What is Eco-Friendly Parenting? Plus, 10 Ways to Practice It

written by DANA PETERS
eco-friendly parenting"
eco-friendly parenting
Source: Elevae Visuals
Source: Elevae Visuals

I’ve never considered myself particularly outdoorsy (does dining al fresco count?), but my love for protecting our planet is immense. I vividly remember being inspired by an Earth Day presentation in elementary school, and determined as only a 9-year-old can be, I insisted on recycling and starting composting at home. Flash forward to living in a “green” city in college, and my love for all things sustainable was forever solidified. 

While you might not find the same joy in reusable beeswax wrap or shopping from local farmers as I do, creating a more sustainable lifestyle is still a goal for many of us—especially after becoming parents. However, with a quick glimpse around your home and all the “kid stuff” you’ve acquired, you’ve likely picked up on the fact that eco-friendly parenting is more than reduce, reuse, and recycle. 

Whether you are ready to go all in on green parenting or would rather just dip your toes in, your choices can make an impact. And that impact will be felt on the environment, as well as on your children who will learn to value what you value as a family. 

Ready to get started? Keep reading to learn exactly what eco-friendly parenting is, as well as how to become more of an environmentally friendly parent.  

What is eco-friendly parenting?

Eco-friendly parenting, sometimes called sustainable parenting, is focused on making environmentally-conscious choices for your family as well as raising children to respect and protect the environment. There is not one specific way to practice eco-friendly parenting, but rather multiple ways to embrace it to fit your family’s needs and lifestyle. 

Some values of eco-friendly parenting include encouraging a love of nature, reducing overconsumption and waste production, as well as choosing more environmentally-conscious products for your family. 

Benefits of eco-friendly parenting

Besides the positive impact on the environment, eco-friendly parenting may have additional benefits. While the extent of these benefits will depend on the specific actions you take as a family, any amount of action is worth it to help preserve the Earth for future generations. 

Improved health outcomes

Embracing environmentally-friendly practices may reduce your family’s exposure to harmful chemicals and additives found in many household products. 

Save some green

Yes—being green helps save you some green (I couldn’t resist the pun!). Save money by reusing items for siblings or by purchasing popular baby items second-hand.

Spark a love for nature

It’s no secret our climate is somewhat in crisis and needs attention to ensure its health for future generations. Practicing eco-friendly parenting helps to spark a love of nature in your children, allowing them to become eco-conscious kids.

eco-friendly parenting kids in nature
Source: Elevae Visuals

10 ways to practice eco-friendly parenting

There are numerous ways to be an environmentally conscious parent, so take what feels good to you and leave the rest. As with most changes, go slow and work through one at a time.

1. Let kids explore outside

The more you appreciate something, the easier it is to care for it. So let your kids explore the outdoors and soak up how awe-inspiring it is! Take them hiking. Go for walks and bike rides. Explore parks, arboretums, and zoos. Visit the ocean or a lake. 

2. Give experiences, not gifts

Too often it seems like we blink and our homes are covered in our kids’ stuff—from bottles and blankets to toys and crafts. While you don’t have to go full-on minimalist to be eco-friendly, try giving experiences instead of physical gifts for birthdays and holidays to cut down on unused toys and waste. 

3. Revamp laundry routines

Let’s face it—kids create a lot of laundry—some days, it’s unbelievable really. But this means revamping your laundry routines can make a big impact. Try choosing a more eco-friendly laundry detergent and washing most items in cold water. Heating up water for the washer takes lots of energy!

4. Consider cloth diapers

I know—but it needs to be on the list. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, disposable diapers created 4.1 million tons of waste in 2018, so cloth diapering can make a big environmental difference. But I get it’s not for everyone. If you’re not ready to commit to cloth diapers, you may consider biodegradable diapers that break down easier in landfills. 

5. Purchase secondhand, reuse, or borrow

There are certain items your baby and kiddo need—such as a crib, highchair, and clothes. Purchasing these items secondhand (thank you, thrifting hacks) or borrowing them is a great eco-friendly alternative to shopping new. You may also want to save items for future siblings. 

6. Start a garden

Help inspire a love for nature by planting a garden. Whether you choose to grow flowers (try pollinator-friendly varieties!) or food, kids will learn what it means to care for the environment. Planting a veggie garden may help save you some money at the grocery store as well. 

eco-friendly parenting
Source: ColorJoy Stock

7. Walk or bike more

While urban areas tend to be more walkable, your family can cut your carbon footprint by choosing to walk or bike more. Is it possible to walk or bike to school or the park on nice days? Or try replacing activities you would drive to with a fun walk or bike ride. 

8. Reduce plastic use

It’s estimated that 12 million tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans each year—yikes! Do your part to reduce single-use plastics by choosing reusable silicone bags for snacks and lunches, using cloth shopping bags, natural cutting boards, and stainless coffee cups. If possible, choose other materials for kid items such as wooden toys, stainless water cups, and glass bottles.

9. Make your home more eco-friendly 

There are a lot of small choices you can make in your home to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Choose products that can be reused, such as bags, coffee mugs, etc. Switch to more environmentally friendly cleaning products. Choose eco-friendly products when you can—diapers, body care, period products, home goods, etc. No need to switch everything at once, but rather make a swap as you replace or need a new item. 

10. Shop local markets and stores

Shopping locally helps to reduce the amount of carbon emissions produced for your goods to get to you. Additionally, less waste will likely be produced versus shipping an item. Buying food at a farmers market also provides the additional benefit of learning more about where your food comes from as well as allowing you to purchase from farms that use sustainable practices. 

dana peters registered dietician

Dana Peters, R.D.

Dana is a writer and registered dietitian specializing in family and kids nutrition living in the Chicago suburbs. From healthy family eating to reliable baby gear to wellness for moms, she has covered it all. She is mom to Charlie and Eva, a wannabe baker, and a farmer’s market enthusiast.