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Back-to-School List: Notebooks, Pens, Endocrine-Disrupter-Free Hand Soap

Districts in Areas Such as Brooklyn's Park Slope Become Picky About Brands' Green Credentials in the Classroom

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- When students arrived at PS 107 in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood this year, their parents were asked to provide a "triclosan-free" liquid hand soap, citing suspicions the anti-bacterial agent found in many such soaps is an "endocrine disruptor." Rather than "regular disinfectant wipes" from the likes of Clorox or Lysol with a host of what the school calls "harmful biocides," the letter suggests greener options from Green Works (another Clorox brand) or Seventh Generation.

Seventh Generation's back-to-school kit, distributed through hundreds of mostly mommy bloggers through the MyBlogSpark network, includes an 'eco-friendly' backpack.
Seventh Generation's back-to-school kit, distributed through hundreds of mostly mommy bloggers through the MyBlogSpark network, includes an 'eco-friendly' backpack.
Also on the list, sent by the "green committee" of the Parent Teacher Association, are fragrance-free baby wipes, pens with water-based ink, "low odor" dry-erase markers and Elmers glue sticks, which it said "don't contain harmful ingredients."

While it's a relatively new trend for students to be asked to contribute cleaning supplies in addition to the usual notebooks and pencils, it's an even newer trend for districts to be picky about the brands' green credentials. While Park Slope may be ahead of the national curve in environmental sensibilities, the concerns of its "green committee" don't appear to be isolated. Some other New York public schools joined under the banner of Green Schools NYC and the national Green Schools Alliance last year and began circulating a list of green supplies.

Picking up on growing interest in schools, Seventh Generation has marketed around back-to-school time this year. As part of that, it commissioned a study of 400 parents and 300 school teachers on the subject, finding 60% of teachers requesting parents donate disinfecting wipes for the classroom and, on average, using disinfecting products on high-contact areas such as doorknobs daily. But 82% say they fear allergies, skin irritation or asthma may result from use of cleaning products at school.

Needless to say, Seventh Generation has a solution to the problem, highlighted by a back-to-school kit of its products and an "eco-friendly" backpack. The kit and backpack are distributed through hundreds of mostly mommy bloggers through the MyBlogSpark network along with a listing of "healthy tips," available on the PTOToday.com site for Parent Teacher Organizations, including switching to disinfectants that have "no indoor air pollutants."

Seventh Generation also joined with Stonyfield Farm to sponsor back-to-school education events about "how to have a healthier school year" for 1,000 PTOs around the country this year, each expected to reach 100 to 300 parents, according to Maureen Wolpert, brand education director for Seventh Generation. The movement isn't just limited to primary schools, teachers or parents, either.

Teens Turning Green is creating an 'eco-janitorial closet' list of eco-friendly products that schools can stock.
Teens Turning Green is creating an 'eco-janitorial closet' list of eco-friendly products that schools can stock.
Method, marketer of natural and botanical cleaning products, recently supplied ingredient information to a San Francisco Bay Area student group, Teens Turning Green, which is working on creating an "eco-janitorial closet" list of eco-friendly products that schools can stock.

The addition of cleaning supplies to back-to-school lists has been growing for years as financially strapped schools have sought donations from parents. As the spread of the H1N1 virus was driving fears about germs, Clorox Co. and Reckitt Benckiser's Lysol worked hard and successfully got their brands named on the lists. As a result, the season has become increasingly important to marketers, Ms. Wolpert said.

One difference this year is the availability of stronger green-positioned alternatives. Seventh Generation in January launched a line of botanical disinfectants and wipes registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and claiming to kill 99.9% of germs, just as Clorox and Lysol products do. Method launched a similar line of disinfecting products and hand sanitizers last month.

So far, with some exceptions like PS 107, Seventh Generation hasn't had much success getting its brand listed on supply lists from teachers or PTOs, said Ms. Wolpert. "Based on what we did last year, our focus for next year will be to increase overall awareness [among parents, teachers and PTOs] about our product availability," she said.

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