Back to School: Are Teens REALLY Going Green?

PGDormAugust 20, 2009 Leave it to a teen to tap into the core eco-issue behind why there’s tons of talk about green teens but not enough ‘walking the walk’ toward sustainable lifestyle shifting ‘en masse.’

In 2007, when JupiterResearch cited 38% of teens caring about the environment and 15% being ‘hardcore green’ opinion leaders and digizens in a report, Green Teens: Reaching a Trendy, Engaged Audience Online” you could almost hear the stampede in the marketing jungle of “green zebras” about to change their stripes.

And that’s a GOOD thing. With incentive, comes change. With momentum comes the need for clarity and a reality check (excellent article on Marketing Green) to find out what’s working beyond perceived progress…

“Take a look at the stores where you do your shopping – many are incorporating green products, business practices, and sustainable initiatives because of the purchases YOU make as an informed consumer…There ARE greener alternatives for everything you need to green your living space and lifestyle starting with back to school,” said my fave pals at Teens Turning Green the hotshot entrepreneurs that have rocked the nation with their eco-branded outreach that turns crunchy to cool.

greenpensThey’re right…From kids’ eco-toys and sustainable school supplies (sharp ways to source eco-friendly pencils, reusable lunch kits, green backpacks, environmentally safe food wraps with no BPA, no phthalates, and no PVC, to corporate biggies like Pilot Pens launching Be Green ‘earth-friendly’ lines) students would appear to be opting for a green Back to School style.

After all, massive campus campaigns and grocery stores have erupted with organic product line extensions, green rock concerts, fair trade goods and even climate change chocolate have come on the green scene, so eco-focus has clearly caught on to inspire positive innovation…

But let me ask you this, where are YOU buying your school supplies and back to school gear right now?

I polled a random two dozen kids here in my local (S.F. Bay Area) environs and another two dozen parents via e-mail that all self-identify as being concerned about the planet, hoping to see some substantial ‘one world/earthseeds’ sown…

When I asked where they were getting their school supplies and whether they were using ‘green’ as a benchmark for decision-making, I got comments that fell into representative chunks like these:

“Yeah, I try to be green, but it’s always way more expensive.”

“They’ve got great stuff online but I can’t think that far ahead, because they only release the list the first week of school.”

“There’s a limited selection; when the supply sheet says to get a certain kind of notebook, it’s not usually green.”

“I consider myself green, but it’s a ritual to buy new stuff for back to school.”

“I’m gonna just wait and see…I know we have lockers this year so I’ll probably decorate mine.”

“I don’t really care about supplies and stuff. I don’t wanna bring some raggedy a** notebook in on my first day, but I usually do because my mom says it’s a waste to buy something ‘cuz I’ve got pens and pencils everywhere.”

In other words?

With the exception of the last comment (which represented about 2 of the 48 polled and was too funny not to print!) it was ‘business as usual’…

Meaning those that DID buy new, were hitting the big box retailers: Staples, Target, Office Club, Costco, Walmart etc.

( I even received e-promo newsletters from touting budget/big box as the B2S  ‘game plan’)

So how do GREEN companies break through buying habit bias when price, availability, and time crunch are the dominant issues and they need critical mass to go ‘mainstream’?

Awareness of alternatives  is certainly pervasive:

Green media online has helped promote green back to school supplies and GreenMyLocker accoutrement with mega-resources of fabulous finds:

From Eco Child’s Play and the entire Green Options “GO” Media Network (12 Greenest US Colleges, etc.) to NatureMoms, The Green Parent, and a gazillion other blog posts on green B2S gear from Low Impact Living, Citizen Green, The Daily Green, Discovery Channel’s Planet Green, there’s no shortage of green school gear online!

greenschoolsAs for why-to-buys and reasoning, “The Green Schools Initiative” at, the School Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) and No Child Left INSIDE (NCLI Act) has made major headway at the national level to elevate the green conversation beyond healthier school suppliers sans classroom toxins,  pesticides/cleaners and other kids’ school environs to get ’em outdoors for curriculum and instill appreciation for green naturally.

So what’s it gonna take to get beyond waving the green flag to actually hoisting it and flying it proudly?

Green websites for younger kids like Habitat Heroes gaming, Kajeet green mobile tips and green digital activism take the form of contests, concerts,  excellent YouthNoise eco-forums and quick click “350” activism for climate change…

But how do we leap from ‘doing SOMEthing’ to sustainably change BEHAVIOR?

How do we take awareness, and single green item selection into a seamless, everyday lifestyle choice?

Project Green Dorm from Teens Turning Green is hoping it’s the creation of a fully immersive environment as a back to school resource, so kids can literally step into the entire CONCEPT of ‘going green’ not just with thoughtful choices on products, or safe cosmetics, but with their entire back to school routine…

This time instead of Project Green Prom’s elegant recycled gown boutique, they’ve turned a ‘pop-up’ temporary store into a fully staged ‘dorm room’ that looks like it sprung from a Pottery Barn Teen catalog (yep, sure enough, they’re a sponsor)

Project Green Dorm has had some great coverage on ABC7’s GreenRightNow


You name it, they have it…

Green school supplies, recycled binders, organic cotton sheets, certified organic deodorant, eco-safe cosmetics, even prepped College Care Packages all set for sending if parents want to send a healthy sampler of pick-me-ups as a little treat from home.

These green teen eco-divas have even positioned the limited care packages in ‘basic’ and ‘premium’ with price-points to “save green” by touting the value. ($50 kit=$152 value, $100 kit=$386 value)

The Teens Turning Green crew  explains,

“Our goal is to inspire high school and college students to green their living spaces, lifestyles and back to school supplies, and raise awareness about an all encompassing eco lifestyle…“The “Dorm” is just an icon for our living spaces…The Toolkit is the “checklist” suggesting the green version of each item that you need. Chances are if you make one change, you’ll make two and before you know it, YOU will be a part of this global “greenswell.”

