Back to School With A Healthy, Green Spin On The Freshman 15

fg 15 logoAug. 19, 2013 Turning negative media messages into positive, purposeful pursuits is what Shaping Youth is all about, so the newly launched “Freshman Green 15” project from Teens Turning fits smack dab into our sweet spot.

I’ve long been a fan of their smart marketing, and have attended their Green University to see the winners from their annual Project Green Challenge to see how they are making a difference hands-on. I’ve also written extensively about their Project Green Dorm, asking “ARE teens really going green are they just talking about it?” (reprised after the jump)  and have covered the trend toward spring break service learning  as well as Project Green Prom, gaining insight into their seamless sponsor integration to underwrite some incredible ideation and implementation (Whole Foods Market now seems to be the lead brand associated with Project Green Prom).

As my own teen prepares to launch this fall to college I circled back to see ‘what’s new’ with them, only to find they’ve raised the bar and flipped the script turning the ‘infamous Freshman 15’ verbiage into a positive positioning piece to “seed green” and plant knowledge for conscious college living.

Make no mistake, it IS marketing…big time…very smart, selective, student-led environmental education and advocacy raising mindfulness about consumption, and helping high school and college students connect the dots with critical thinking about the interconnectedness of what we buy, wear, consume, and DO and the impact not just on our health and wellness, but on the planet.

This new Freshman Green 15 student packet as well as this mentor program for school staff/student RAs (resident advisors) is part ‘get ’em early to make a difference’ while they’re forming their new collegiate identity…part student pragmatics…and part, well, let’s face it, brilliant brand marketing…such as their subtle Green Packing List which suggests their partnered brands.

Sure, Teens Turning “sells stuff” for their OWN sustainability (I’ve noticed their ‘conscious collections’  section has grown with a bounty of brands over time)

…But frankly, they do one of the best jobs ever giving kids advocacy/education tools in handy ‘free kit’ form to ramp up their engagement and get started pronto. (whether it’s about “The Dirty Thirty” environmental toxins and cosmetics or students’ “Right to Know” about GMOs)

For me, the activities and solutionary eco-literacy in fun form that’s digestible (“15 Tips to Green Your Life”, “15 Terms to Green your Vocab”, “15 Things to Take to College” etc) places their organization’s efforts firmly into the social enterprise realm vs greenwashing, as any media literacy/critical thinker can easily sift and sort ‘what to take’ to new campus environs this fall…(green tips and eco-education over productization)

They take a “just do it…and here’s how” form of turnkey advocacy that appeals, as it’s easy to replicate and implement to scale big ideas…no matter what positive media message is in play.

It’s similar to how Black Girls Code is forming ‘how to get started’ chapters to scale for their STEM volunteers as Kimberly Bryant explained last week at our SF Tech for Good meetup…or how Miss Representation bundles free education curricula on media literacy and messaging about gender…

Check ’em out…with this new green 15 launch, you’ll never think of “The Freshman 15” the same way again. And that’s a VERY healthy improvement.

P.S. Since it’s timely with 2013/2014 Back to School plans, I’m also reprising my Project Green Dorm post asking whether teens really ARE turning green or if it’s more talk than action. What do you think? What are you seeing in your home?

 How can we instill mindfulness that carries over from K-12 environmental education to college and beyond? (Here’s more about that “perception vs reality” by one of our teen interns who wrote about recycling as the great equalizer between socio-economic haves/have nots)

What are YOUR best practices to think about “manufactured need” vs recycled, reused, repurposed items and messages? Moreover…

How does it fit into your “back to school” actions for 2013/2014?

PGDormAre Teens REALLY Turning Green or Just Talking About It?

by Amy Jussel (originally published here on Shaping Youth Aug. 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

Teens Turning Green also uses “green spa” events, to draw teens into their educational storefront having hosting special guest speakers like 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.

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

Visual Credits ’13 post: TTG FG15; ’09 post: 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

 Related Eco-Kids Reading by Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth w/Links to Vital Resources

Will Kids Reconnect with Nature…At School? 

Great Nature Apps & Media Netiquette in A Totally Wired World

Inspiring Kids As Stewards of the Planet

Inspiring Kids With Green Media

Get ‘Em Outside!

Nature Rocks: Reconnecting Families with Planet Earth!

How To Turn People Green

Shaping Youth Joins Eco-Literacy Coalition: NCLI

The Great Turtle Race

When Art Meets Earth: Wyland’s Murals Inspire Kids to Care Edu & Eco Activism for Int’l Climate Change

Kids Bring Home the Message to Cool the Earth

Spring Break Sanctuary-Media Unplugged on Catalina

Hope Is On The Horizon When Movements Go Mainstream

Green Teen Videos On Climate Change: Global Challenge

Climate Change Chocolate, TerraPass E-Cause Animation…

Teen Scene: Eco-Concerts

Coen Brothers Ad For Clean Coal Air Freshener (kids faves!)

Disney Nature’s EARTH movie: Our Teen Team’s Take

International Day of Peace to Reach and Teach

Green Grades Report Cards: Forest Ethics

One Teen’s View: Use Eco As An Equalizer

Project Green Dorm: Engaging Youth Via Teens Turning Green

S.F. Oil Spill Prompts Altruism & Activism in Kids

Planting Earthseeds Via The Magic School Bus

New Media Worldometers Help Data Click With Kids

Media Savvy Kids and Nature Deficit Disorder


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