A Teacher Gift that Teachers Will Actually Love

Gift CertificatesAt the end of the school year, are you often wondering what kind of gift to give to your child’s teacher? I ask teachers all the time what they really like to receive as a year-end present. Invariably, they say that they love gifts that they can actually use, like generic gift cards. Starbucks and Chapters cards are clear winners. But if you’re like me, I want to get something that is both practical and something a little different. Something that says I put some thought into this gift. At EcoSmart Products, it’s the time of year when we receive orders for refillable markers and refill inks as teacher gifts. It is truly a great gift – a product that the teacher uses constantly, but one that is unique and has a wow factor. Teachers love our non-toxic, refillable dry-erase markers! So this year, EcoSmart Products is making it even easier for you to purchase a year-end gift that the teacher will actually love. Gift certificates are now available for purchase so your teacher can select his or her own combination of dry-erase markers and inks and have them shipped to their home! Here are 3 great reasons to consider an EcoSmart gift certificate as a teacher gift:

Reason #1: Teachers are often required to pay for school supplies out of their own pocket. Owning their own set of refillable dry-erase markers means that they can avoid purchasing expensive single-use disposable markers. EcoSmart markers can be refilled over and over again, and the Refill Ink bottles are only $6.75 for at least 30 refills! It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Many different combinations of EcoSmart Markers and Refill Inks

Many different combinations of EcoSmart Markers and Refill Inks

Reason #2: Regular markers are not only smelly, but they can lead to feelings of unwellness in a classroom. Teachers and students are complaining of headaches, dizziness, nausea and ‘brain fog’ as well as triggered asthma, caused by marker-smelly rooms. EcoSmart markers are non-toxic, and will leave the teacher feeling healthier and the students able to think clearer. That makes a teacher’s job just a bit easier.

Reason #3: Most teachers have an eco-sensibility and are searching for ways to lighten their environmental impact in the classroom. Teachers tell us at EcoSmart Products that using a refillable marker that is made of recycled and recyclable aluminum is a great example for their students. Constantly throwing away plastic markers gives the wrong message to students. Many teachers will have the students top up their refillable markers as part of the classroom chores.

How to order an EcoSmart Products Gift Certificate?

Simply call or email the EcoSmart Office and we can send you a certificate to print and give to your teacher. Gift Certificates can be purchased in any dollar amount and are good for 6 months.

Call us toll-free at: 1 866 328-7736

or email: orders@ecosmartworld.com

The Greenest School On Earth: How did they do it?

dunbartonEvery year People magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ issue sparks conversation and controversy. Not surprisingly, not everyone agrees on who should be awarded the title. But this past week, the Global Coalition for Green Schools, an initiative of the U.S. Green Building Council, found consensus on the ‘Greenest School on Earth’. That’s quite the accomplishment, especially given how many schools are making efforts to go green and follow best sustainable practices. It intrigued us at EcoSmart Products, and we set out to learn exactly it takes to be the best eco school on the planet. How did Dunbarton High School, a public school in Pickering, Ontario, Canada, became the ‘greenest school on the planet’ – despite being in a 50 year old building? Their efforts are certainly comprehensive and diverse. But after examining their efforts and reading their testimonies, we have narrowed it down to one important condition that the school achieved over and over again. This one condition was present in all their activities and is something that every school and organization can achieve to varying degrees.