This is branding innovation meets cause-marketing, providing online checklists, eco-electronic media tips, green resources and FREE downloadable toolkits for youth everywhere to model how easy it is to go green.

ttg-collectionThey’re not just cashing in on their green beauty collection as a social entrepreneur model to seed and sustain their eco-movement though, their roots go much deeper as a project of Search for the Cause, to raise awareness of toxins and carcinogens in our everyday surroundings.

Project Green Dorm is perfect for this, because it helps kids think about the total space they’re living in, not just individual items like school supplies or shower gel.

They’ve devoted an entire section of their site to Teens for Healthy Schools educating anyone who enters the environs about pollutants kids breathe in for hours each day and the DIRECT impact of school and classroom environments which can mobilize both kids AND parents into advocacy fast.

I remember raising my eyebrows at their summit this past spring when they came up with alternatives for everything from dry-erase white board markers to ‘that icky pink soap in the kids public bathrooms’ which left us all mumbling ‘did you knows…?’ all the way home.

In fact, for the first week post-summit, acronyms like SEPA (School Environmental Protection Act) would roll off our attendees’ tongues with ease…I was amazed at how fast the peer to peer viral power hit the text circuit as they spread the word about the EWG Skin Deep database where you can ‘rate your own cosmetic drawer’ for safety.

But have habits changed with full tilt sustainability? Not here, not yet. And I think that speaks to the greater masses as well.

These eco-divas are on the right track…

They’re swapping ‘crunchy’ for ‘cool’ and branding themselves as THE gamechangers chiseling away at behavioral patterns that have cemented early on…Most of all…

They’ve made ‘going green’ FUN, not laborious.

pgd screenshot

This weekend Teens Turning Green will be reprising their “green spa” events, to draw teens into their educational storefront at The Village at Corte Madera, and hosting special guest speaker Stacy Malkan, Co-Founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of “Not Just a Pretty Face:The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry” a great book, which I picked up at the summit.

(Locals, fyi, the event runs Sun. 2-5pm, and Stacy’s speaking at 3:30, so ‘Tweet it up’ for them, ok?)

I’ll be out of town again, but if you’re in the Bay Area, check it out…It’s part ‘edu-simulation,’ part eco-funfest, with the same slick marketing prowess of the big leagues only all natural and healthy!

ttg-seventeenTeens Turning Green sure know how to use media and marketing to partner for positive change…

They’ve even landed in the unlikely pages of cosmetics hubs like Seventeen and Teen Vogue to hawk their alternative wares and glean editorial space!

Not sure if it was paid press or PSA, but either way that’s quite a feat, considering they house some of the very beauty products and big bucks advertisers that TTG lashes out against!

It’s all about trying to get the message out ‘en masse’ and take baby steps to get beyond ‘converting the converted.’

It’s a slow go, as I can speak to with our own mission here at Shaping Youth…Just as I wrote about media mavericks from within the industry finally coming aboard to champion change, we know we’re inching toward a massive mindshift when even big box retailers like Walmart roll out the green carpet (and their new Walmart green label line)

Yep…We’re getting there…But I still want to know…true confessions…How many of you green teens/teachers are going back to school ‘green,’ and moreover, what does that MEAN to you? How do you define it?

In part two we’ll have a TEEN point of view on Project Green Dorm as our writing intern, 16-year old Noelle gives her take on how to make outreach for Teens Turning Green happen even faster…

(hint: She tapped into a ‘much bigger issue’ which applies to the green ‘envirolution’ overall, from China and India to our own backyards) Stay tuned…

Visual Credits: Lead photo, Eco Child’s Play/One Small Step;, (S.Y. is an advisor), and, a division of Teens Turning Green and Search for the Cause

More from TTG’s Judi Shils & Erin Schrode

“Project Green Dorm is a web-based guide for students and parents for all the items on the back-to-school checklist – but the greenest options,” said Judi Shils, Director of Teens Turning Green.

“Living a truly green life will extend into my college dorm room. Environmentally responsible choices can be made for everything from wall paint to bedding, to energy efficiency, to all the items I use everyday. Challenge yourself to make going back-to-school this semester 100% green,” said campaign member Erin Schrode.

Note: Erin will be interviewed on Shaping Youth in September  once she’s settled into her NYU Dorm to talk about her newly awarded $36K Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award for making an impact in the community.

‘Tikkun Olam’ translates to “repair the world” in Hebrew.

TTG: Teens For Healthy Schools

Teens Turning Green YouTube Channel

Teens Turning Green: On Facebook

Teens Turning Green: Search for the Cause Campaign

Teens Turning Green National Summit Speakers 2009

Related Research Resources

Cause & Connect: 10 Inspiring Case Studies How Youth Brands Use Good Causes to Sell (from

Just Kid Inc: Altruism & Children’s Perceptions on Global Warming (18 pp pdf)

Market Advantage Youth Lab (Alcatel-Lucent) Green Tags



  1. I do agree with this…very resourceful and helpful topic

  2. My daughter has been help with recycling in her school. it is going well but she wants to history report on recycling in new orleans ,we need idea she dosent want to do crazy world history reports you always see o n the greeks etc. can u help ideas on a 3d project these are some of our ideas landfills 2 houses one before and one after no recycling we thought about the landfills behind them too help her science project is going to regonials, it on recycling plastic bags . we just want to get the word out..

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