How a Company-Created Curriculum Can Work in Schools

You’ve heard it over the years: Company creates curriculum for schools, with conflicted teachers not wanting to advertise to their students, but at the same time at a deficit in terms or resources. Frequently, this is a justifiable concern, as companies have advertising and product placement throughout.

This is a mistake. No matter the short term value, the lingering long term effect is this mixed feeling towards the brand, and diluted educational offerings to students. Of all the things that I’ve done as CEO of Terracycle, none has excited me more than what we’re about to launch: The TerraCycle Curriculum Series.

There is minimal branding in the curriculum. No mention of our products. No focus on how to be a good consumer. Instead, we teamed up with sustainable curriculum specialist Cloud Institute and created an academically rigorous nine part program to be released over three years each spring, fall and winter that’s built to be fit within national curriculum standards. Free.

We are committed to this being more than happy talk for kindergartners, that’s long forgotten by first grade.

There are four distinct programs covering from K to 12, ranging from “Where do apples go? A story about the nature of Materials” to “An exploration of Cradle to Cradle design thinking”

So, you may be asking, why do this?

Why as a business would Terracycle invest in this effort, if there is little to no direct return to us? And the bigger question is, can something that a business provides ever truly be non promotional? I ask, should it have to be? I’d say it depends on what the content is, and how relevant the brand is.

Mountain Dew popping up all over an accounting curriculum would be extraneous, but when helping kids have a broad based knowledge of the world around them and the impact humans have (and can not have, with awareness) in terms of waste, it’s natural that Terracycle would at times come into the conversation.

We’ve had a long history with schools (40,000 nationwide to date) giving them a fundraising opportunity via the Waste Collection Brigades, of which schools are the largest contingent among the nearly 10 million people participating. What we’re doing here is completing the circle.

Kids, teachers and parents have been doing a fine job of being consumers and waste generators, just like the rest of us. Then, one by one, they’ve been seeking out an active way to do something different with that waste via our Brigades, while getting paid. Now they’ve got a three year long series to give them an in depth knowledge about all the circumstances that lead up and follow that action they’re taking. A full spectrum view of the world that surrounds them, if you will.

In a financially constrained world where arts, music, even sports are feeling the pinch in schools, we are clear: Now more than ever, it’s important to proactively ensure that our kids grow up ecologically aware and sustainability minded. The world they are inheriting is going to have a disproportionate amount of challenges for them to face, much of it caused by us.

It’s both in their and our interest that we raise a generation that steers clear of the mistakes we’ve made, and continues even further down the sustainability path then we could have imagined.

Readers: How/can companies play a role in increasing the amount of environmentally focused education in our schools?

Tom Szaky is the Founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Inc. a company that makes eco-revolutionary products entirely from garbage! TerraCycle, since its humble beginnings in a Princeton University dorm room, is committed to being a triple bottom line company. Tom at the ancient age of 19 learned about composting with worms. The concept of using tiny little worms to turn food waste into a powerful, organic fertilizer fascinated Tom, who was appalled by the amount of food discarded by his campus's cafeteria. Tom started TerraCycle with no investors from a friend's garage by building a Worm Gin where he could house millions of worms in a small area. He all but bankrupted himself and maxed out all his credit cards to build the machine. With the help of friends he would shovel pounds of rotten, maggot-infested food from the Princeton cafeterias. Without any money left over, Tom could not afford to buy bottles to package his fertilizer. That's when the sustainability gods smiled on Tom, who was up one night wandering the streets Princeton in search of an answer to his packaging dilemma. It just happened to be recycling night and Tom realized that millions of homes were putting billions of free bottles out on the curb once a week! That serendipitous moment set everything to follow into motion. Slowly he began to finance his infantile start up by winning business plan contests. Finally he hit the pay dirt! He won the million dollar grand prize at the Carrot Capital Business plan contest. However, the financiers of the contest wanted to move TerraCycle away from used bottles and away from it's environmental focus. Despite being on the verge of bankruptcy, Tom turned down the money. In the six years since then TerraCycle has grown to a multi-million dollar company that doubles in size every year. Still we are committed to our triple bottom line beginnings. Still making our products from other's people waste. Still based in an Urban Enterprise Zone in Trenton, NJ. Still a second chance employer. Find out how and why, here at

One response

  1. I could not disagree more strongly with this article and author Tom Szaky: privatized, corporate funded “charter” schools are another sneaky way of union busting, lowering teacher’s salaries even further and of course eliminating pensions, benefits, and clearing out any teachers who don’t tow the “corporate line”. The ongoing attack on public schools nationwide is corporate America’s way tightening their stranglehold on all aspects of American’s lives, and should be steadfastly opposed by all Americans who value objective, quality education. Having corporations own and run America’s schools, and for them to claim they will provide a quality eduction to students is pure rubbish: its just like having BP or Exxon Mobil oversee and run environmental protection and the EPA of the federal government. Don’t trust this author, he’s a shill for the corporates he serves.

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