The Greenest School on Earth: How do you choose?

Published on: 
24 Apr 2015
Carly Cowan

Out of the most impressive and inspiring school buildings in the entire world, how do you choose just one to name the Greenest School on Earth? The task is a daunting one, but also an incredibly rewarding one. This year, our Greenest School on Earth program received over 300 percent more applications than last year from schools that are making tremendous progress in providing better education to our world’s future leaders.

As the program’s application numbers have grown, so has its impact and its purpose. Originally designed to commend the unique efforts of a single school around sustainability, the Greenest School on Earth award program now celebrates the beauty in the diversity of what green looks like while also reinforcing the three-pillar definition of a green school. Schools are evaluated by how they demonstrate excellence in reducing environmental impact, enhancing occupant health and well-being and educating a generation of sustainability natives. What was truly amazing to me this year was how well the applicants, while so incredibly geographically, physically and culturally diverse, all met this three pillar definition. This year, the competition reinforced how this comprehensive definition spans country borders, language barriers, time zones and rating systems.

One school in particular stood out to both the judging panel and to me. Dunbarton High School in Pickering, Ontario, was the unanimous winner among our panel of incredible judges. What is so remarkable about Dunbarton, is that its journey can be that of any school. Not endowed with any particularly exquisite infrastructure or technology, Dunbarton’s student body has taken leadership and ownership over the sustainability of the 1960s building. Securing over $12,000 Canadian dollars, students have completely transformed the way they learn. Instead of being discouraged by older infrastructure or a smaller budget, they addressed these challenges and overcame them with ingenuity, dedication and intelligence. In particular, the Dunbarton community took tangible action through Green Apple Day of Service and by engaging with their Canada Coalition for Green Schools as the winner of the Greenest School in Canada Competition.

I would be remiss not to highlight this year’s Runner Up: Vele Secondary School in Limpopo, South Africa. One of the most gratifying elements of this program for me is being privy to learning about the incredible work happening in all corners of the globe. In a far less fortunate community in Limpopo, Vele has far exceeded the expectations of any school. Constructed on the premise of passive low energy design (PLED), Vele is robustly outfitted with the latest and greatest technology. But it’s not the technology that caught the judges’ eyes--it’s the way Vele opens itself up to its community. By offering up its computer lab as an internet cafe, hosting computer training classes and a sewing co-op, Vele is the embodiment of a school doubling as a community center.

There are too many schools around the world deserving of accolades to adequately recognize all of them, but Dunbarton serves as a truly outstanding model of what all schools and school communities can aspire to be and do. Dunbarton’s story is one of seeing opportunity where others see challenge. It’s a testament to the power of community collaboration, student leadership and teacher support.