A green school is a healthy environment conducive to learning while saving energy, resources and money.
By promoting the design and construction of green schools, by greening the operations and maintenance of existing schools, and by incorporating sustainability across curriculum and into communities, we can make a tremendous impact on student health and learning, school operational costs and the environment.
Three pillars of a green school
The international green schools community is increasingly aligned around three aspirational goals for schools: zero environmental footprint (including energy, water, waste and carbon), a positive impact on occupant health and performance, and 100% of graduates demonstrating environmental literacy. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education launched its Green Ribbon Schools award program—a monumental step forward for the green schools movement—by asking schools, colleges and universities to show their progress toward these pillars. And since 2012, the Center for Green Schools has asked the participating countries in our Global Coalition for Green Schools to sign on to the goals of the three pillars as well.
The three pillars—environmental impact, human health and eco-literacy—act as a simple, elegant organizing principle for K-12 schools and higher education institutions around the world as they journey toward whole-school sustainability. This definition unites the education, health and environmental communities in a global green schools movement.
State of our schools
In the U.S. alone, there are more than 130,000 K-12 schools and more than 4,300 colleges and universities. Schools are centers of communities across the U.S. and around the world, yet American citizens and public officials have a poor understanding of the scale of their local infrastructure and its condition.
In the 2016 report State of Our Schools: America’s K-12 Facilities, we estimate that the nation as a whole is spending only two thirds of what is needed in school facilities every year, underinvesting by a staggering $46 billion annually. The needs are mounting as school conditions decline over time, as previously highlighted in 2013’s State of Our Schools report, and funding to adequately maintain and renew school facilities is inequitably distributed across communities with vastly differing wealth and resources.
Green schools and campuses
The three pillars help schools to understand where they should end up. But what will it take to get there? A whole-system approach to sustainability requires individuals from across an organization to work together. Successfully advancing whole-school sustainability requires schools and campuses to not only shift practices and policies but also shift culture. Staff, faculty, students, parents and leadership must create the conditions necessary to journey toward.
The Whole School Sustainability Framework and the Roadmap to a Green Campus are two resources to support the transformation of school environments.