water security.
“Before people can make sustainable choices, they have to first learn about their own habits and behaviors,” says Olson-Sawyer. “We all use water. Nobody will ever have a water footprint of zero, but we can make choices that use less or waste less. Our lesson plans give students a sense of the environmental, social, and economic context in which water-use decisions are made.”
In the United States, agriculture makes up 80 to 90 percent of the country’s total water consumption and dietary choices can have a significant impact on one’s water footprint. A single six-ounce steak has a water footprint of 2,551 liters (674 gallons) of water compared to 432 liters (114 gallons) of water needed for six ounces of tofu. GRACE’s curriculum hopes to help students recognize the environmental impact of their personal decisions while appreciating that people have their own tastes and dietary needs.
“Lessons for Understanding our Water Footprint” is split into middle- and high-school age lesson plans. Online curriculums consist of three interactive lessons: Water Resources and Water Footprints; My Water Footprint; and The Value of a Water Footprint. The lesson plans include presentations, discussion points, and worksheets. The course presents the connection between water use and a range of industries from technology to fashion.
The curriculums align with many common educational standards, and Olson-Sawyer says that the response from educators has been positive. “Teachers like that the lessons educate students about how sticky and complicated these big systems can be, and they offer students a way to take action by changing their personal behaviors to reduce their water footprint while encouraging others to do the same,” Olson-Sawyer tells Food Tank. GRACE also provides educational resources for all age groups, and the lesson plans can easily be adapted up or down to different knowledge levels.
“Lessons for Understanding our Water Footprint” expands upon GRACE’s Water Footprint Calculator, the organization’s flagship resource that provides users with an estimation of their water footprint. Through a series of simple questions about one’s daily routine, the calculator tallies up a person’s direct and indirect water use. The results then offer users over 100 tips to help them improve their water footprint.
“The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates that we’re all connected, whether [it be] through water, food, or public health,” says Olson-Sawyer, “students [can] learn that, even when things are complicated and might require tradeoffs, there are still solutions around which we can come together.”