RISE Guidebook:
Phase 1

What's in this page?

Phase 1.1: Learn About the Climate Crisis

It’s time to learn about the Climate Crisis! In Phase 1, your team will explore 5 key topics that contribute to climate change and choose one that you want to address. You’ll also learn about environmental justice and how different communities are affected differently when it comes to the climate crisis. Next you’ll choose a project to solve a problem around your chosen topic and set a goal to make maximum impact in your community.

What's at Stake?

Watch this video from our favorite scientist, Bill Nye to learn how and why our climate is changing and what’s at stake.

Pick Your Topic

Now explore the 5 different topics that contribute to climate change caused by human behavior. Click through the topic icons below to learn about each topic, explore project ideas, and find resources to help you build your project. As you explore the topics think about: 

  • Which topic impacts your school the most
  • Which topic impacts your community the most 
  • Which topics do you have interest in

By the end of Phase 1.1, you will choose one of these topics to focus on as the foundation for your climate solution project.

E-Waste is a Growing Problem

In 2021, humans generated 57.4 Million Metric Tonnes (Mt) of E-waste–a number that increases every year. Electronic items such as phones, televisions, computers, tablets, etc. are created with toxic substances like mercury that are harmful to the environment and humans. As humans continue to rely on technology across the world, the amount of E-Waste will continue to grow without protocols to ensure the majority of E-Waste is properly managed and recycled. The solution is to make smarter choices when buying these products and learn how to properly recycle our electronic waste. [1]

Landfills Accelerate Climate Change

Clothing, electronics, single-use plastics, and all the other stuff we buy/use has significant effects on our climate. If our waste is not recycled or burned, it will most likely end up in a landfill. Landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions in the United States. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is created as organisms decompose organic materials below the surface. According to scientists, 25% of our current climate change crisis is driven by methane created by humans. If we reduce our use, manage our waste responsibly, and recycle to send less waste to landfills, we can help mitigate climate change. [2]

Plastics Are Immortal and Not Easily Recycled

Most plastic items never fully disappear; they just break down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics over the course of hundreds of years. Every year, around 380 million metric tons of plastic are being produced, with 150 million tons coming from single use plastics which are designed to be used once before being discarded. Where does all this plastic go? Most waste is either incinerated or landfilled–it is rarely recycled. However, all three of these options produce greenhouse gas emissions.The best solution to reduce greenhouse gasses caused by waste is to reduce our use of single use plastics and other products we don’t need. [3]

Food Waste Creates Greenhouse Gasses

It’s estimated that 30-40% of food in the US is thrown away every year. When done eating, many people throw their scraps in the trash, which creates food waste. That leftover food is often sent to landfills and as it rots, it releases a gas called methane. Methane is one of the leading greenhouse gasses that causes climate change. It is 28 times more powerful at heating the planet than carbon dioxide, one of the other major greenhouse gasses. [1]

Producing Food Has a Climate Impact

The process of growing the food we eat and getting it to stores/restaurants can be very carbon intensive. Some foods have a greater impact on our climate than others. For instance, Livestock accounts for about 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally according to the United Nations. What can you do to help? Making the choice to eat less meat every week can make a difference on your personal carbon footprint. [2]

Transporting Food Has a Climate Impact

Food miles refers to the distance food travels between production and when it reaches the consumer. The amount of emissions attributed to the transportation/delivery of food makes this another factor used when considering the environmental impact of food. In a single year, the total miles of international food transport contributed to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions. This accounts for 8% of all global emissions per year. The best solution is to buy food from local sources in addition to reducing the amount of food we purchase. [3]

Deforestation Leads to Climate Change

CO2 emissions from tropical deforestation accounts for 10 percent of Greenhouse gas emissions. About 30 percent of carbon emissions can be absorbed by trees and soil which equates to 16 billion metric tons of CO2 annually. One acre of mature trees removes up to 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide each year. When trees are cut down, we lose our natural carbon capture system which means there will be more carbon in the atmosphere leading to climate change. If we plant more trees or prevent deforestation, we could remove up to two-thirds of CO2 from earth’s atmosphere. [1]

Algal Blooms Negatively Affect the Environment

Direct sunlight, warmer water, and increased precipitation influenced by climate change provides the perfect opportunity for uncontrolled growth of blue-green algae. As climate change, illegal waste dumping, and run-off from agricultural lands continues, algae blooms will become more frequent which can suffocate aquatic plants and animals. Scientists have also discovered that specific algae species are harmful to the health of humans By convincing the government and local farmers to employ Best Management Practices, nutrients run-off can be prevented from entering water sources. International environmental education and political efforts to mitigate climate change are another yet longer term solution to help minimize the effects of climate change and the occurrences of algal blooms. [2]