First, let’s take a look at the criteria that won Dunbarton High School the greenest school on earth. Their impressive list includes:

  • Energy efficient windows throughout the school
  • A rooftop solar hot water system
  • A 40-seat outdoor classroom
  • A 500-square meter pollinator garden. Garden vegetables are donated to the local food bank.
  • Bee condos
  • Low-wattage fluorescent lighting
  • More than 70 shade trees to help keep the building cool (planted by the students)
  • Reusable water bottles for every student
  • A compost program that sees green bin waste set out at neighbours’ homes near the school
  • A regular curriculum that integrates sustainability and environmental education
  • A specialist major focusing on the environment
  • Opportunity for students to participate in the Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program, research Rouge National Urban Park, monitor the school’s air quality, audit its electricity use, research trees planted on campus, and take on climate change civic action projects

At the outset, we said that Dunbarton’s achievements essentially comes down to one condition. That condition is capacity building. In all accounts, we read how the staff and students themselves saw a vision and contributed to the goals: planting trees, helping in the gardens, taking specialized courses, involving their families and community, and becoming part of the school’s culture. This has been a hugely coordinated effort, one which did not devolve onto the shoulders of a few passionate champions. This was a collective effort, which through consultation and collaboration has seen the capacity of the whole school community grow and grow.

There’s no doubt that individual initiative and a few passionate champions got the ball rolling at Dunbarton. But where the school really built momentum was when collective efforts began to surge, creating synergy, a school-wide eco culture, and an unstoppable Greenest School on Earth. It’s like the Chinese proverb:

“When a true leader has finished his or her work, the people say: Look what we ourselves have done!”

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See the Center for Green Schools site for more information and for past winners.

Photo credit: Huffington Post

 

Earth Hour Efforts Earn School Non-Toxic, Refillable Markers

St Peters 2Last week we took a look into the true impact of Earth Hour and the year-round events that are inspired by the global movement, headed up by WWF. The scope of the worldwide impact is matched only by the diversity of actions that are taken from country to country. Today we look back at Earth Hour last year, and an initiative that EcoSmart Products proudly helped to sponsor. The organization Act for Antarctica inspired many people, especially youth, to carry out an act for the health of the planet and the preservation of Antarctica.

Act for Antarctica is a global youth-driven campaign that aims to educate high school and elementary school students about the significance of the polar regions. We want young people to learn about Antarctica, one of the areas most affected by global warming (we’ll even send you a free book!), and then take action to protect this vulnerable ecosystem. 

Check out more information on Act for Antarctica here.

As part of the challenge, Act for Antarctica drew prizes for schools that participated in their campaign. EcoSmart Products donated its Non-Toxic, Refillable Markers and Refill Inks to St Peter’s School in Philadelphia for their action on Earth Hour. Here is an excerpt from one of the teachers about the presentation from Leah Davidson, one of the main collaborators of Act for Antarctica:

 

It was an awesome opportunity to collaborate across divisions in our school, and it provided wonderful leadership and public speaking experience for my students. They are now super committed to solving the energy crisis (and also insisted that we go the entire day Friday without turning on any lights!) Thank you very much for sharing your experience with our students. It has inspired them without a doubt.

St Peter’s , Philadelphia

 

They even sent us pictures of their students with EcoSmart’s markers and some sweet messages. Well done St Peter’s!

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Earth Hour: Is it doing anything?

Earth Hour logo created in Iran in a dried-up river bed

Earth Hour logo created in Iran in a dried-up river bed

Earth Hour, the annual power-down event, is next weekend, Saturday March 28 at 8:30-9:30pm local time. The global environmental movement began in 2007 in Australia by WWF and has been gaining traction every year since. We thought we’d take a look into whether this awareness-raising event is having any impact on reducing global use of energy. Can one hour a year make a difference? Is there any evidence that we are taking Earth Hour to heart and taking action beyond the hour? Let’s take a look.

  • Over 162 countries and territories have participated in Earth Hour
  • Over 7000 cities and towns have participated
  • 60 countries are going ‘beyond the hour’ (see some examples below)
  • 1.2 billion tweets about #EarthHour were sent for 2014
  • $61,487 was crowdfunded for Earth Hour in 2014

Many countries took Earth Hour as an opportunity to focus on their particular environmental challenge:

