Talking with kids about sustainability

Empowering your children to take the lead on environmental advocacy is easier than you think

A boy on a propane bus.
(Image credit: Courtesy Image)

In association with the Propane Education & Research Council

Jack, 13, from South Carolina, surprised his parents one day, telling them he wanted to give his bus driver, Miss Geri, a new propane-powered school bus. Jack, who has autism and has been treated since birth for bilateral complex clubfoot (the soles of his feet touched each other), saw some buses at his school that were propane-powered. They had stickers that said they were good for the environment. But the bus created to transport students with special needs ran on diesel fuel. "When he told us his idea, we explained that we couldn't buy a bus," his mom, Shawn, said. "So, my husband suggested that Jack petition the school. After that, it was the only topic of conversation."

Through research, petitions, and letters, Jack made his case. Just over a year after Jack's initial request, officials from his school district and the state surprised him with the propane bus. Jack was recognized with a Clean Energy Hero Award from the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). Most exciting for Jack: Geri drove him on the bus's inaugural ride before its first official run.

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While the idea and execution were the product of Jack's hard work, he had the support of parents and educators to guide him through the process. Here's how you can help your child pursue their big ideas:

Capitalize on their interests

Jack's love for school buses is well-known to his family, teachers, and especially Miss Geri. He has a collection of school-bus-themed videos, books, and T-shirts. So, it was only natural he'd be interested in riding in a more sustainable bus. Tapping into your child's interest can help focus their desire to help the planet and identify attainable solutions.

Learn together

At 13, Jack is no stranger to doing research on the internet — and his parents encouraged him to find out what he could learn about the benefits of propane buses, and then report back.

Sitting with younger children to teach them the ins and outs of safe searching, while discovering information together about sustainability is a great way to show them that you share their desire for more sustainable solutions.

Tout the benefits

"I told Jack, if he wanted the school district to buy a propane bus, he'd need to make sure to tell them the reasons why they should," said Jeff, Jack's dad. Jack discovered that propane engines are quieter and produce fewer harmful emissions compared to diesel engines. He also learned that propane buses cost more to buy than diesel buses but cost less to operate and maintain

Make the ask

Showing your child how to put their research to work for their cause is another smart way to support their efforts. Jack created a petition and drafted a letter to officials. His parents helped him identify the correct school and district leaders to receive the letter. Jeff showed Jack how to start a business letter. "We looked up the transportation director's address, and then Jack addressed it, stamped it, and mailed it."

Champion children's voices

Kids' voices can spur action: The director of transportation came to school to meet Jack. He told Jack that he would look into acquiring the bus. "The transportation director told me it made not only his day but his year, to receive a letter from a student," Jeff said. "It made a difference that the request came from a child."

Small steps to big results

Supporting your child's endeavor by guiding them to small, achievable actions can yield huge benefits. Jack's actions ultimately inspired the South Carolina Department of Education to invest in 235 propane school buses to be used across the state.

For more inspiration and sustainability solutions, visit

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