Climate Change Can Lead to Extinction

As global temperatures continue to rise, the environment will change and some animal species will no longer be able to survive in their natural habitats. These conditions allow invasive species to thrive, further throwing the environment off balance. Without proper management of climate change, 33% of all species could be extinct within 50 years. Losing one-third of our plant and animal species will have irreversible consequences for human health, ecosystem functionality, and biodiversity. Keeping a balanced ecosystem means that we’ll have clean air and water, pollinated plants, and storage of carbon in trees and soil. With healthy ecosystems, we’re able to reduce 37% of the carbon emissions needed to prevent rising temperatures. [3]

Changing Climate Limits Resources

Climate change is an important issue for humans because it not only affects the climate, but it also affects natural resources. As global average temperatures continue to increase, weather patterns and seasons will become increasingly difficult to predict. This means resources humans have historically relied on, such as water reservoirs, will subside and it will be extremely difficult to predict when they will refill or when new sources will become available. [1]

Temperatures Affect Water Quality

In addition to climate change affecting the quantity of reservoirs, it also has a significant impact on the quality of water as well. As temperatures, waste dumping, and greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, pathogens that contaminate our water increase as well. This can lead to processes such as eutrophication, which is the overgrowth of bacteria and algae in aquatic systems. Consequences of eutrophication include reduced oxygen, reduced primary production (plant death), and loss of habitat for animals. [2]

Most Water is Used for Industry

While water is an important resource for maintaining all life on Earth, a majority of its uses by humans are centered around industry rather than drinking. In fact, high income countries use around 60% of our water reservoirs for industrial development and maintenance instead of drinking purposes. Some of these industrial processes include fossil fuel production, electricity turbine cooling, and cleaning of machinery. [2]

Plastic Affects Our Energy Consumption

While many people associate plastic with waste in regards to the climate crisis, it’s also a significant issue in the energy/transportation sector. The production, processing, and incineration of plastic is an intensive process that is responsible for emitting 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere in a single year. If this is not addressed, this number could increase to 2.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050. [1]

Transportation is Largest Emitter

While there are many inputs to greenhouse gas emissions, the transportation sector contributes the largest percentage in the United States. In 2021, the transportation sector accounted for 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions which included vehicles, air travel, shipping, and many more. Without proper reduction plans, emissions will continue to grow which can lead to issues like increasing temperatures, reduced air quality, and extreme weather events. [2]

Energy Use is Continuing to Grow

Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been emitting a significant amount of greenhouse gasses which has altered the global climate. In 2021 alone, humans were responsible for releasing 36.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere with a significant majority being used for the production of electricity. Every year, the magnitude of emissions continues to grow and the need for reduction becomes increasingly important. [3]


2 Videos

Phase 1.2: Learn About Environmental Justice

It’s time to learn about Environmental Justice. Although the climate crisis is a global issue, some communities experience negative environmental impacts at a greater degree than others. Race and income level map closely with pollution, unequal protection, and vulnerability. Zip code is still the strongest predictor of an individual’s health and well-being. Environmental justice embraces the principle that all people and communities have a right to equal protection and equal enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.

How Does Environmental Justice Relate to Your Topic?

Learn about how Environmental Justice is linked with each of the climate crisis topics below. After you learn about environmental justice, reflect on how it relates to your chosen topic in and around your community.

Environmental Justice: Waste

Waste facilities like incinerators, landfills, and waste treatment plants are almost always located in communities of black, indigenous, and people of color whose residents experience the negative health impacts of the resulting increased pollutants and toxins. Each of these three options results in the production and emission of greenhouse gasses, air, and noise pollution.

What Can You Do?

  • Promote reusing and upcycling items
  • Advocate to improve healthcare and air quality
  • Hold facilities accountable on the chemicals they emit and use


Environmental Justice: Food

Large scale industrial animal factories and agricultural farms are intentionally created in rural areas where the land is cheaper and Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities live less than 5 miles away. Soon those community members and workers start to develop health problems like asthma, throat irritation, and anxiety from this industry due to pollution from chemicals in pesticides, animal waste, and industrial emissions.

What Can You Do?

  • Reduce meat consumption and support farmer’s markets
  • Promote healthy eating and support sustainably produced foods
  • Donate to and support food banks


Environmental Justice: Plants & Animals

Large scale industrial animal factories and agricultural farms are intentionally created in rural areas where the land is cheaper and Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities live less than 5 miles away. Soon those community members and workers start to develop health problems like asthma, throat irritation, and anxiety from this industry due to pollution from chemicals in pesticides, animal waste, and industrial emissions.

What Can You Do?

  • Increase urban tree cover
  • Combat the urban heat island effect
  • Hold facilities accountable to increase tree coverage in a city


Environmental Justice: Water

More than 540 million school aged children attend schools that do not have basic clean drinking water and sanitation services. Residents in poor or Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities who live close to industrial buildings disproportionately risk contamination of their local water resources and leading to unsafe drinking water.

What Can You Do?

  • Reduce water consumption
  • Advocate to improve water quality
  • Hold facilities accountable to ensuring clean access to water


Environmental Justice: Energy & Transportation

Fossil fuel production unfairly impacts low-income communities and communities of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color where the residents are exposed to higher rates of pollution and toxins than they consume. Furthermore, As Highways were built across this country from 1957 to 1977, more than 1 million people living in low income communities and communities of color were displaced and their neighborhoods were destroyed for the benefit of those in more wealthy communities.

