At-home and at school learning resources from Learning for a Sustainable Future
Fall Week 13: Hot Topic - Buy Nothing Day
This week's Hot Topic is all about Buy Nothing Day! Originally started in Vancouver and now celebrated all around the world, Buy Nothing Day focuses on the role of consumerism in our lives and the importance of being conscious about what we buy. Many environmental, social, and ethical consequences come with the issue of overconsumption and advertising in the developed world. The motivation behind Buy Nothing Day is SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production that ensures sustainable consumption and production patterns. Buy Nothing Day allows us to reflect on our choices and make changes towards a new lifestyle. Shop and eat locally; supporting neighbourhood businesses keeps people employed and circulates money back into your community.
The activities below will introduce students to important sustainability concepts such as examining our needs vs. wants, overconsumption, and the impact our purchases can have on the environment!
Grades K-3
In this animated video, Oliver, Brad, and Clementine participate in a challenge where they are given 60 seconds in a toy store to collect whatever objects make them happy. Brad and Oliver collect shopping carts full of toys but are only mildly happy and can't recall what toys they chose. Clementine, on the other hand, selects only one small toy but is thrilled with her choice. By examining the concept of needs vs. wants, students learn that the things that make us happy are not necessarily things that cost money.

What did you think of Happiness?
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Grades 4-6
I Love Potatoes is an adventure strategy game designed to let students have fun while discussing sustainable development. In this game, students discover that potatoes are a metaphor for money. They will need to analyze the roles of the various characters and symbols in the game. They will notice the consequences of overconsumption and discover there are other possibilities.

  • After playing the game, discuss - What are the environmental consequences of the overconsumption of potatoes? Is it easy to change our consumer habits? Do you think we throw away things that could be reused? 
  • Debate overconsumption and its consequences using the Four Corners debate activity. This Four Corners template will help students organize their thoughts in preparation for the debate
  • Put your waste to good use with these upcycling projects or create your own. Start an Upcycle Bin in your classroom and encourage students to use their imagination 
  • Write a letter to your family and explain how you can become a smarter, more responsible consumer. Invite your family to reflect on their habits and take action to consume better
What did you think of I Love Potatoes?
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This resource focuses on the relationship between human consumption and environmental degradation, with particular attention paid to declining biodiversity. Students first become familiar with a number of concepts, including consumption patterns, resource depletion, ecological footprint, and insight into why society should reduce consumption. 

  • Use this Zero Footprint Youth Calculator to find out what you eat, what you use, what you throw out and tips for setting goals for yourself. Visit other classrooms to talk about reducing consumption and ecological footprints
  • Pretend you are from another planet. Browse the weekly flyers online. After looking at these flyers, determine the interest, values, lifestyles and quality of life of the earthling. Another option is to browse store flyers from home and complete the What's in an Ad? worksheet. Write a personal response to this activity and share it with the class
  • Learn more about Ad Creation and have students research about how ads are created and targeted. Let students create their own ad
  • Play You Are Here (site requires flash) or play here (without flash) to learn about advertising and how it affects you as a consumer in the virtual mall
  • Another fun way to celebrate Buy Nothing Day is to get crafty with upcycling. Repurpose, reuse and upcycle old things; consider thinking ahead and making some for green holiday gifts
What did you think of Reducing Global Consumption?
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Grades 9-12
This lesson plan focuses students' attention on consumerism and asks them to consider its benefits and drawbacks. Students identify the different influences on their spending habits with particular attention to the role of the media. They track their recent purchases and consider how many of their purchases should be regarded as needs instead of wants. Students are introduced to Buy Nothing Day and the impact that 'what, why and how much we buy' has on our planet and our quality of life

  • Try the Needs and Wants activity. Make a list of all of the items you have purchased in the last two weeks. Identify which items are needs and which are wants. Compare your list with a partner
  • Celebrate Buy Nothing Day and abstain from purchasing anything. Brainstorm a list of things you can do with your time when you don't spend any money. Here are some ways you can spend time outside and enjoy winter fun
  • The day after Buy Nothing Day, write about how you feel. Was it difficult for you to abstain from buying for a day? Has it changed the way you think about consumerism and consumption? Write a few paragraphs about how your outlook might change if we all celebrated Buy Nothing Day every month or every week instead of once a year
  • Identify some of your possessions that you currently don't use. Which of these might be revitalized, reused, or repurposed, either for your use or by others? Do you think this could be one solution for minimizing the impact of consumerism? Why or why not?
  • Create a flyer to promote Buy Nothing Day
  • Create a video or text message to persuade your friends to celebrate Buy Nothing Day. Use this handout to help you formulate your message
  • Share your message or flyer with us at #LearningInsideOut
What did you think of Buy Nothing Day?
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About Learning Inside Out

Above you will find a selection of activities, broken down by various grade levels. These guides will be released weekly and archived on our Learning Inside Out page, so you can always access the full catalogue.

All activities have been modified from resources on our R4R database, simplified and adapted for both outdoor learning in the school yard or at-home as needed. The activity descriptions above should contain all the information and links that you need!

If you'd like to view the full original resource on R4R, including curriculum connections for every province/territory, click the activity title.

We want this guide to work for you, so your feedback is invaluable to us.
Use the feedback button at the bottom of this Guide, or email us at We would also love to see photos of students engaging in the activities, please e-mail us any pictures or videos you have!
Let us know how this helped your learning and teaching from home or at school indoors and (hopefully) outdoors and what you'd like to see more of by filling out our brief feedback form!
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Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF) is a Canadian charity with over 25 years of experience working within the education system. Our Resources for Rethinking (R4R) database is an award-winning collection of resources that are peer-reviewed by certified teachers and connected to curriculum in all provinces and territories. R4R is recommended on many Ministry of Education websites.
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