  • In 2014 Australia focused on saving the Great Barrier Reef with a documentary called “Lights out for the Reef”
  • China focused on smog and air pollution, with a Blue Sky campaign that reached hundreds of millions of people through corporate involvement
  • Pandas received some love when The Amazing Spiderman 2 in collaboration with Earth Hour raised $42,439 USD to help protect the endangered species
  • In Singapore, crowdfunding focused on ‘Stop the Killing’ to address wildlife crime in South East Asia. The effort raised $20,000
  • Indonesia tracked 1.5 million pledges from individuals (mostly youth) to reduce their carbon footprint
  • Madagascar ran a ‘Saving Forests and Families’ crowdfunding campaign and has been delivering thousands of high-efficiency stoves to families as a WWF ‘beyond Earth Hour’ initiative. They also launched a reforestation plan with schools planting 4,500 trees.
  • Russia raised $106,000 to help save the following critical species: Amur Leopard, Snow Leopard, Bison, Polar Bear, Siberian Tiger.
  • Greece collected 15,500 signatures to protest the construction of a new coal plant (Ptolemaida V) and to develop a vision for clean energy in Greece.
  • In Ecuador, plans were launched to reduce certain key plastic products in order to protect marine conservation, including the Galapagos Islands.

And the list goes on! There were music festivals, documentaries, tree-planting campaigns, educational programs, clean-up campaigns, and hashtag campaigns (#maketheswitch). Countries also focused on their dried-up river beds, disappearing ice, and switch to energy-efficient light bulbs. One can easily see that the diversity and effort linked to Earth Hour (mostly through the on-going efforts of WWF) has caused grassroots efforts to address critical issues worldwide. We didn’t even find the estimated energy savings from the one-hour power down from homes and industry across the globe. But the list of on-going efforts is enough for us to say: Lights Out! Bring on #EarthHour!

 

Watch this:

Earth Hour 2015 Official Video, featuring ‘Pompeii’ by Bastille

Spring Cleaning the Non-Toxic, All-Natural Way

This year, avoid harmful chemicals and save some money with homemade and effective household cleaners. There is more research than ever about the chemicals in regular  commercial cleaning products and their link to serious ailments and diseases. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has recently tested 21 common cleaning products and identified 457 air pollutants released through regular cleaning. Of these, 24 chemicals have well-established linked to asthma, cancer and other health disorders such as birth defects and reproductive problems. Is it worth it? What are we doing to ourselves in the name of a ‘clean’ home? Always advocates of non-toxic products at EcoSmart Products, we have put together our list of favorite, basic all-natural, cheap, and effective cleaning recipes, just in time for spring cleaning.

 

All-Purpose Cleaner ecebcf4a363eeb1f_shutterstock_117715075.jpg.xxxlarge_2x

Worst ingredient: Butyl Cellosolve is a suspected carcinogen potentially damaging to bone marrow, the nervous system, the kidneys and the liver.

Natural All-Purpose Cleaner Recipe:

1 gallon hot water

1/2 cup liquid castile soap

10 drops essential oil (optional) like lavender or thyme

 

Room Deodorizerspray bottle

Worst ingredient: Formadehyde can trigger respitory problems and has links to cancer. Butane (in air some air fresheners) is a brain and nervous system toxin. Benzene, also in some air fresheners, has been linked to leukemia and nervous system damage.

Natural Room Deodorizer Recipe:

2 cups water

15 drops thyme essential oil

15 drops tea tree essential oil

10 drops oregano essential oil

 

Glass Cleaner

Worst ingredients: Glycol Ethers have links to adverse effects on the liver and kidneys.

Natural Glass Cleaner Recipe:

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup water

 

laundryLaundry Detergent

Worst ingredient: Nonylphenol ethoxylate degrades into a powerful bioaccumulating endocrine-disruptor. This chemical is banned in Europe.

