In the last 60 years, more than 8 billion tons of nearly indestructible plastics have been produced worldwide. On top of this, manufacturing and transportation still account for a hefty portion of global CO2 emissions heating up the planet.
Stats like these are the reason EF Education First Creative Director Aida Pérez and the EF Kids & Teens Merchandise team have stepped in to help lead EF’s efforts toward creating a more sustainable future. She and her teammates create and send sustainable merchandise designed for young people around the world each year.
“Being green isn’t just a project for us. It’s what we live and breathe every day,” says Aida, whose multi-talented teammates work across EF offices in Lucerne, Hong Kong and Shanghai. “Having high standards is really important in everything we do. As a big company, it’s a must.”
Over the last 25 years, EF Kids & Teens — a premier English language learning provider for students ages three to 17 — has become the largest and fastest-growing EF business in China and Indonesia. One way the brand continues to build affinity is through unconventional merchandise, like backpacks with faces to match every mood. These unique and exclusive products primarily serve as sales tools for attracting, welcoming, retaining and engaging EF students. Not only are these items highly desirable to kids and parents alike, they’re high-quality, safe and ethically produced, too.
“We want to inspire our customers to believe they can improve their lives by learning with us, and our products need to communicate that message. Our products are fun, innovative, desirable, cool and green as well,” adds Aida. “We pushed a lot internally to educate our business. For us, sustainability is more than one thing: it’s quality over quantity, recycling, repurposing, choosing vegan materials, fair trade and also waste reduction.”
Everyone on the Merchandise team, whether they’re a designer, merchandiser, engineer, or supply chain manager, is equally responsible for upholding EF Kids & Teens’ product principles, which include safety, legal compliance, ethical and environmental production and great design. To achieve these standards, they’ve embedded these green initiatives into their everyday work:
Using recycled & organic materials
The team uses high-quality raw materials — and factories — that meet the Global Recycle Standard (GRS). This means they know exactly where recycled materials come from, how they’re made, and their social and environmental impact. Whenever possible, they opt for organic fabrics, like cotton or rayon, that wear longer and feel better.
One way to avoid contributing to throwaway culture? Avoid packaging that can’t be recycled altogether — and include clear instructions about how to dispose of materials so they don’t end up in the trash. Such labeling is an important tool for EF Kids & Teens.
To protect products during transportation, it’s common to wrap them in polybag plastic packaging. By adopting alternative solutions, such as biodegradable bags, the team reduced polybag usage by over 70%, saving tons of plastic from landfills each year.
By choosing attractive, durable materials, the team encourages customers to keep packaging and repurpose it in their daily lives. They also design products that promote sustainability, such as refillable water bottles and lunch boxes with reusable cutlery.
Increasing product life
High-quality materials, careful construction, and rigorous safety standards result in products with longer lifespans than average brand merchandise. EF Kids & Teens’ products convey quality. While parents travel with designer bags, their kids tote EF backpacks.
One example of how these initiatives come to life is the EF Kids & Teens new staff uniform. Recently launched following a brand refresh, the uniforms were reimagined with both sustainability and style in mind. The Merchandise team pushed for breathable, organic fabrics that feel great against the skin, selected top-of-the-line factories used by luxury retailers and packed each article of clothing in earth-friendly compostable bags.
“Our new staff garments are really good quality. Because of the fabrics we chose, the pieces don’t look tired after months of use,” says Aida. “Our staff won’t need to replace them often, which is another way of reducing consumption. It definitely makes an impact on their daily lives.”
Later this summer, the team will unveil a new line of travel gear designed to make EF Kids & Teens students “the most colorful, yet green, explorers of the world.” Packed with personality and sustainable at its core, the collection includes backpacks and toiletry pouches crafted with 100% recycled polyester fabric made from PET bottles. In addition, every piece arrives in packaging that’s both hot water-soluble and compostable in CO₂ and H₂O within 180 days.
Inspired by the success of these innovations, the team plans to produce all future EF backpacks in 100% recycled polyester from PET bottles and phase out non-woven and polyester fabric totes. But they won’t stop there, because making a difference never ends.