At least in my mind, when I was a kid, ‘back to school’ was a little different from what it seems to be like today. I’d dig my back pack out of the closet, admire the one new outfit I got for the first day of school, and imagine all the fun conversations I’d have at the bus stop in the coming months.
Back to school time has changed a bit since I was a kid, and some of that change seems to be bad for the planet. The pressure is high for parents to buy far more than one outfit. The list of supplies seems to be longer than it used to be. The yellow school bus has gotten to be more optional, with more parents willing to chauffer their kids to school, and fewer kids walking or biking to school. There are three categories of things you can do to buck the trend and have a simple, cheap, and green back to school.
1-Walk, Ride, or Bus to school. Let your child get to school the way you did (walking up hill, both ways, in the rain?). Consider forming a ‘walking bus’ where neighborhood kids can walk together to school or to the bus stop. Your kid may not immediately think that walking, biking, or riding is cool, but for older kids, it’s a great chance for you to talk about how their actions can help the planet stay cool.
2-Get involved in greening the school. Is your child’s school recycling already? Composting? Are the facilities energy efficient? Are there plans for increased severity or frequency of extreme weather? Is there outdoor time in nature for younger kids? For older kids, is climate change a part of the curriculum? These are things that you might be able to find out at back to school night, but improving the school’s sustainability will likely also involve joining the PTA, attending at public school board meetings or engaging with the school administration. If you have time to volunteer, consider offering your services for composting, gardening, giving presentations to classrooms on green issues, etc.
3- Reduce or eliminate both one-time consumption and waste throughout the year. Try thrift stores, or vintage stores for clothes. Ask friends if they have things on your list they don’t need, like calculators that have been replaced by smart phones. Try using last year’s back pack again this year. Host a clothing and school supply swap where neighbors can swap clothes, as well as pens, rubber bands, and markers. Search the nooks and cranies of your house for items on your list. Buy a re-usable sandwich bag/box and a nice lunch box that your child will want to use every day. Use water bottles that can be re-filled at the water fountain. Check out this great guide to ecodelicious lunches!
What are your priorities for greening your ‘back to school’ season? Do home schoolers find that you are naturally greener? What are the best classroom ‘green’ practices you’ve seen?
About Keya Chatterjee
Keya Chatterjee is a Climate Change and Environment expert, and Director for International Climate Policy at World Wildlife Fund. Her work focuses on the environmental crisis facing the planet, and what policies and measures should be taken to ameliorate the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Keya’s commentary on climate change policy and sustainability issues has been quoted in dozens of media outlets including USA Today, CNN, and NBC Nightly News. Keya resides in Washington, DC with her husband Andrew and her son Siddharth. She enjoys practicing yoga, biking, and spending time with her friends and family. She is working on a book about how to have a baby without raising your carbon footprint to be published in 2013 by Ig Publishing. Keep up with Keya's writing on the nexus of climate change activism and motherhood at www.keyachatterjee.com.