Student-Friendly Apps to Teach Sustainability

Want to track your carbon footprint? Find out where to recycle your old phone? Buy produce that meets certain green standards? Good news – there are apps for each of those tasks, and more.

Sustainability apps have been growing in number and popularity in recent years. Most are geared towards adults, even drawing on information from utility bills and grocery lists to help you make more informed decisions. But what about sustainability apps for the next generation? What tech tools are available to educate our students and help them foster healthy habits? In fact, there are plenty! Let’s explore a few:

Shine by JouleBug

No review of sustainability apps would be complete without a nod towards JouleBug. The app promotes a green lifestyle through gamification. In particular, it provides tips on daily activities like carpooling and recycling, and awards points when you complete these activities. A social network adds an element of both community and competition. Even more, you can track and show off your impact through badges and a personalized “trophy case.”

 The element that makes JouleBug particularly classroom-friendly is the ability to create teams and complete challenges with its app for organizations, called Shine. Students can form teams within a single class, or an entire school can set up competing classrooms or grade levels. From Meatless Mondays to thrift store shopping, students see how their choices contribute to savings in energy, CO2, and dollars!

Discovery VR

In the Photo: Young girl using VR Headset in South Korea. Photo Credit: Insung Yoon via Unsplash

Virtual Reality in education is a relatively new concept. Nonetheless, initial findings suggest it boosts student engagement. Why not leverage this new EdTech tool to allow students to immerse themselves in different ecosystems around the world? From rescuing rhinos to protecting pandas, Discovery VR offers content that helps students feel like they are a part of the environments they are studying.

The videos are supported on a range of VR devices but you do not necessarily need a fancy headset. One popular option among teachers is Google Cardboard, which offers a range of options under $20 as well as DIY instructions. Alternatively, you can access Discovery VR content as 360 videos for viewing on most mobile devices.

Loss of the Night

In the Photo: Two people stargazing in the United States. Photo Credit: Ryan Jacobson via Unsplash

Air and water pollution are common topics regarding sustainability, but what about light pollution? Loss of the Night is an app that provides information on and helps you contribute to the study of this environmental change.

Drawing on Google’s Sky Map technology, Loss of the Night allows students to become “citizen scientists.” Students can search for and report on the visibility of stars in their area. Data is anonymously collected and reported to communities studying light pollution. The app also provides educational content on constellations, skyglow, and the potential impact of light pollution on nocturnal ecosystems. As stated in the app description, “Hopefully in the future, cities will save energy and money, while having appropriately lit streets, dark bedrooms, and a sky once again full of stars.


In the Photo: iPhone charging station. Photo Credit: Daniel Korpai via Unsplash.

From charging our phones overnight or leaving our tablets plugged in on our desks, many of us are guilty of overcharging our devices. Unplugging at 90% charge is a simple action that can save energy and increase the overall life of our batteries. 

EcoCharge provides an easy reminder to develop this habit by sounding an alarm when your device is ready to be unplugged. This simple notification could be particularly impactful in classrooms with laptop or tablet carts or charging stations for student devices. Moreover, when used in conjunction with Joulebug, it could earn you a few extra sustainability points!

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Games Galore

In the Photo: Young child using a tablet. Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

It would be nearly impossible to pick just one game-style app that promotes sustainability for school-aged children and teens. Regardless of grade level, there are plenty to be played. Indeed, many of which blur the line between educational content and entertainment. Below is a quick (and far from comprehensive) list:

  • Habitat has players keep a digital polar bear alive by completing activities both in the game and in the real world.
  • Sustainability Aware provides interactive content on a range of curriculum-aligned sustainability-related content for students ages 8-12.
  • Miniwalla the Forest Story teaches about endangered animals and environmental conservation through songs and stories.
  • Namoo includes augmented reality and 3D artwork to present information on the life of plants and food production.
  • MarcoPolo Ocean uses cartoon graphics to teach about marine life.
  • Gro Garden explores organic farming through interactions with environmental characters like “Connie the Compost.”
  • Larger EdTech companies like BrainPop provide a wealth of games on science topics related to sustainability, from natural resources to carbon emission.

Many of these resources are particularly impactful because they encourage active learning. Many traditional education experiences seek to inform the learner. However, the question of how to apply new concepts often goes unanswered. By encouraging students to unplug devices, conserve water, and consider the effects of their daily actions on the environment, these tech tools have the potential to engage our students and children in a deeper level of learning. If the next generation can use this learning to spread sustainable habits to their peers, as well as to the adults in their lives, we may witness an EdTech-enabled ripple effect with a significant impact on our world.


In the Cover Picture: Students using apps on laptops and computers. Photo Credit: STEMShare NSW via Unsplash.


About the Author /

Laura Janusek is Chief Product Officer and founding team member at Modern Teacher, a company that provides technology-enabled solutions to support K12 school districts across the U.S. In this role, Laura oversees the development lifecycle from ideation through live releases and enhancements. She is an active member of communities for women in technology, and she is passionate about education equity and technology’s ability to improve lives in the education space and beyond.

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