Sustainability Made Simple

Sustainability Made Simple (Byrd & Demates, 2016) is the book I’ve hoped someone would write for the past fifteen years. If you only have room on your bookshelf for one thoroughly comprehensive, supremely accessible guide to understanding the big sustainability issues affecting us and what to do about it, this is the book you need.

Environmental Literacy for Teachers

For every teacher who has struggled to explain sustainability to their students, chapter 2 of Sustainability Made Simple covers the cause and impact of issues like: air & water pollution, deforestation, and climate change. The explanations are easy to understand and replete with references to print and online sources that teachers can use to augment lesson plans and class projects.

Byrd and DeMates’ explanations of complex topics like pollution caused power plants, transportation and agriculture are both fascinating and pithy. For the busy educator who wants the facts without fluff, this book is ideal.

Stewardship: Empowering Students & Staff to Act

In chapter 4, Byrd and DeMates write, “Supporting a culture of sustainability in the United States is particularly necessary because we have one of the biggest environmental footprints on the planet. We would need almost 5 Earths if the rest of the world lived like Americans do,” (pg. 62). They further explain how readers can easily assess their personal environmental impact and concentrate their efforts on the most substantive actions to become more sustainable.

Preparing Kids to Be Sustainable Consumers & Citizens

  • Do you know what labels to look for on the products you buy? Sustainability Made Simple includes a comprehensive chart of all the credible certification labels and what they mean.
  • Do you know what is recyclable in your town? The book tells you how to find out.
  • How can you maintain a perfectly comfortable indoor climate and reduce your energy consumption? Read pg. 75 of the book, and you’ll know how.
  • Did you know NASA conducted a study and found several plants that can reduce indoor air toxins that are especially problematic for kids with asthma and allergies? Byrd and DeMates include a simple chart of the best plants you could put in your classroom on pg. 77.
  • And there is so much more!

Your School’s Backyard

Chapter 8 covers everything you should consider to make the grounds around your school sustainable. Just a few of the topics discussed:

  • Soil composition
  • Native plants and flowers
  • Edibles
  • Water use and stormwater management
  • Eliminating pesticides, fertilizers and weed killers
  • Landscaping for shade and wind breaks

Sustainable Facilities: Unplug & Watch Your E-Waste

Chapter 10 covers simple strategies to tackle one of the biggest impacts schools can have on greenhouse gas emissions: energy use. The book warns that “there are energy vampires that consume electricity when plugged in, even if not in use,” (pg. 123). The authors give common sense solutions to powering down equipment when possible, and optimizing settings on equipment that must remain plugged in.

Additionally, the authors discuss proper disposal of electronic equipment coming out of schools, homes and businesses. “Just because something can be recycled, like most electronics, doesn’t mean it will be recycled…the recycling rate for computers in the United States is estimated to be around 40 percent, while the other 60 percent unfortunately goes mostly to the landfill,” (pgs. 124 & 125).

Health and Well Being: Food, Glorious Food!

Chapter 6 is as apropos for the school cafeteria as it is your household kitchen. The book explains why/how to minimize the use of paper towels & napkins, plastic, and aluminum foil, as well as the environmental impact of our food choices.

  • “One of the most [greenhouse gas] intensive foods is beef,” (pg. 86)
  • “Almonds, walnuts, cashews, lamb, and lentils make the list of water-intensive foods,” (pg. 88)
  • “Buying organic food supports a food system that causes less environmental impact and is not dependent on substances that cause pollution such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides,” (pg. 88)

Perhaps the most important discussion on food in the book is food waste. Feeding landfills with perfectly edible food is unconscionable when there are hungry children in our schools. “Forty percent of the food produced in the U.S. goes to waste…[while] 14 percent of U.S. household may not have enough to eat and are deemed ‘food insecure’ by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” (pg. 90). Byrd and DeMates give tips on food storage, utilizing food fully, and surprising facts on expiration dates.


Co-authors Rosaly Byrd and Laurèn DeMates both hold a Master’s in International Affairs from the University of California, San Diego. I interviewed them on Go Green Radio in March 2017; tune in to hear a great conversation!


Byrd, R., & Demates, L. (2016). Sustainability Made Simple: Small Changes for Big Impact. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.