by Megan Yarnall

Traditionally the main focus of education is younger generations, something for kids, something for those who are not already “old and wise.” In the green world, though, that notion must be turned upside down. Thanks to great strides in environmental science, recycling, and packaging science, the way we care for our environment and the eco-choices we make as consumers are constantly changing and therefore the need for education and ‘re-education’ remains constant regardless of age.

The seemingly inherent challenge is that educating all ages should require different tactics for the various target groups. Children comprehend and interpret information differently than adults and will be concerned with, engaged and inspired by a different set of topics and approaches: rather than the carbon output of a car that a child cannot drive, the child will be concerned about his or her toys, homework, or a pet.

Though the tactics for reaching the audiences often needs to be different, it’s still most effective and efficient – you reach the mostpeople – when you combine audiences and catch everyone at once. The hard part, of course, is finding this middle ground.  What will inspire and impact children and adults alike, without confusing one group or boring the other.

At TerraCycle, we’ve found that one of the best ways to do this is to put green lessons where they’re least expected. For us, this means retailers and playgrounds. By placing bins in stores like Old Navy and by partnering with stores such as Target and Walmart, which cater to both adults and children, we can catch the attention of both groups. Many people don’t expect to see backpacks made from Capri Sun drink pouches on the shelves – drink pouches belong in the food section!  These items often get an equal gasp from parents and children alike, albeit for likely differing reasons.

We recently donated recycled playgrounds to four schools across the country that were made out of used flip-flops collected at Old Navy stores during the “Flip-Flop Replay” last spring. Kids play on the playground, and parents take their children to the playground, making the playground a common point of interest between the two groups.  Thus both groups have their environmental understanding expanded, albeit in different ways.

Furthermore, these points (Target, Old Navy, playgrounds) are community spots. Anyone can frequent them and anyone can be involved, and when one person sees another participate, the pressure is on. In this case, “peer pressure” can be helpful in encouraging everyone to participate.

By reaching across all ages and consumers big and small, adults and kids can learn at the same time, and learn together, which makes the lessons stronger for each generation. While sometimes they will still need individual lessons, putting green lessons in unexpected places that cater to both groups is an effective method of teaching them at the same time and encouraging community involvement in green efforts and projects! Plus this method can be more fiscally sustainable. A key challenge for educators, NGOs and for-profits alike.