The Measure of a Green School: Environmental and sustainability literacy

Published on: 
16 Mar 2015
Anisa Heming

Over the past four years, the Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools Award (ED-Green Ribbon Schools) has united the national green schools movement with a universal set of criteria. These criteria have the potential to inform and guide all schools toward sustainability, and not just the best of the best that have sought and will continue to seek the award.

We believe the green schools community in the U.S. currently has a landmark opportunity to define a clear and comprehensive set of measures that all schools can use to track their progress in harmony with the three pillars of ED-Green Ribbon Schools:

  1. Minimized environmental impact
  2. Improved occupant health
  3. Effective environmental and sustainability literacy for all graduates

In February 2015, the Center for Green Schools at USGBC (Center) joined with four leading organizations in the green schools movement to invite non-profits, agencies, advocates and school leaders, collectively representing 67 organizations, to contribute their expertise in three summits. These day-long events addressed how schools across the country might be able to measure their progress consistently and simply.

When it comes to comprehensive sustainability, giving schools clear and simple ways to measure and communicate progress is central to our movement’s ability to track improvement, increase demand, drive funding support, and motivate change. Over the next several years, the Center will convene a conversation about how schools should be given credit for important work they have already done, as well as what existing and available data can inform the public about the state of the nation’s schools. 

This series of blogs details the activities and outcomes of the three summits, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the conversations taking place among leaders in the green schools movement.

Environmental and Sustainability Literacy: February 6, 2015

Co-hosts: North American Association of Environmental Education and The Cloud Institute

The North American Association of Environmental Education and The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education joined the Center in hosting 48 people from 36 organizations to begin to identify common metrics and measures shared across several frameworks of sustainability and environmental education. Although groups working with Environmental Education pedagogy and those working with Education for Sustainability or Education for Sustainable Development pedagogy are operating under different systems and language, the group came to strong consensus around the need for common means of measuring student proficiency in overlapping environmental and sustainability themes. Among the organizations at the table, a depth of experience and educational expertise will form a strong footing for the effort to create these common measures.

Summit participants stressed the central role that equity should play in any system of measures, ensuring that all schools have equal ability to achieve high levels of progress toward becoming a green school. Participants also acknowledged the need for an adaptable system of measures that could change over time and grow with our collective knowledge about sustainability and the natural world. The group returned several times to the central importance of the student and the ultimate goal of educating students that can successfully implement environmental and sustainability concepts within their everyday life. 

At the close of the day, participants committed to a wide range of contributions toward creating common measures for the green schools movement; view a full list of commitments. As an immediate next step, the Center committed to hosting a follow-up meeting in late spring to first identify the commonalities (the “80 percent”) between Environmental Education, Education for Sustainability, and Education for Sustainable Development frameworks and then suggest the most central impacts to measure and collectively pursue.

Do you have knowledge of an existing framework or academic study that would be helpful to the Center’s effort to lead the development of common measures for the green schools movement? We want to hear from you! Please submit information at the following links for frameworks, datasets, or research studies. Contact [email protected] with any questions.