Natural Laundry Detergent Recipe:

7 quarts hot water

1 cup soap granules

1/2 cup borax

1/2 cup washing soda

20 drops essential oil (optional) such as lemon or lavender

 

For a printable infographic, here are some home recipes from CFHA, the Canadian Health Food Association:

Spring-Cleaning-Recipes

Earth Day 2015: Ideas for Your School or Work

earthday clipBelieve it or not, Earth Day is around the corner, with still enough time to plan for a truly amazing and meaningful celebration! This year Earth Day is mid-week, on Wednesday April 22, 2015 – a great time to mark the occasion at your school or office. Are you in a green school or workplace that already manifests an eco culture? If so, Earth Day can be a time of reflection and celebration of these year-round efforts. It can also be a time to re-think, re-commit and renew efforts. If you are working or studying in an environment that is still trying to be a bit greener, Earth Day can be a great occasion to come together and brainstorm. Here are some ideas to help your group make this Earth Day the best one ever. Hope you have your EcoSmart non-toxic, refillable markers on hand!

Idea #1: Create a Hall of Ideas

Earth Day MuralSince you still have ample time before Earth Day on April 22, consider making a live exhibit where staff and students are invited to contribute their thoughts on an open question such as: Why is Earth Day important? What changes do you want to see for the Earth? and How will you celebrate Earth Day? The Hall of Ideas can be made out of craft paper, bulletin boards or whiteboards. Document the wall with time-lapse video or still images and consult on how to follow up on the ideas and sentiments presented.

 

Idea #2: Connect with the Community

inhabitat

Courtesy of Inhabitat.com

Contact your city officials to see how your school or company can contribute to the community and make its green efforts more widely known. For example, if there is a city-wide Earth Day celebration being planned, are there possibilities for your staff or students to be of service? Alternatively, maybe your school or office could adopt a road or trail, contribute a bench, or plant a tree or garden in the city. If there is a local topic of environmental concern, perhaps your group could brainstorm for solutions and write to the City Hall.

 

Idea #3: Focus your energies on a specific theme

food wasteIt may be hard to talk about saving the environment in a general and abstract way. What does that mean? Maybe if your group has advanced in recycling efforts and creating less waste, for example, then why not shift to another area of capacity-building? Food waste in the US and Canada is at an all-time high. Maybe this year’s Earth Day efforts can center around a theme, with a goal to raise awareness and take specific action. When we view stewardship of the earth as capacity-building, then our activities can be more easily actionable.

 

 

Idea #4: Make pre-Earth Day count

Courtesy of EcoHeroKids.com

Courtesy of EcoHeroKids.com

Use this time leading up to Earth Day to run a contest, plan an event or have a campaign. Using the arts, you could choose from several contests of poetry, visual arts, writing, coloring, video or photography. You could organize a Tedx series of talks with an environmental theme, or run a campaign to find an Environmental Hero in your midst. An awards ceremony on Earth Day would be a nice culmination of the contest or campaign and would work nicely with your social media efforts.

 

Idea #5: Go big, like Festival-Big!

The ultimate proclamation of environmental stewardship can take place with an Earth Day Festival at your school or workplace. Invite local ‘green’ merchants and restaurants, as well as municipal services, to come set up a table to showcase their green products and services. Organize some capacity-building and awareness-raising workshops. There can be participant prizes donated from companies or sponsored by your group. In fact, all the ideas presented above could blend into an Earth Day Festival for a big bang.

 

Do you have any favorite Earth Day activities or ideas that you can share? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences! Email us at info@ecosmartworld.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Valentine’s Day the Non-Toxic Way

heartsWe want you to feel the love this Valentine’s Day. Why not add a twist to your usual Valentine’s routine and make it a non-toxic Valentine’s Day. Not only will it be fun to look for new ways to celebrate, but creating a non-toxic celebration will help keep you from feeling tired, foggy, headachey, and sleepy. Here are some tips to avoid toxic products that are out to kill the fun on Valentine’s day.

