The Story of the Green Lane Environmental Diary: Uniting Children and Cultures through Environmental Education
Green Cross International
Abstract: The Green Lane Environmental Diary program, founded in 1999 by Green Cross, is a school-based educational initiative promoting sustainable development and inspiring students to become agents of transformative change in their own communities. The initiative underscores a central aim of the Earth Charter Declaration to “provide all, especially children and youth, with educational opportunities that empower them to contribute actively to sustainable development.” The Green Lane Environmental Diary initiative was launched by the Japanese chapter of Green Cross International, the non-governmental organization founded in 1993 by President Mikhail Gorbachev to respond to the inter-related challenges of environmental degradation, security and poverty. Since 1999, the Green Lane Diary program has engaged approximately 1.2 million students in more than 8,000 schools in the Asia-Pacific region. For three months, students are encouraged to write down all their activities and thoughts pertaining to environmental conservation and sustainability. Students engage in activities like recycling, planting a tree or alternative transportation methods. The idea is that simple, everyday changes can make an impact on every person’s carbon footprint, even the littlest ones. Entrants are later recognized for their submissions at award ceremonies and their ideas are promoted via social media. The success of the Green Lane Diary program in Japan has helped it spread to three other countries: Sri Lanka, Australia and South Korea. Each edition is operated by the Green Cross office in the respective countries, who have translated the materials into local languages and applied them to local contexts. The objective with each national edition, however, is the same: to engage and influence children to act as agents of change. Green Cross Japan and Green Cross International are working to expand the project into other countries, broadening the perspective of the program to other cultures.
Keywords: Green Cross International, Green Cross Japan, environmental education, Green Lane Diary, environmental diary, sustainability, conservation, Value Change, Green Cross programs
“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future.”
Preamble to the Earth Charter.
Inspired by the Earth Charter’s call to involve children in changing earth’s destiny, Green Cross Japan, led by its Chief Executive Officer, Tsunehiko “Tom” Kawamoto, established a global program to teach school children “not only by lecture, but by action” on ways to protect, conserve and sustain the environment.
These ideas laid the foundation for the Green Lane Environmental Diary, which from humble beginnings in Japan in 1999, has gone onto inspire more than one million students across Asia and the Pacific to become agents of change for a sustainable future.
“The Green Lane Diary program aims to cultivate environmental consciousness among elementary school children, spreading the message of responsibility for protecting earth and humanity through influence,” according to Mr. Kawamoto, who has seen the initiative spread from Japan to Sri Lanka, Australia and South Korea.
According to the Education for Sustainable Development Toolkit, “simply increasing basic literacy, as it is currently taught in most countries, will not advance sustainable societies” (Rosalyn McKeown et al., 2002). Education programs should introduce critical thinking concepts, data and interpretation skills as well as encourage students to formulate questions and dissect sustainability issues confronting their communities.
“The achievements are inspirational,” Mr. Kawamoto reflects. “Starting from small things such as saving water or electricity to picking up trash, children quickly realize the global perspective of the issue. Many students retain the ecological lifestyle after they reach adulthood. As a matter of fact, some of the students now research solar battery technology at universities because of their experience 12 years ago with Green Lane Diary. The potential of this initiative is great.”
Green Lane Diary, Mr. Kawamoto said, was built from an earlier Green Cross Japan environmental education program that promoted the importance of recycling wood and paper products. After a few years, realizing the program didn’t promote active student participation in ecological matters, Mr. Kawamoto and his Green Cross colleagues went back to the environmental education drawing board, where they discovered the idea for an environmental diary.
“We realized the diary program would target a niche market and we tried to organize it so participants would be moved toward taking ecological action during the diary writing period,” said Mr. Kawamoto.
The Green Lane Diary falls in line with ideas laid out in the United Nation’s Agenda 21 plan of action for sustainable development. In Agenda 21, Article 5.e. states that “schools should involve school children in local and regional studies on environmental health” and that along with various UN branches, non-governmental organizations should help implement and support this education (“Chapter 36”, 1992).
The Green Cross Japan team focused on two concepts they felt were critical to Green Lane Diary’s success: the length of time children were engaged and how the project could create an army of environmental champions and equip them with messages and means to influence green change at home and in their communities.
