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Back to school is always a time of excitement,and relative chaos coupled with the invigorating possibility of a fresh start. It’s a busy time and the idea of adding a green commitment to the planning may seem daunting However, it’s also the ideal time to lay the foundation for an environmentally sustainable year. Gone are the days when the great divide required choosing between convenience and sustainability.
The tides are turning and ensuring that your family’s back-to school meets your green standards is easier than ever. From waste-free lunches, to car-free travel,to recycled supplies and greener school cleaners, conscientious parents everywhere are planning for a green school year. Every parent knows that the key to success, in almost any endeavor, is time. And every parent agrees that we never have enough of it. To plan a sustainable school year, start preparing for back-to-school well ahead of the impending date. By allowing yourself a few weeks to get organized you’ll have the time to make conscientious choices and save a ton.
Plan, Prepare + Save
Take an inventory of what you have and buy only what you need. This means comparing the school supply list to the supplies on hand, evaluating wardrobes and checking bags and containers for wear. According to the National Retail Federation back-to school spending in 2010 surpassed $55.12 billion, with the largest category of spending being clothing and accessories. Each and every one of those purchases has an environmental cost as well as a monetary cost. The step that carries the most to green up back-to-school is to buy less. Make an itemized list of needs and stick to it! Resist the pressure to buy “equally” for every child. Adopting the attitude that each child gets what they NEED will minimize the extraneous buys while assuring hopeful pupils-to-be that a back-to-school something is coming their way. Itemized list in hand, start sourcing early. Think outside the box-store box and seek school supplies from online distributors, specialty stores with greener choices and purchase at least some of that apparel from thrift stores.
Getting There Green
For many families, driving to school isn’t really necessary. Setting goals can help to establish conscientious transport plans from day one. Start with modest and achievable goals that set everyone on the path to success. A family reward - like ice cream after 10 car-free school days - might help to create a team atmosphere and motivate late risers or weary travelers to brave the elements in the morning. Once the pattern is changed, you will likely find that you relish the fresh air at the start and end of each day. Aside from the obvious environmental incentives, the benefits of a car-free morning are numerous:
Fresh oxygenated blood prepares the mind for a productive day at school or home.
Exercise prepares the body for active life.
The extra time that it takes to bike, walk or bus to school provides an ideal opportunity to check in with kids, who are often more open with their parents during unstructured time Sharing the drop-off and pick-up duties with other families can make sustainable transport an option even on days when you may not have the time to work it into your schedule.
The walking-school bus is an idea that is gaining popularity among urban and suburban families. A modern take on walking with friends, the walking the walking school bus is an organized neighborhood route to the school, with alternating parents joining the kids. This alternative allows kids to safely walk (or bike) to school even when their parent’s schedules are full.
There is a spectrum of sustainability and it’s up to each of us to decide where our family fits on this spectrum. Organic? Local? Free Range? Waste free? Homemade? Sugar free? Vegetarian? Vegan? School lunches are no exception – however the practicalities of the school environment add an additional challenge for environmentally dedicated families. School lunches need to be packed every day. This takes time. Doing it well takes dedication. Couple this with the fact that unsupervised eating means that kids can skip, trade or ditch their lunches in favor of a friends’ meal or cafeteria fare and lunch at school is every green parent’s nightmare. The key to success with the sustainable lunch is to keep your kid convinced, for as long as possible, that their lunch is actually better than anybody else’s! Read more about sustainable lunches in our special supplement on Thrifty & Green School Lunches.
See the rest of this article in your Free Copy of our Digital Edition. There is a special Eco-Gear insert with links to lots of great up-cycled and traditional green back to school gear. You will need to give us some basic information but don't worry your safe with us. We do hope you enjoy our new preferred format! You can flip through the pages and view it on most any device.
Also be sure to visit the Growing Up Green landing page for all our recent articles, favorite books and links to Crafty Kids our weekly craft supplement. And look for our special supplement on Thrifty & Green School Lunches coming out early next week!
Edited by Chris McGrath
About the Author
Tovah Paglaro, is a T&G writer in Vancouver Canada, who writes about her Family's adventures in Growing Up Green, crafts, gardening, home, and sustainable values. Visit her blog Gumboot Adventures for more of her work.
Follow her on Twitter: @tovahp
Also connect with her on Thrifty & Green's facebook page.