I have always loved school--so much so, that one of the organizations I am currently involved with (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship) is focused on inspiring young people from low-income communities to stay in school, to recognize business opportunities and to plan for successful futures. Maybe that's one of the reasons I still get excited every time the end-of-summer comes around--there is nothing quite like the excitement of embarking on a new school year filled with opportunity.
As the CEO of an eco-friendly cleaning company, I see my clients greet this new school year moment with a bit of anxiety. While they are happy to send their children off to school each morning, they worry that the busyness of the school season will make it difficult to keep things organized, clean and green. Fortunately, I have some tips for how parents can not only start the school year off green and organized, but keep things moving along nicely as the year progresses.
Make a List: Before you even think of heading off to the store, make a list of the items you really need to buy and take stock of things you already have on hand (like those ink pens your son brought home after last year's school season). This will stop you from overbuying products or giving in to impulse purchases.
Don't Buy in Bulk: Well, not everything anyway. Products like glue sticks and markers will probably last the entire school year so you don't need to purchase multiple packs--saving you money as well as saving the planet. What you can buy in bulk is food for snacks or lunches--such as carrots, celery sticks or grapes. Divide up the big bag buy into reusable snack containers--like these from Pottery Barn Kids-- for easy grab-and-go food options.
Swap Your Clothes: Instead of hitting the mall consider hosting a clothing swap with your friends and neighbors like the one described by Real Simple. This is a great way to not only find new items for your kids, but you are able to give away items that you no longer need. If your group has leftover clothing at the end of the swap, consider donating to a charity or call your child's school to see if they could use the donations.
Buy a Smart Power Strip: Yes, this is a little pricier than regular power strips, but it will really help your busy family reduce its carbon footprint. The strip stops "phantom power", the flow of electricity from turned off appliances--you don't have to remember to switch the strip off every time. Now, many of the smart power strips that are available come in sleek, wall-mounted designs that allow you to turn on/off plugged in devices via a wireless remote or through mobile apps.
Create a Carpool (or Walkpool, Bikepool, etc.): If you don't take the bus to school, grab your neighbors and friends and coordinate daily drop off and pick up for the kids in your neighborhood or take turns volunteering to walk or bike with the group to school each day. If you are new to the area, check with your child's school to see if there is a carpool list or visit Carpooltoschool.com. Do this for afterschool activities and practices as well.
Save Paper: Make sure kids use both sides of each piece of paper and all the pages of notebooks before discarding. Check with teachers to see if assignments can be turned in electronically and even talk with school administrators about getting backpack mail and fliers via email. When you do purchase paper, look for eco-friendly options such as recycled paper from Office Max.
Move Your Recycling Bin: Move your recycling bin to the area where your child leaves his or her backpack. This will make it easy for them to dispose of unwanted papers at the end of each day. You can also add a composting bin for leftover lunch food and snacks.
Keep Clean: Fill a reusable grocery bag with eco-friendly cleaning supplies, a microfiber cloth and a small handheld vacuum cleaner. Hang the bag in your mudroom or entryway so kids can do a quick clean up after a muddy day on the soccer field.
Freeze Water: Freeze water in reusable containers and place in lunchboxes to keep things cold. The best part? By lunchtime, the ice will have started to melt and your child will have a deliciously cold beverage.
Get Outside: During the school year, kids are even more prone to not getting enough time in the great outdoors---and, the more in touch with nature kids are, the more likely they will want to protect it. Create a regular routine for spending afternoon or evening hours outside. Too dark after homework and practice? Get up a little earlier in the day to take a walk around the neighborhood before school.
Talk to us: What tips do you have for an eco-friendly school year?