Going Green in the U.S.? Yes!

By Martina Kohl and Joannis Kaliampos

General perception has it that Americans do not care about the environment. But did you know that according to the Gallup Poll in March 2014, 80% of Americans between the ages of 18 to 34 favor alternative energy production over fossil fuels? And it might surprise you even more to find out that according to the same poll, over 60% of Americans prefer proposals that would regulate or limit fossil fuel emissions, including those setting higher pollution standards for business and industry.

Between September and December 2014, about 1,000 students and teachers from all over Germany took part in the Going Green Project, a blended-learning project for high school students. They explored green activities in the USA, mainly on the state level, and were surprised to find out how much Americans care about the environment.

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The students in the Going Green project used tailor-made classroom materials on an e-learning platform established by the Going Green team at the U.S. Embassy Berlin, LIFE e.V./eXplorarium Berlin and Leuphana University Lüneburg. Part of the project curriculum was not only to learn about green grassroots initiatives in the U.S., but also to take a step back and analyze personal stereotypes regarding environmentalism in Germany and the U.S.

One course created a project website and noted: “We learned that it is not enough to rely on global initiatives to make the world ‘go green.’ Another interesting fact we learned during the project is that in the USA, environmental issues are often dealt with at the grassroots level. Learning this motivated us to develop our own action plans in order to ‘think globally and to act locally.'”

Another course concluded that the plastic bag issue is not exclusively an American issue, but should concern Germans just as well. These students launched their own cloth bag line called “Bag to the Roots” and advertised it through their own social media campaign on Facebook and YouTube.

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Bianca, Sophia, Katja, and Nathalie of the Schuldorf Bergstraße in Seeheim-Jugenheim present their board game “Superstainable – The Board Game to Go Green” during the awards ceremony at the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Berlin – photo credit: US Embassy Berlin

The year-long “Going Green – Education for Sustainability” blended-learning project also included teacher training seminars that reached about 400 teachers in 14 German states. Some teachers partnered with U.S. schools and collaborated with them via email, Skype, chat rooms, and Internet platforms. The entire project was conducted in English. One teacher noted,

“My students (and me) have been learning so much, not ‘just’ about those numerous aspects of sustainability, but also about methods of project work, eLearning, researching and team work. … My students are going through all the phases of a challenging project: Enthusiasm, hard work, frustration, team building, getting disoriented, problem-solving, problem-creating, anxiety, achievement and pride (not necessarily in that order), and I feel privileged to be part of that group. … All in all, personally, I am not ready to get back to ‘normal’ teaching, so I am glad that this project will last for a bit longer and stay online for new groups to explore.”

The Going Green 2014 competition ended on December 5, when John B. Emerson, U.S. Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, presented awards to more than 200 German high school students for their sustainability action plans at the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation in Berlin. Congratulations to all winners and all participants!

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The Going Green team (Katja Krüger, Joannis Kaliampos, Torben Schmidt, U.S. Ambassador to Germany John B. Emerson, Martina Kohl, not pictured: Karin Ernst and Janike Jonas) – photo credit: US Embassy Berlin

Check out the winning submissions and the Going Green project on this website or Facebook page. And stay tuned because after such a successful pilot project, the Going Green team is planning to continue “going green.”

Dr. Martina Kohl, Cultural Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, serves as program manager for the Going Green project and other educational and cultural programs. She is co-editor of the American Studies Journal.

Joannis Kaliampos is a research assistant and PhD candidate in TEFL at Leuphana University Lüneburg. His fields of research include task-based language learning, language learning with digital media, and American studies in the EFL classroom. He coordinated the development of e-learning materials in the Going Green program.