What Can You Do?

  • Advocate for transitions to renewable energy alternatives
  •  Encourage energy efficiency practices
  • Advocate for improved public transportation alternatives


Phase 1.3: Pick Your Project and Set Your Goals

Pick Your Topic

Now that you have chosen a topic and you understand how it relates to environmental justice it’s time to pick a project and set your goal. Below are some project ideas to get you started. Feel free to use one of these or get creative and come up with your own.

Set Your Goal

Once you have settled on a project, you will set an effective goal to guide you in building out the project details.

An Effective Goal for your Climate Solutions Project should:

  • Be well defined
  • Be measurable and may include the amount of greenhouse gas your project aims to reduce or prevent (if applicable)
  • Be time bound with a set start and end date
  • List specific actions taken to ensure success


It is important that your goal is measurable because you will want to be able to calculate the environmental impact you have made when the project is finished. The measurable part of your goal could include things like, how many actions you took (ex. 100 trees planted),  how much greenhouse gas you reduced (ex 1.3 tons of C02 reduced), how many people your campaign reached or inspired (350 people saw our presentation or 300 people signed our petition), or how much waste you diverted (400 pounds of food waste composted).

Generic vs. Effective Goal

Here are two examples of goal statements. The first is generic and unlikely to result in success, while the second contains all the components of an effective goal and is much more likely to result in a successful project:

More examples of effective project goals:

  • We want to educate 75% of our school community (measurable) on the harms of single-use plastics and how to avoid them (well defined) by conducting a Public Education and Action Campaign by holding three Zoom webinars in the month of March (time bound), that teach the students how avoid and upcycle plastic (specific action).
  • We will improve air quality at our school (well defined) by holding a bake sale and fundraising (specific action) for 25 maple trees (measurable) which we will then plant on the south and west sides of the playground during the month of March (time bound).

Bonus Point

Connecting with an expert on your topic can help ensure you’re on the right track with your project and the best way to benefit your community. They can provide insight into how your topic impacts your community and which projects would be most needed. For instance, if you want to plant trees in your city, you may want to contact a local arborist who can tell you what trees are best suited for your climate and where there is need for them in your community. Experts can include non profits or businesses who specialize in your topic, community or district leaders, local government, and city employees.

Find an Expert to Level Up Your Campaign

So far, you have chosen your topic and solution, explored some possible project ideas, and learned about campaign types. The next step is to reach out to local experts with experience in your topic. They can provide insight into how your topic impacts your community and which projects would be most needed. These are some experts to think about contacting. Remember, you can always reach out to your team’s Grades of Green Advisor for more ideas.

Reach Out to an Expert (Text Version)

In Your School 

  • Superintendent or Principal 
  • Head of Nutritional Service 
  • Head of Maintenance and Operations
  • Teacher 

In Your Community 

  • City Council or Mayor 
  • Public Works 
  • Environmental or Sustainability Manager 
  • Advocacy group 

In the Business Sector 

  • Non-Profit Executive Director 
  • Company President or CEO
  • Business Manager 
  • Chamber of Commerce 
  • Restaurant Owner

Finding an Expert

Not sure how to pinpoint exactly what kind of expert to reach out to? Below are a few helpful tips on what type(s) of expert you should contact!

In your School...
  • Thinking about a project centered at school and unsure how to make it happen?
    • Contact your principal or superintendent.
  • Considering a project centered around food or waste at your school?
    • Contact your school’s head of maintenance and operations or district’s nutritional service
  • Interested in educating your fellow classmates about your project?
    • Contact your teacher, principal, or department head
  • Need support and advice from the community to launching your climate project?
    • Contact an advocacy group, environmental lawyer, or academic.
  • Looking to see a physical change somewhere in your city?
    • Contact a local city council member or public works officer.
  • Seeking legislation change by passing an ordinance within your city?
    • Contact your city council member, Mayorsustainability manager, or advocacy group
  • Pursuing a city-wide educational campaign or contest?
    • Contact your local city council member or sustainability manager
  • Trying to convince a business to move towards more climate friendly practices? 
    • Contact the business manager, owner, or CEO.  
  • Want to host an Environmental event in your community?
    • Contact a local nonprofit director or Chamber of Commerce member.
  • Need additional funding for your project?
    • Contact your local Chamber of Commerce to identify businesses in your area that would support your cause.

These are just a few ideas on who to contact. Think outside the box as there are many people looking to support action on Climate Change.

Need help on who you should contact? Reach out to your advisor for extra guidance! 

Contacting your Expert

Download an example email and phone script that you can use to connect with your expert. You can even ask your Advisor to be on the call! 

Phase 1 Form

Congratulations on finishing Phase 1. You know the goal you’re working towards and you’re ready to put a plan in place to make it happen. Before moving on to Phase 2 complete the Phase 1 form. Copy and paste the answers from your Phase 1 worksheets. If you need assistance, do not hesitate to reach out to your advisor!