How to Shop Back to School Sustainably

lifestyle sustainable living Aug 18, 2023

It’s that time of year again! Summer is winding down and schools are getting ready to go back in session. 

Back to School (BTS) season means lots of shopping to make sure you or your kids have all they need for a great school year (BTW did you know we spend upwards of almost $1,000 for EACH kid, each year, to get them ready for school!). Just because you’re going to need to pick up some new things, doesn’t mean we can’t prioritize sustainability. We’ve got a great list of some BTS ideas and products that keep sustainability top of mind and make sure you’re prepped for a great school year! Let’s get into it…


I remember my favorite part of BTS season when I was in high school was going clothes shopping, but buying brand new clothes isn’t the most sustainable approach to sprucing up your wardrobe for a new year…

Being older and wiser, I have a few ideas of what I wish I had done instead of buying brand new:

Clothes swaps with friends, neighbors, and family is a great way to get new clothes into your closet and get rid of the stuff you no longer wear. Best part is, you don’t have to be a student to participate in a clothes swap - organize one at your workplace, have a party at your house, etc. 

Head to the thrift store to pick up some cool, one-of-a-kind pieces! In 2023, it’s easier than ever to find the perfect addition to your wardrobe with the help of apps like Depop, Poshmark, and more. However, if you prefer to go the old-school route, no judgment! I’ve found some of my favorite pieces of clothing through random thrift stores in my area.

If you feel like you need to buy something brand new, please be on the lookout for labels! Hang tags and labels can provide vital information on the sustainability aspects of a product, including fibers like hemp, organic cotton or recycled polyester, inputs like clean chemistry, and even human rights initiatives. There’s no such thing as a perfect, 100% sustainable product, but supporting sustainability in your purchases can bring us one step closer. 


I’ll admit, it’s not the flashiest, most exciting part about sustainability, but it’s still important to consider the environmental impact of your transportation to and from school.

Carpooling is one easy way to reduce emissions - ask your roomies or rally the neighbors to create a carpool schedule. Plus, it’s a great way to get everyone together and helps foster stronger connections with those close to you. Bonus points if you create different playlists for your drive!

Riding your bike is another way to reduce your transportation footprint. If you live close enough to your school for this to be a viable option, riding your bike gets you out in nature and you get to avoid all that traffic your classmates are stuck in. Pop in your earbuds and enjoy the ride!

Home Goods

This one is reserved for college kids moving into their dorms or apartments for the first time. This is a big time for you and you’ve got a new space you need to decorate! There are a few ways you can make your home a little more sustainable…

Bedding may be the most important part of your new digs, after all, there’s nothing better than coming home from a long day of school and collapsing in your bed. One of my favorite places to pick up new bedding is Coyuchi, a home goods company dedicated to high-quality products with reduced impacts. And if you want to take your commitment to sustainability up a notch, shop their secondhand, renewed options.

If you have a limited budget, Target and Home Goods both offer bedding options that include the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification. Keep in mind, not all of their products feature this certification, so you have to be on the lookout for the label on the product or packaging.


This last section may be a little trickier as you get ready for your BTS season because most retailers don’t carry stationary with sustainability attributes. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any preferred stationery options out there - you just need to know what to look for.

Try to find notebooks with recycled paper or soy-based inks. You may even be able to find notebooks that are FSC-certified or at least have an FSC-certified mix of paper content. Even if you’re not in school, it may be worth talking to your employer about switching your printer paper to a recycled option.

Similarly, you can look for pencils made of recycled or FSC content. Pens, however, can be a little more challenging. You may be able to find some pen/marker options that feature recycled plastic, but it may take a little effort to find the right product. One thing you can do - buy the pen you like, and then buy refills ahead of time so that you’re avoiding buying extra pens/shells that you may not need down the line.

Lastly, one of the best places to turn for stationary is Etsy. You can find a whole host of products made by small businesses all over the world. Supporting small is not always placed in the same arena as sustainability, but the two are actually very closely linked. 

Photo Credit: Etsy

Plus, you’ll likely find something unique that nobody else on campus will have!

There are small ways we can incorporate sustainability into our lives and Back to School season is a great place to get started. With a new school year comes endless possibilities to make sustainability a part of your everyday life, and if you want to take your sustainability journey to the next level, our course will be here waiting…Good luck in the new school year!

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