museums&MORE Winter 2013
Planet Pleasing Play

Offering green toys does more than just entertain — it educates

Thanks to some innovative companies and increased consumer awareness, toys and games can now be more than just fun — they can also be environmentally educational. This speaks directly to a growing group of parents who not only want their children to interact with toys that are fun and safe, but who also want to encourage them to respect the earth from an early age.

One of the strongest arguments for environmental responsibility is the fact that what is good for the environment is good for people, too,” said Rosie Meigs of eeBoo, a boutique toy manufacturer that specializes in educational games and gifts. “It is crucial to instill a sense of environmental responsibility and positive social skills in children in a friendly and caring way so that as they mature, these values will inform their choices — especially the way they interact with the earth and their community.”

Sustainable Sales
Many other companies share in this sentiment, making it easier for specialty retailers to offer a variety of products that not only educate about the environment, but that are created in a sustainable way.

“At Safari Ltd. we raise awareness of the natural world and its fragile ecosystems with our educational products, and work hard to make sure those products have a minimal environmental impact,” Kateva Rosato said. “About 99 percent of our products have no batteries, and one of our most popular items — our TOOBS — come in a reusable and recyclable acetate container.”

BeginAgain is a company that offers eco-friendly solutions for puzzles, games, arts and crafts, sports and character play for infants and preschoolers. They look for materials that are as strong and supple as regular plastic, but come from renewable resources like starches from wheat and corn.

“Designed in collaboration with Green Dot Holdings LLC, our newest toys are made in the USA from plants — a corn starch bio-resin and wood that decomposes and nourishes the Earth when children no longer need them,” said Chris Clemmer, company co-founder. “We design all of our toys to maximize both play value and planet value, but fun is the most important feature. If the most eco-friendly toy is not fun, then it really doesn’t serve its purpose.”

That purpose is to be both fun and functional. When a product acts as a concrete example of environmental stewardship, people understand how their efforts can make a difference. And big picture, environmental preservation is a group effort requiring everyone to work together.

“Sharing tips with consumers increases a company’s impact and shows that they care beyond their direct sphere of influence,” Rosato said. “Our products at Safari Ltd. inherently educate the user about the natural world and its fragile ecosystems. Our toys themselves highlight the beauty of our planet and its inhabitants, our website teaches about the incredible creatures in five languages and we work to promote environmentally friendly behavior on our packaging and promotional materials.”

Another company, Green Toys, creates toys and games made from 100 percent recycled plastic milk jugs — an FDA-food safe material — and locates all of its manufacturing, packaging, assembly and distribution in a very tight local supply chain. Not only are the products sustainable, but so is the message.

“Green Toys products help educate children about recycling and close the loop in a way that is meaningful and fun,” said Laurie Hyman, co-founder. “By exposing children to the concept of recycling and earth-stewardship, we hope to inspire them to protect our planet in their own personal way.”

The Real (Retail) Deal
At BeginAgain, what a toy is made from is more important than where it is made. Clemmer said there are many innovative plant-based materials that are native to places all over the world.

“We love to see toys made from plants like hard woods, corn, wheat and potato starch, as well as cotton,” Clemmer said. “These are great materials that can be used to replace traditional and recycled oil-based plastics. There are some very strong new brands developing toys with modern eco-plastics that push the industry to recognize its ecological decisions.”

Hyman said there are few eco-friendly toys on the market that truly reflect an earth-friendly message as a complete product offering. Just because something is packaged in a recycled paper doesn’t mean that the product inside has anything about it that is earth-friendly.

“Retailers should understand what materials make the product green, how safe those materials are, the processes used to create the product and understand the product’s carbon footprint,” Hyman said.

Meigs agreed that stores should pay particular attention to the processes and materials that go into the product, and not just if the product looks eco-friendly.

“Most of our products are made from primarily recycled paper/grayboard and all are printed with soy-based ink,” she said. “Our Respect the Earth flash cards, Gathering a Garden board game and numerous Life on Earth themed products are meant to inspire love and appreciation for the natural world.

“It is also important to find products that are not only strong in these areas, but that are not too expensive so that consumers don’t associate earth-friendly with prohibitive expense,” Meigs added. “This not only encourages more mainstream companies to improve their environmental practices, but it opens the possibility of environmentalism to budget-minded families.”

Educating consumers to the environmental significance of their choices while also creating easy access to those products is key. There are various possibilities, from establishing a “green” section in a store to hosting environmental education events that incorporate green products.

“It would be great to post a ‘Go Green Tip’ to promote the practices as a way for the store to get involved in the efforts,” Rosato said. “A store can also have the recycle logo around that section, and make sure it is clearly indicated and promoted that the products you are displaying are eco-friendly.”

Hymen said window displays and point-of-purchase displays that encourage recycling and eco-friendly materials are also a great way to merchandise eco-friendly products and give them the attention they deserve. Integrate these concepts around events that consumers know and they will be even more effective — Earth Day, National Recycling Day, Fourth of July (Made in the U.S.A.), etc.

Royce Morales, owner of Harmony Works in Redondo Beach, Calif., suggests retailers be ready to explain to customers why these items are a great choice and why they might be pricier than other options.

“One item that does really well for us are handmade, one-of-a-kind stuffed animals made completely out of recycled fabric that the artist gathers at thrift stores and garage sales,” Morales said. “These adorable toys all have names, are filled with personality and are cuddly for any age group.

“There are so many options available now that there is truly no reason to not make a green/healthy choice for those who cannot choose for themselves yet,” he continued. “Small shops have the responsibility to make sure that choice is available, and manufacturers have to make sure they offer those choices affordably to buyers. It’s exciting to see that happening.”

By Abby Heugel
Managing Editor

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