Green Lane Diary is a 12-week long program. Mr. Kawamoto found that 12 weeks offered enough time to impress environmental education on students and have it stick. However, there were still initial worries whether three months of writing would be too demanding for 10- and 12-year-old students.
“But we underestimated the energy and enthusiasm children had for the project and found many of them were able overcome the difficulty and make it fun,” Mr. Kawamoto said.
As for turning students into positive agents of environmental change, Mr. Kawamoto explained: “There are many examples of this program being inherited from brothers and sisters, or from teachers. As we gain larger distribution networks, the message travels about Green Lane Diary, acquiring more interest from not only schools, but surrounding businesses which recognize the value of the program as well.”
Green Lane Diaries are composed of two main parts: a guidebook and the diary itself. The guidebook gives children background information about the environmental concept they will work on. Topics include issues ranging from global warming, renewable energy and recycling, to name a few. The guidebook also displays the latest environmental activities of governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations. Finally, the diary section is a space where children write their everyday activities and thoughts related to the environment for the duration of the program.
As Green Lane Diary began taking form, Green Cross Japan had to think of ways to introduce the program into Japanese schools. The project’s success depends heavily on cooperation between educators, governments and dedicated Green Cross members.
As Mr. Kawamoto explained: “In Japan, there are 47 prefectures and each prefecture has its own education board. We contacted all of them, asking that they inform the superintendent of each school district about Green Lane Diary.”
In an effort to encourage more schools to participate in the program, several years after its start, Green Cross Japan received donations from major companies of various industries, permitting the diary and course materials to be printed and distributed in larger numbers. Green Lane Diary also followed core environmental education already embedded in schools’ curricula.
In the 15 years that Green Lane Diary has been operating in Japan, it has reached over 1 million children in 8,000 schools. In 1999, initial circulation of the Diary was 25,000. From 2006 on, the average number of distributed diaries was 100,000 per year and 60% of Japanese schools repeated their participation in Green Lane Diary.
In 2004, after Green Lane Diary had already been in successful operation for five years, the third largest earthquake in recorded history released a tsunami, devastating communities in many nations in the Indian Ocean, including Sri Lanka. Mr. Kawamoto visited the country, believing instituting a Green Cross office in Sri Lanka would help it rebuild a greener future.
“We used funds from Green Cross Japan to build a small library for a Sri Lankan school and created the basis for an operational Green Lane Diary program for 5th grade school children,” said Mr. Kawamoto. “The diaries were initially handmade textbooks. We also had to translate the diaries from Japanese into Sinhala, the most widely spoken language in Sri Lanka.”
For four years, Green Cross Japan supported their Sri Lankan sister organization’s edition of the Green Lane Diary program, which is now funded by Mitsubishi Corporation. The program has reached over 7,000 Sri Lankan students in 50 schools since it began in 2005.
Green Cross Sri Lanka’s version of the Green Lane Diary focuses on climate change and water conservation, as well as how to protect the environment from tsunami damage.
As Hasitha Walpola of Green Cross Sri Lanka explained: “There is little knowledge of the environment and how to protect it in Sri Lanka. This environmental program helps children understand the importance of conservation, sustainability and protection.”
In 2009, Green Cross Sri Lanka organized a short drama competition among schools already participating in the Green Lane Diary program. Students became actors and portrayed issues facing the environment through dramatic interpretation. In addition to the theatrical competition, a poster competition was created, in which students designed artwork based upon a theme celebrating World Water Day.
Green Cross Sri Lanka hopes to translate Green Lane Diary into predominantly-Tamil areas after witnessing its success in Sinhala speaking regions.
The link between Green Lane Diary programs in Japan and Sri Lanka is best observed during the “Children’s Award Ceremony and Environment Symposium,” held every year in Tokyo, Japan. This event was created to highlight achievements of the most engaged environmental students. Award winners are chosen based on how well their journal reflects environmental consciousness, knowledge, action, practice, sustainability and passion.
In 2013 four Sri Lankan students and a teacher were flown to Japan for the ceremony to commend their extraordinary participation in the program. The Children’s Award Ceremony “adds value to the diary and offers children an opportunity to not only exchange information, but also present their own environmental activities,” explained Mr. Kawamoto.
