IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Back to school — in eco-style

From backpacks with built-in solar panels to recycled sneakers, there's a wealth of cool, new products that will point kids in a green direction and set the stage for life as eco-savvy adults.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

My child may be a few years off from that momentous first day of school, but when he finally slides behind a desk I want him to be armed with a collection of school supplies that will support his education without harming the planet. My motivation isn’t entirely unselfish. I hope that the greening of my future student will make up for the utter lack of earth-friendly supplies that were available when I was school bound (there was not a sheet of recycled paper to be found at my local school supply emporium). But I also believe that pointing kids in a green direction early on sets the stage for life as eco-savvy adults.

In five years, kids will probably be commuting to solar-powered schools on buses run by bio-fuel and lunching on sandwiches composed entirely from local and organic food, but today they can start to make a green impact with the right supplies. Here are my favorites:

The backpack is the ultimate in school-time accessories. Without the right pack there would be nowhere to stuff your books, pencils, old sandwiches or sweaty gym socks — so take some time to choose the right one. Rawganique’s hemp backpacks are simple and sturdy, made entirely from certified organic hemp (that means no chemicals were used in the manufacturing process). Pick the pack that works best for you — cinch, zipper, mini or sling — but the HBP5 Deluxe is what I’d use if I found myself in school again. The pack is incredibly sturdy, with padded shoulder straps and a handful of different compartments.

For a more classic look, check out the backpack from Natural Collection made from used plastic bottles. The bottles are turned into a strong, waterproof fiber that is ideal for a pack that will most likely be kicked into a locker each morning or tossed in a field during soccer practice. The high-tech sect may want to invest in Voltaic System’s PET (that’s the plastic-bottle fabric) backpack. The pack is not only a reliable way to transport school supplies, but it also charges handheld devices — cell phone, iPod, etc. — with built-in solar panels.

Cruise the halls in green style with Simple’s line of versatile, eco-friendly shoes and sneakers. Each pair is constructed from one or more earth-conscious materials like recycled car tires, PET, organic cotton or hemp. The men’s loaf is the most attractive hybrid of a sneaker and loafer that I’ve ever seen. And while you’re stocking up on Simples, don’t miss the company’s take on the school bag with the Hangover, an organic-cotton tote fit for books and a laptop. 

When it comes to pencils, skip the generic yellow No. 2 and go for something made the right way. Forest Choice pencils are made from FSC-certified incense cedar wood. The Forest Stewardship Council ensures that wood used for products — like pencils, dining room tables and so on — comes from trees grown in forests that are managed in an environmentally friendly manner. And they sharpen easily, too.

Give your stapler an eco-upgrade by trading the traditional version for one that is staple-free. Staplers like the exceptionally cute (possibly overly cute) option from Random Good Stuff keep papers together with ... paper. The device cuts a small notch into the papers and slips another tiny flap of paper into the hole — you’ll never need a staple again.

Eco-friendly notebooks and binders can be found from Sustainable Group, where they’re made from recycled materials. As for lunch, no more brown-bagging it. A reusable canvas bag — made from organic cotton — is the way to go. And skip the conventional plastic sandwich bags for the recycled version or, even better, a reusable container.

Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.

Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.