1. Start the day off with surprise messages to welcome the day and have your significant other (or children) look forward to the day ahead. Use non-toxic markers like EcoSmart markers to write messages on the bathroom mirror, on windows, or on whiteboards in the house. Lipstick kisses are a nice touch – let’s check in with your choice of lipwear. Does it contain lead? Here’s a list of the top 20 lipsticks with lead, and here’s a list of the best lipsticks for your chops.

2. Next up: flowers. Did you know that flower growers are the heaviest users of agricultural pesticides? So when we stop to smell the roses, we are breathing in a dose of very potent chemicals. And there’s more to consider: many fresh cut flowers are flown in from other areas or countries and wrapped in cellophane. A choice that is healthier for you and the planet would be to visit a farmer’s market for local and preferably organic flowers. Alternatively, house plants, while not a traditional Valentine’s gift, also help to set the mood. Boston ferns, Aloe and Chrysanthemums, as well as several other indoor plants on this list actually help improve your indoor air quality.

3. Chocolates and candies. There are a few problems with our traditional indulgence in sweets for Valentines Day. First of all, the sugar rush and then subsequent crash might make you feel sleepy or even moody. Feeling sluggish on Valentines is probably not the way you want to feel. As for the men, a 2009 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that men with better blood sugar levels enjoyed better sexual health. If you are looking for healthier chocolates with less refined sugar, here is a list of 18 organic and fair trade choices, like Camino and Green & Black.

4. Finally, to set the mood, you may want to consider avoiding scented candles. Studies have found that artificially-scented candles – which are usually petroleum-based – emit chemicals such as benzene and toluene into the air. So beware of your vanilla bean or ‘scents of joy’ candles as they may be unleashing sex-drive-killing toxins. Look instead for natural candles (such as beeswax or soy-based candles) and essential oils, or turn to the fireplace for your mood lighting.

However you celebrate Valentines Day, we hope these few tips will get you on your way to a cleaner, healthier day, in the mood for love and presence in the moment. Happy Valentines!

lipstick

 

 

 

Photo credit for hearts here and lipstick here.

 

 

Fragrance-Free Schools and Offices: EcoSmart’s Markers Help Clear the Air

No-Fragrance-SignA friend of mine wears a personal air filtration system around her neck. She suffers from multiple chemical sensitivities and is triggered by any number of fragrances. If someone walks in the room with heavily scented shampoo, perfume, or even lip gloss, or if someone uses smelly chemical products like dry-erase markers for the whiteboard, she can no longer function at her best. Brain fog, shortness of breath and headaches set in. Many schools and workplaces have identified fragrance as an impediment to better indoor air quality and have launched a fragrance-free or scent smart program. At EcoSmart Products we know the importance of offering non-toxic, low-odor products for classrooms, and our markers are helping schools go fragrance-free. Here are simple tips to help your school clear the air.

Tip #1: Send out a memo or newsletter about why it is important to go fragrance-free at your school or workplace. Getting people on board with the program is the best strategy for success. Give examples of products that carry a heavy scent, such as certain laundry detergents and popular grooming products like hair gel, hairspray and aftershave. Provide a list of  alternative products that you know to be unscented and easily available. Ask that personal products be checked for the words ‘parfum’ or ‘fragrance’ listed as an ingredient.

Tip #2: Consult with the custodians or cleaning staff about cleaning products that contain harsh ingredients like ammonia and bleach. Other smelly products like air fresheners, pot pourri and the dreaded pink soap in bathroom soap dispensers can just be omitted. There are many eco certified cleaning products that are effective and better for our health.

Tip #3: Consult with staff about which products regularly used around the office and classrooms contain potentially harmful chemicals and affect ideal indoor air quality. Smelly permanent markers or dry-erase markers for the whiteboard can be replaced with non-toxic, low-odor ones (EcoSmart’s markers are based in a denatured alcohol rather than harsh solvents like xylene and toluene). Art supplies such as paints, clays and glues can create a cocktail of noxious VOC chemicals, especially in enclosed areas like a classroom.

scent freeTip #4: Make it a fun project for everyone! Have groups of students or staff make signs that remind everyone of the fragrance-free policy, such as: “Welcome to our Scent Smart School/Office”. Create a campaign for the most creative ways to remind people to use non-toxic, fragrance-free products. 

