Back to school: Communities designing for an equitable, green future

Published on: 
30 Sep 2021
Kristen Keim

With most school buildings now reopened and students and staff returned to in-person learning, there’s an opportunity to reflect on the importance of our educational facilities—both what we appreciate and what we hope to improve.

Even small changes related to efficiency and safety can lead to big improvements in the experience of learning and working in a school building. Using sustainability as a north star when setting school sustainability goals can keep school community teams engaged and inspired for the future.

We asked two K–12 school and educator 2021 Best of School (BOGS) awards recipients to describe their dream green schools. Read on to understand their vision for greener K–12 schools:

Jeff Rivero, social science and health teacher at Yosemite High School, Merced, California:

My dream school would be a net zero, healthy and resilient campus. But that dream school must be accessible to all communities. Today, there are Olympic-style aquatics centers in affluent community schools, with poorer schools left with outdated and potentially unsafe pools, if any. And that’s just an example of a sports venue—imagine the discrepancy in resources for the critical educational departments!

Because school funding comes from community income and property taxes, more affluent districts breed wealthier schools, and poorer districts have less access to necessary resources. This discriminatory system must be changed for my dream to be realized.

Sal Gordon, head of teaching and learning at Green School Bali, Bali, Indonesia:

At the risk of sounding cheesy, Green School Bali is my dream school building. The way it appears as if growing from the ground, with round-shaped, open-air classrooms that allow students to interact with the world around them—this is a dream! When we build schools from local, sustainable materials that run on renewable energy, we're demonstrating the values needed for a positive future for our children. We're giving them hope of a world they'll be inspired to build.

Photo by Green School Bali.

Our green school dreams aren’t impossible. In fact, districts received significant funds from the COVID-19 relief bills that can be invested in school facility improvements. The Center for Green Schools at USGBC and Undaunted K–12 released a guidance document for school decision-makers to understand the green investment possibilities and make smart decisions: Five Guiding Principles. Additionally, state-level officials, elected leaders and community advocates can use the Opportunities for Green Schools in 2021: A Resource for States to support green school legislation in their state.

Explore Center for Green Schools resources