As Ms. Walpola said, “We are extremely thankful that Green Cross Japan introduced the Green Lane Program to Green Cross Sri Lanka. It has made such an impact in our communities already and we hope to continue for many years to come.”
In 2010, Green Cross Australia introduced the first English-language version of Green Lane Diary, guided by the framework of the Japanese model. The project was so well funded that for two years, the diaries were printed and distributed for free. In 2013, Green Cross rolled out the first e-version of Green Lane Diary.
“This is Australia’s largest environmental education program. We have won so many awards for Green Lane Diaries. It is really awesome how it’s making young Australians think about sustainability for the future”, said Green Cross Australia Chief Executive Officer, Mara Bun. The Australian diary program has reached a total of 116,000 students in over 600 schools.
evolved to include partnerships with other “green” organizations to engage students in activities like cleaning up beaches or learning about sustainable agriculture, the theme for the 2014 Green Lane Diary. They have even created a system to rate how clean and green schools are.
“The diary supports learning and showcases the actions of children leading the charge to inspire their peers,” Rebecca Edmonds, Green Lane Diary Project Leader for Green Cross Australia. “These diaries that change the world encourage children to ‘be the change’ and lead projects in their homes, schools or communities to inspire and educate others.”
The most recent addition to Green Lane Diary’s international curriculum comes from Green Cross Korea. When deciding to implement an environmental education program, the organization based in Seoul wanted to ensure maximum outreach, and it found Green Lane Diary’s success in three separate countries, three distinct languages and three different school systems a good fit.
In his initial research into environmental education initiatives, Kui-ho Moon, Chief Operating Officer for Green Cross Korea, discovered that students were interested in engaging in environmental activities, but found there was a lack of established programs to guide them. “Green Lane Diary was the most effective environmental education program we found,” he said.
Mr. Moon engaged ink and paper companies to donate time and materials to print the Green Lane Diaries while convincing other businesses to help with distribution. The South Korean Ministry of Special Affairs also granted funds for the Green Lane Diary project in 2012. Since 2013, the Ministry of Security and Public Administration has granted and continues to support Green Cross and the Green Lane Diary in Korea.
In 2011, its first year, 100,000 copies of the Green Lane Diary were printed and distributed to 230 schools in South Korea, with 7,700 students enrolled in the Green Lane Diary contest, the awards of which were handed out by the Chairman of the National Assembly.
Students love the program, because it provides incentives to continue with their green missions. South Korean student, Jun-ho Kwak, who won the grand prize for his Green Lane Diary, said: “People say that it is hard to break old habits, but I was lucky to have the good ones and that is why I was given a big present. Make good habits like I did, then you will get a big present, too!”
Green Lane Diary is continually expanding in South Korea with support from the government and private businesses, which see the diaries as valuable and effective means to educate future generations on the importance of making environmental change now.
Xavier Guijarro, Director for Green Cross International’s Value Change program, which promotes youth environmental education, said the success of Green Lane Diary is due, in large part, to the “children who are not just the recipients of this education, but are also the influencers.”
Mr. Guijarro said expansion of Green Lane Diary into the Middle East as well as Europe and the Americas would be a great next step, but coming up with the funding necessary to support printing, translation and distribution can be tricky.
As he explained, “Innovative education models like Green Lane Diary have proven to be successful in the countries where they are functioning. But to expand into new countries and settings, resources are vital to help reaching out to schools, translating the materials and covering distribution costs.”
After spending the past 15 years growing Green Lane Diary’s global reach to over one million students in four countries, Mr. Kawamoto retains his belief in the positive influence that these diaries can have on children.
Green Lane Diary’s continued relevancy is grounded in its approach, which promotes an independency to learn more about ecology and nature, to be considerate toward the environment and to use this knowledge and power to execute these convictions. Perhaps most important is the belief that the fate of earth and humanity rests with children and it is with them that change should begin.
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McKeown, Rosalyn, Charles A. Hopkins, Regina Rizzi, and Marianne Chrystalbridge. Education for Sustainable Development Toolkit. Rep. Waste Management Research and Education Institution, July 2002. Web.