Generations Going Green: Intergenerational Programs Connecting Young and Old to Improve Our Environment


by Sheri Y. Steinig and Donna M. Butts, Generations – Journal of the American Society on Aging, 2009/10

Generations are linked throughout time….Perhaps nothing so well illustrates the degree to which one generation cares about future generations as how much it invests in protecting the environment. Learning about and cherishing a healthy environment is taught, not passed on genetically. Elders always have been, and always should be, the keepers of this covenant and have always worked to pass on a commitment to the environment. Intergenerational environmental programs are a valuable mechanism for fulfilling this role.

Another way that intergenerational strategies can have a positive impact on the environment can be seen in shared sites and in housing developments that integrate the generations. These can significantly decrease the impact of development on our environment. Shared sites can protect green spaces by having one edifice that houses a senior center, a recreation center, a youth center, and a library, for example, instead of two or three separate buildings. In addition, a number of new intergenerational facilities are built using environmentally friendly practices. 

Case Studies

Intergenerational Green Teams

Groundwork Hudson Valley has developed the Intergenerational Green Teams program to mobilize older adults and youth to turn vacant lots into gardens and play areas in Yonkers, New York. The teams create and tend parks, gardens, and green spaces in low-income neighborhoods.

Roots and Shoots School Garden

Roots and Shoots is an intergenerational gardening project integrated into the school curriculum in Lexington, Virginia. Working with older-adult community volunteers and school-age children (Head Start through fifth grade), the program uses a garden as an outdoor classroom with carefully designed science lesson plans. The garden is an integral part of the year-round school program. 

These case studies show how to incorporate education into intergenerational activities. In these cases, teaching is approached with a “learning by doing” mentality. This article is relevant to my thesis because seniors have identified how they would like to learn about nature, but want it to be done in a more interactive manner; these case studies show a way to accomplish this. This article also briefly mentions the financial benefit of intergenerational, shared sites. Shared sites can share resources, utilities, and space to minimize costsand make the most out of a plot of land.