The Power of One: The Impact of Family and Consumer Sciences Education on Environmental Sustainability

By Ethompson, Nancy | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

The Power of One: The Impact of Family and Consumer Sciences Education on Environmental Sustainability


Ethompson, Nancy, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


The issues related to environmental sustainability can be overwhelming. It is difficult to imagine that actions of one person could make a difference. This article addresses that perception and illustrates the impact of one person, a family and consumer sciences educator, on the lives of others and on environmental resources. Making a difference is a strategy well suited to the classroom.

The problems related to environmental sustainability are in the news almost daily, and they can be overwhelming. The world has seen an exploding population growth. During the 20th century, world population increased from 1.65 billion to 6.00 billion (United Nations, 1999). Water shortages now exist in 80 countries, threatening health and economics, while an estimated 2 billion people (40% of the world's population) lack access to clean water or sanitation. The "prime cause of the global water concern is the ever-increasing world population" (University of Arizona, n.d., para. 6). According to reports from the U.S. government, it is estimated that within the next 5 years, at least 36 states are expected to face water shortages (Gutierrez, 2008).

The United States has an additional environmental problem related to water. Every second, 1,500 plastic water bottles are consumed in our nation. Of the 50 billion bottles of water bought each year, 80% end up in landfills, even though they could be recycled (Scholtus, 2009).

The issues related to environmental sustainability can be overwhelming. It is difficult to imagine that the actions of one person can make a difference. This article will address that perception and will illustrate the impact of one person, through FCS education, on the lives of others and on the environment.

The mission of the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS) is "to provide leadership and support for professionals whose work assists individuals, families, and communities in making informed decisions about their well being, relationships, and resources to achieve optimal quality of life" (AAFCS, 2010). FCS is the discipline whose primary goal is the improvement of the quality of life for individuals, families, and communities. The quality of the environment has a direct impact on the quality of life for all. In addition, process competencies to be included in all FCS courses are thinking, communication, leadership, and management (NASAFACS, 2008). Addressing critical societal issues such as environmental sustainability can be an effective strategy to teach and/or reinforce the process competencies within the FCS classroom.

FCS has an historie connection with ecology and environmental sustainability. Ellen Swallow Richards, founder of home economics, was the first woman graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the first woman in the U. S. to receive a degree in chemistry (Clark, 1974; Hunt, 1958; Kato, 2008; Richardson, 2002). Her early work involved testing water quality in Massachusetts. The scale of the survey was unprecedented and led to the first water-quality standards in the nation. Her research expanded as she applied scientific principles to domestic topics - good nutrition, pure foods, and sanitation (Chemical Heritage, 2010). She authored The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning: A Manual for House-keepers (Chemical Achievers, 2010). Richards said "The quality of life depends upon the ability of society to teach its members how to live in harmony with their environment - defined first as family, then the community, then the world and its resources" (as cited in Miles, 2009). Richards is considered the founder of the field of ecology (Clark, 1974) and noted that the "interaction between people and their environment could lead to future environmental crisis (Kato, 2008, p. 21). On March 3, 2009, during Women's History Month, President Barak Obama honored Ellen Swallow Richards as one of four "women taking the lead to save the planet" (Obama, 2009, para. …

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