Back to School, The Green Way

With summer days passing too quickly for their children, many parents are anticipating the start of a new school year. Back to school time is a great opportunity to teach environmental values and responsibility to the younger set, as capitalist tradition compels parents to dive into a sea of consumer goods with their children by their sides.

Many parents will face the back-to-school season with tighter budgets this year, so environmental concerns may not be top of mind for shoppers.  But there are still some great ways to lighten your footprint and teach valuable lessons.

First, the basics.  Apply other environmental tips you know.

Reduce.  Or “precycle.”  Sit down with your student and make a list of back-to-school needs before you hit the stores.  Talk about buying only what you need – that locker wallpaper may look cool, but will it eventually end up in the garbage? Shop for classic and multi-season clothing that will get more use and last longer. Invest in a reusable water/drink bottle for lunchtime an after school activities – preferably one without BPA (Nalgene lovers, take heart.  The company is phasing out use of BPA in its bottles.) Look for supplies that have recycled content – Staples and Home Depot both offer green office supply lines, and Pilot Pens now markets BeGreen roller balls and ball points, made of 70 percent recycled material.

Reuse.  If your student’s backpack, lunch tote, water bottle, or any other accessory from last year can make it through another semester or year, put it back to work.  Peruse the closet and bureaus.  Can backbones like jeans, jackets, fleece, etc. make it a few more miles? If so, keep them.  If your child objects, use the opportunity to talk about responsible consumerism and the need to simplify our consumption habits for the good of the environment. If you find you do need replacement items later, you may be able to save a few dollars on staple items like these when sales hit in a few months.

Recycle. While inventorying your student’s clothes, supplies and accessories from last year, you’re likely to run into some items that no longer fit, have fallen from trend grace, or have just seen their day.  Look for creative ways to recycle these items. Got old athletic shoes?  Nike collects used shoes – no matter the brand – to manufacture Nike Grind, a material it uses to build safe play surfaces in under privileged neighborhoods.  Visit for details on contributing.  Patagonia has a similar program for used fleece clothing called Common Threads.  Information is available at Again, don’t forget about local charities that take clothing donations, and of course, the Freecycle network.

Other ideas:

Combine your trips if possible.  Don’t make separate trips for clothing, shoes, supplies and whatever else your children may need.  Look for shopping centers and malls where you can do most of your back-to-schooling in one place, and cut down on trips between stores.  Not only is this practice environmentally friendly, it will save you money on gas.

Take your own bags.  Many department and boutique stores, including Macy’s, are now encouraging customers to bring reusable bags to their stores for purchases. Keep your receipts handy, just in case you run into someone who hasn’t gotten the word on global warming.

Consider shopping online. If you’re looking for eco-friendly products, you’ll probably find a much greater selection on the Web.  And again, you’ll be saving gas (that DHL truck is on the road anyway).  If you do plan to make a lot of online purchases, think about buying through a Web site like, which will funnel a portion of your purchase amount to any charity (bonus if you pick an environmental group) at no extra cost based on agreements it has developed with retailers.

Finally, if you’re looking for environmentally friendly products, but haven’t yet developed high confidence in the recently-established glut of eco-companies, there are some great alternatives from names you know and trust. Check out these items:

Lands’ Ends’ new PVC-free lunch boxes at

Clothing from Patagonia, made of recycled soda bottles, unusable second quality fabrics, and worn out garments, at

Earth Keepers foot ware for men from Timberland, incorporate organic, recycled and renewable materials and solvent-free adhesives.

Nike’s Trash Talk athletic shoes, built from manufacturing waste, are worn by Phoenix Sun’s All-Star Steve Nash. A little pricy, but worth a look. Check them out at

For your fashionista’s, look for natural cosmetics.  Burt’s Bees makes some of the best lip glosses and balms around.  Not only are the ingredients natural, the packaging is made from recycled materials.  For hair care, check out Aveda,, one of the first companies to mix beauty and nature successfully.  Its new campaign on water pollution awareness looks directly at the next big environmental crisis in the pipeline (pun intended). The Body Shop, , and Origins, , also offer great alternatives to traditional cosmetics. 

Posted in Natural Living.

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