Teaching Green to Kids: A Plan for America’s Schools

If sustainability is ever going to take hold as an economic and social force, it may have to become a part of the educational process and instilled as a value in children. Aiming to do that on a grand scale is the recently released National Action Plan for Educating for Sustainability. It lays out a course of action to ensure that by 2040, every student graduating from a U.S. K–12 school “will be equipped to shape a more sustainable future,” according to the Center for Green Schools.

The Center is a project of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the group behind the successful green building program known as LEED. The newly released National Action Plan operates within the principles of Educating for Sustainability (EfS), a concept meant to help foster the principles of environmentalism and social responsibility in children. The report’s authors note that studies have shown children who learn in the context of EfS are more motivated and better behaved in the classroom. It also increases connections between kids and their communities and promotes healthier lifestyles and school environments.

In 2013, USGBC partnered with education publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) to develop and fund this push toward implementing EfS nationwide. The resulting plan seeks to enlist educators, school decision-makers, green school and EfS advocates, corporate leaders, policymakers, higher education, parents and students in making it happen. “When the U.S. Department of Education published its Green Ribbon Schools award, which called for all K-12 graduates to be environmentally literate, we received that as a directive for the community to band together and figure out how we will ensure that happens,” said Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools at USGBC in a statement.

The group has set out a timeline, beginning with items like establishing a United States Teacher Education for Sustainable Development Network by June 2014, all the way up to having all 50 state boards of education adopt teacher evaluation standards grounded in EfS by 2030. One of the main and ultimate goals of the plan is to have sustainability literacy become a graduation requirement in every school. Mary Cullinane, chief content officer and executive vice president of corporate affairs at HMH, said, “We’re calling on our colleagues within the education sector to read this National Action Plan, consider your role in educating for sustainability and join us to take action to ensure all students graduate empowered and enthusiastic about their future.”

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, May 2014