It won’t be long before your school or workplace has an established fragrance-free space, a place for everyone to breathe a breath of fresh air!

 

 

 

 

One Powerful Idea from Generation X: Tales for An Accelerated Culture

GenerationXIn 1991 Douglas Coupland released his eventual-best-seller, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, and it blew my mind. I’d never read anything quite like it. Coupland was describing the inner workings of the generation that came after the baby boomers, thereby popularizing the term ‘Generation X’ (and their ‘McJobs’) in an irreverent and quirky way. Those who belong to, and are more familiar with, the term ‘Generation Y’, your namesake is the spin off. The book reads as a novel, peppered with footnotes to help us understand the twenty-something lifestyle and culture:

  • black holes - an X generation subgroup best known for their possession of almost entirely black wardrobes. 
  • air family - describes the false sense of community experienced among coworkers in an office environment. 
  • café minimalism - to espouse a philosophy of minimalism without actually putting into practice any of its tenets.

This profoundly different kind of book made some cutting edge observations about the mainstream culture of the day, but there was mostly one concept that made a lasting impression on me, a thought that hadn’t bothered me or even crossed my mind during my youth in the late eighties. It was the concept that once things are thrown out, they will last for varying periods of time in a landfill. Never actually breaking down, but always out of sight. I was an avid skier, so this new term stopped me in my tracks, so to speak:

  • dumpster clocking - the tendency when looking at objects to guesstimate the amount of time they will take to eventually decompose: “Ski boots are the worst. Solid plastic. They’ll be around till the sun goes supernova.”

There it was. The power of a sentence in a book, read as a youth. I can’t remember the plot of the novel or the characters of Generation X, but this idea of waste sitting in a landfill forever made sense to me, in the way that an image is worth a thousand words.

That is why, when the owner of EcoSmart Products explained to me that his company distributes recycled aluminum dry-erase markers that are refillable, I got it. Everyone uses dry-erase markers. All those hard plastic markers die a quick death and then lie in landfills as if they were millions of mini ski boots. Educators call this a ‘text to self’ connection. Coupland called it dumpster clocking.

ski boot and marker

Green Schools and Sustainable Companies: Can we agree that green practices are best practices?

2014As 2014 dons its pjs and gets ready to lay itself to rest, we look back on the year and reflect: are we further along the sustainability continuum than at the beginning of the year? Are the terms ‘green’, ‘eco’ and ‘sustainable’, which seem to grace every mission statement and company description, becoming more redundant and less necessary? Has our first-hand experience not shown that what is ultimately good for the school or company is also good for the planet? At the close of 2014, it just may be time for us all to agree that a school or company’s green practices are also synonymous with its best practices. At EcoSmart Products we work with so many institutions, supplying them with non-toxic, refillable markers. A few months ago we tweeted that we look forward to the day when a ‘green school’ will just be called a ‘school’. This was one of our most retweeted and favorited tweets of 2014.

Coherence is the feeling you get when everything together makes sense.Like when your fitness trainer is actually in good shape. Walking into a school or company that espouses an eco culture, but then seeing products lying around that are wasteful, toxic or inefficient is like seeing a ‘Go Green’ bumper sticker on a Hummer. The products that adorn a classroom or boardroom speak to coherence or incoherence. To be sure, sustainability is a complex, multi-faceted concept that takes focus, coordination and systematic planning. It involves doing more with less, inspiring innovation, creating long-term goals and honoring diversity. But as 2015 begins to stir to life, we celebrate redundant terms and coherent work spaces along the road to sustainability.

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EcoSmart's non-toxic, refillable markers and refill ink. ecosmartworld.com

EcoSmart’s non-toxic, refillable markers and refill ink. ecosmartworld.com