A children's book for our future

Children and researchers envision a sustainable world

Mar 2, 2023 | EMPA / ST. GALLEN UNIVERSITY OF TEACHER EDUCATION
What might life in a circular economy look like? Empa and the St. Gallen University of Teacher Education (PHSG) are collaborating with gifted children to develop visions for a sustainable future and to compile them into an illustrated children's book. The visions will combine the creativity of children with the expert knowledge of researchers.
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Together with primary schoolchildren, researchers from Empa and the St. Gallen University of Teacher Education (PHSG) are developing a children's book on circular economy. Image: Pixabay

Climate crisis, loss of biodiversity, growing mountains of waste, dwindling resources: Our (one and only) home planet is in deep crisis. Research tells us what we need to do in order to build a sustainable society: limit resource consumption to the planet's capacity, circulate materials in the technosphere, and provide sustainable materials cycles with renewable energy. However, the conditions, pathways, and opportunities are not very tangible.

In order to change this, Empa researchers sought out unusual collaboration partners: schoolchildren. Accompanied by the St. Gallen University of Teacher Education, they want work with primary schoolchildren to develop visions for a sustainable future and to compile them in an illustrated children's book. The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) is supporting the project, titled "Co-creating a Circular Future," as part of its Agora program, together with the household appliance manufacturer V-Zug and the trade association SWICO.

"If you ask adults for solutions for our future, you will get a thousand reasons why this or that won't work. But if you ask children, you will get a thousand ideas," says Harald Desing, a researcher in Empa's Technology & Society laboratory and initiator of the project. The idea of combining his research with children's creativity came to the father of two during the Corona lockdown. "I was annoyed that my sons' children's books almost exclusively depicted the world of yesterday," says the researcher. So he decided to combine children's imagination, openness and creativity with Empa researchers' understanding of biophysical limitations.

In spring, children, researchers and education experts will develop the visions in joint workshops. Then, designer and artist Maya Ivanova will translate them into a visual story about a sustainable circular economy. To ensure that the book can also be integrated into the school curriculum, the PHSG will develop appropriate supporting materials. "We don't want to predict the future, but provide food for thought," Desing says. And that cuts both ways: The children's ideas could also generate new impulses for research.


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