1-2 Activity 9: The Real Cost


This activity introduces the hidden impacts of everyday products that students might buy, such as t-shirts, fruit, and bottles of water. Through simulated shopping experiences, students take on the role of a consumer and make choices about which of two similar products to buy—once without and once with information about the environmental externalities of those products. Discussions help students explore the consequences of negative externalities and the ways in which they can be internalized.


Full Activity (with student pages included)

Student Pages 

Presentations and Teacher Notes

Supporting Materials



You can find more related websites at the end of Activity 9 or check out Additional Resources for the entire module.

  • The Secret Life of Things – Website with a set of short videos and learning resources to explore the hidden environmental impacts of everyday things.
  • The Story of Stuff Project – Website contains links to several short videos related to how things are created, used, and thrown away. Video scripts and resources are available for using these materials in classrooms.
  • The Enormous Carbon Footprint of Food that We Never Even Eat – This Washington Post article describes an effect of food waste that may be unknown to many–how producing food that goes uneaten contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions.


Teacher Comments

The feedback from the students was that the activity was very interesting and eye opening.
AP Environmental Science Teacher, North Carolina
This activity was the favorite for my students! They enjoyed discussing and comparing items with each other and among the larger group.
Land Resources Teacher, Florida
Land Resources Teacher, Florida
The Externalities Essay was a perfect writing assessment for the students, helping to blend in multiple focal points for my students with the necessary writing components they are required to regularly complete. Thanks for the writing!
”Seventh, ”Kentucky”
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