This Year’s Back to School Fashion: Sustainability 

| August 21, 2023

By Peter Aronson

Many environmentalists are calling the summer of 2023 our climate wake-up call, with the twin wildfire tragedies in Canada and Hawaii, the 31 consecutive days of 110 degree temps in Phoenix and July, worldwide, being the hottest month ever in world recorded history.

“In every corner of the country, Americans are right now experiencing firsthand the effects of the climate crisis …” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “The science is clear. We must act now to protect our communities and planet.”

A great way to act now is for parents, guardians and students to follow these sustainability tips as the new school year begins:

  1. Instead of buying new school clothes or a new backpack, use hand-me-downs from siblings, relatives or friends, or buy used items. The vintage clothing business is booming and there’s good reason. It’s easy to purchase quality, gently-used items.

  2. Before buying all the school supplies on the list provided by the school, see what items you have at home. See if old notebooks have many pages left. See if siblings or friends have extra stuff they are not using. 

  3. When buying new things, buy eco-friendly items, such as clothes or school supplies made from recycled products and made without toxic chemicals. Try purchasing things made locally, or at least made in the United States.

  4. Buy or rent used textbooks. If you can learn from reading a textbook online, explore this option.

  5. Take lunch to school. Use eco-friendly, non-toxic and reusable containers, eating utensils, bags and lunch boxes.

  6. Use a non-toxic, reusable water bottle. 

  7. Use a reusable coffee cup for takeout coffees. (Start a contest with your friends: see who can go the longest without buying a bottle of water or getting a coffee at a Starbucks or your favorite coffee shop without using a store cup.)

  8. Commute green: Walk, bike or use public transportation to get to school. If you must drive, carpool. (If you do drive a car to school, never idle in front of the school. Turn off the engine to reduce emissions near the building.)
  9. Discuss these green tips with your children. Talk about what happened this summer and talk about what’s happening around the world climate wise and why these back-to-schools steps are important.

  10. Encourage the school your child attends to take steps to reduce the carbon footprint of its students, staff and buildings. Encourage the school administration to offer environmental education. Two organizations that provide information in this regard are: Action for the Climate Emergency is a non-profit that helps educate students about global warming and promotes actions they can take to become environmental advocates.   

The National Wildlife Federation is the exclusive U.S. sponsor for the EcoSchools U.S., offering a certification program for elementary through secondary schools that nurtures environmental learning and climate action. The curriculum-linked framework supports school communities as they assess, track, benchmark, and offer environmental education and best school practices in sustainability.

And while parents can encourage, or pressure, schools to take steps, students can also get involved at school in trying to reduce the carbon footprint. An organization We Are Teachers provides a comprehensive list of 44 green initiatives students can undertake at school. Here’s some of the most important ones:

  1. Make a presentation to students, faculty and administrators about the importance of sustainability within the school community.

  2. Encourage the school to undertake a comprehensive green assessment, examining energy efficiency, recycling and composting programs. If they are lacking, start an appropriate program to fill the sustainability hole.

  3. Start or join the existing green club.

  4. Encourage the school to add indoor plants to classrooms and common spaces.

  5. Encourage the school to start a garden.

  6. Encourage the school to strive for net zero waste.

  7. Encourage the entire school community to strive for green commuting: walking, biking, public transport and carpooling.   

  8. Survey fellow students about green projects they would like to undertake.

  9. Hold a recycling contest for classrooms in the school.

  10. Encourage classrooms to reuse things in a creative way, ie, empty cans and plastic containers to be used as planters or pencil and pen holders.

  11. Encourage your school to hold a fall and spring green vintage sale, where students sell old clothes, books, etc., with the proceeds used for a green initiative at school. 

More back-to-school green tips for parents and students: 

From Green That Life: 

From Small Footprint Family:  

From Communities for Recycling: 

Info about eco-friendly school supplies can be found here:

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