Sustainable Schools Make for a Greener Future

green schools

Written By:
Tim Person
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To prepare for a future economy likely to be driven by environmental jobs and innovation, today’s children will need a green-centric education. Children will also see a benefit, not to mention the environment itself, if the operation of school systems can be made more sustainable. The Earth Day Network’s launch of the Green Schools Leadership Center is a step in this direction, providing as it does an internet platform of resources and outreach to help schools go green.

The new section of the Earth Day Network Web site, located at http://edu.earthday.org, is meant to support the green schools movement with the tools to address some major areas that need improvement. The resources are geared to help K–12 U.S. schools with the following: greening  facilities, improving food options, upgrading transportation, bettering recreation opportunities and outdoor education, promoting environmental literacy and fostering civic and community engagement. The types of resources on offer include curriculum plans, best practice standards and opportunities to network with experts in the movement.

The Green Schools Leadership Center is a component of Earth Day Network’s existing Green Schools program, the stated goal of which is nothing less than “greening America’s schools within a generation.” Says Sean Miller, director of education for Earth Day Network, “We sent educational materials (both print and digital) to over 100,000 schools and over 14,000 superintendents in the U.S. during the spring of 2010. Last year, we reached out to over 70,000 schools in the U.S. with our green schools program.” Now, this new interactive platform is hailed by the organization as the first comprehensive resource of its kind. One service that the Center will provide is to guide schools interested in the new Green Ribbon Schools program. This U.S. Department of Education award is being given to schools that achieve gains in energy efficiency as well as other measures of sustainability, and that seek to improve student and staff health.

Certain statistics make it obvious that greener schools are a triple win for communities, since students, finances and the environment all benefit. According to Earth Day Network, a typical green school uses 33% less energy, 32% less water, and cuts down on waste by 74% compared with traditionally built school buildings. Savings from these improvements often average out to $100,000 annually, and can be put to use hiring new teachers and buying updated computers and textbooks.

 “If one considers that the majority of school districts nationwide have either laid off teachers or are in the contemplative process of laying off teachers, then the necessity of green schools becomes all the more important,” says Miller. He adds that this financial element is becoming a very persuasive factor for decision-makers, stating, “A main reason that [Washington] D.C. Public Schools recently renovated 20 of its school buildings to become certified green schools is that they knew the cost-savings would be enormous—we are talking millions of dollars in guaranteed savings.” Research, meanwhile, indicates that students in environmentally friendly schools perform better academically and are happier and healthier. The pollutants never put into the environment by schools outfitted to green specifications add up, to the tune of 1,200 lbs of nitrogen oxide (NOx), 1,300 lbs of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and 585,000 lbs of carbon dioxide (CO2) on average annually, also according to Earth Day Network.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, November 2011, online 9/27/11