According to Kermit, It's not easy being green, but the frog is going to have to change his tune. Being green is getting easier every day. What was once labeled 'hippie' has become hip and whether we've embraced the eco-centric lifestyle or are taking baby steps, most of us have realized it's not just cool, but important to care about our environment. As the demand for earth-friendly choices trickles into every aspect of the marketplace, "green" toys are getting increasingly easier to find and cheaper to buy -- just in time for the holidays.

The power of the purse has always been an effective way for consumers to communicate which business practices they support and which they do not. Money talks. The 2009 Cone Consumer Environmental Survey found that in spite of the economy, 34% of American consumers said they are more likely to buy environmentally responsible products than they did one year ago. Some 70% of Americans indicated that they are paying attention to what companies are doing with regard to the environment today, even if they aren't buying right now.

"The fact that consumers continue to be interested in the environment and mindful of corporate efforts, even in the midst of a grueling recession, is evidence that this is more than just a passing trend," said Jonathan Yohannan, senior vice president of corporate responsibility for Boston-based Cone. "Environmental responsibility is not just an expectation in times of prosperity."



Many companies would love to wave the green banner of eco-business, but the most successful are those who are sincere. Authenticity counts. Toy companies such as Plan Toys, Smart Gear, Blue Orange, Zabazoo, Kapla Toys, Idbids, Cardboardesign, Citiblocs and Sprig Toys (to name a few of the best) walk the walk.

Blue Orange realized that it requires one tree to make 35 of its games. As a result, it now pledges to plant two trees for every one that is cut down and expects to plant more than 10,000 trees per year to reduce negative environmental impact. HaPe Toys created the world's first collection of bamboo toys to utilize a sustainable resource, and Plan Toys is the first company to manufacture their products using wood from rubber trees that no longer provide latex. These trees provide the world's primary source of natural rubber and in the past they would be cut down and burned when their sap production declined. Now, Plan Toys uses the felled trees for gorgeously designed products instead. In addition, Plan Toys boasts recyclable, fuel-efficient packaging and factories powered with solar and biomass energy. They are not alone in their recycle, reuse innovations.

Sprig Toys created Sprigwood a proprietary bio-composite of recycled wood and reclaimed plastic, and Smart Gear Toys uses wood from replenish-able sources, non-toxic paints and lacquer and formaldehyde-free glue to create stylish, beautiful toys like the Balance Bike. In a similar effort, Greentoys.com recycles plastic milk jugs to make unbreakable tea sets, play tools, cook ware, sand castle kits, dump trucks and more.

And isn't that the important part? The toy I mean. You can lead a kid to the recycled playground, but you can't make him play. Sustaining the fun quotient is just as important as the biodegradable packaging. Personally, if I'm shelling out for toys I want them played with...often (and then put away, but that's another story...).

Yes, I want renewable resources and environmentally friendly businesses, but I also want the wow factor. In the past consumers (and their kids) may have sacrificed to remain true to their values, but that's not necessary anymore. These days, a Frisbee is still a Frisbee (or "flying disc") but it's made of recycled plastic (Wham-O, Green Toys). Tire swings are soaring to new heights using recycled rubber tires cut into fantastic shapes (dragons, T-rex, kangaroos, reindeer, motorcycles and horses), available at Target.com.

The modern, sculptural-looking rocking horses, scooters, sit-atop elephants and pedal-powered race cars from Plan Toys look like something you'd want to keep in the family for years. Cardboardesign.com creates cool, kid-powered airplanes, playhouses, forts, castles, and rockets out of, you guessed it, cardboard. Color Me House and Color Me Rocket are also life-sized cardboard play houses that are meant to be painted, colored and decorated by their young occupants.

Citiblocs and Uberstix are beneficial for both play and the planet. For the computer, EcoTycoon, Project Green and Zoo Tycoon are software games that allow kids to learn about environmental issues and be a hero -- all in a day's play.

In addition to the growing number of eco-centric toys now available, there are also more places to find them. Some of the biggest stores, Toysrus.com, Target.com and WalMart.com (as well as their brick-and-mortar locations) stock an impressive array of toys with real eco-credibility. Type in, "eco toys" in the store's search box to check out what's available.

Many online specialty retailers are devoted solely to green-seeking consumers. Edenhome.com, Carefulplanettoys.com, Mightynest.com, Nubiusorganics.com, Monkeybeantoys.com, Backtobasicstoys.com (search for eco-toys), Designforplay.com and ecotoytown.com are all fun to browse and green to their roots.

Deborah Walsh, a former contributor to greenmomfinds.com, revealed she's already done a little holiday shopping. "I found a solar-powered wooden helicopter online and it's really cute!" She also said although she is onboard with preserving the environment for future generations, one of the main reasons she began seeking out eco-toys was because she wanted to find things that wouldn't aggravate her kids' allergies and asthma. "Even the fire retardants they put in some toys can set off a reaction for a kid with asthma," said Walsh.

She reports it's become a lot easier to shop. "Prices are really coming down," said Walsh, "even back in 2006, it was really expensive and hard to find organic things for kids." This year, she has also purchased a new baby doll that is labeled "certified asthma and allergy friendly" on its tag. "The whole concept has really gone mainstream," said Walsh, "and the big guns are taking notice."

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