Sustainability Isn’t All Fun and Games. But Sometimes It Is.
I was recently called to offer a quote for a story in Forbes on a different category of product all together: Toys. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the benefits of paper when it comes to learning, cognitive development and creative expression for children, but I admit I hadn’t spent much time thinking about honest-to-goodness children’s toys as a locus of the conversation on paper and sustainability.
But when I started pondering my response to the reporter, it occurred to me that toys are a great way to introduce the idea at a young age that our choices matter, and that paper is a more environmentally friendly choice than alternatives.
And there are multiple levels on which that message can be communicated. For instance, I came across this clip about a nursery school in England that committed to locking away their plastic toys for a month and pushing kids to use their imaginations to play with ordinary objects including boxes, paper plates and train tickets. As any parent who put together a complicated birthday present or Christmas morning surprise only to find their toddler playing with the box instead, the kids liked it!
The move, the nursery school teachers said, was not about depriving the children of their plastic dolls and trucks, but challenging them to expand their play and learning experiences. We might add that the experience also instilled the message that materials designed for one purpose—to safely get toys from the factory to the store to the home—can be repurposed and given a new life. That simple premise is the cornerstone of paper recycling around the world.
And it’s a principle another toy company, also in Britain, is putting to use directly in their product. With Paper FX, kids can weave old magazines, wrapping paper, posters, pictures and other paper substrates into boxes, baskets, bags and other accessories and gifts. What I love about this is it’s both on-trend in its focus on upcycling, and it will save parents money compared to other toys or hobbies.
The company featured in the story I provided comment for is taking the recycling message to the content of their toys in a slightly different way by, for instance, replacing toy garbage trucks with toy recycling trucks. That gives kids a chance to ask questions, and parents a chance to answer them. Those kinds of conversations are the most basic and fundamental building block of conscientiousness.
And lastly, of course, toy brands can contribute to a more sustainable economy by making more sustainable choices. That’s why companies like Magic Box Toys have recently announced they are phasing out plastic toy packaging in favor of cardboard, recycled paper and boxes. And why massive global brands like McDonalds have committed to phasing out plastic happy meal toys.
All of these levels – the subject matter of the toy, the material the toy is made out of, the packaging the toy comes in, even the meaning of playing with the toy can be used to communicate vital truths about our product and its role in building a more sustainable world. It’s not often that we communicators can say our job is child’s play. But in this case, it is!