The Measure of a Green School: Environmental Impact

Published on: 
24 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, not just the very 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: minimized environmental impact, improved occupant health, and 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 Impact: February 11, 2015

Co-host: National Wildlife Federation

The National Wildlife Federation joined the Center in hosting 38 people from 30 organizations around the topic of common measures for environmental impact in schools, including energy, water, waste, and transportation. Many participating organizations were familiar with each other’s work and the current measures that are being used to measure impact in this area. The summit conversation focused on clarifying standard definitions and effectively incentivizing participation in data-gathering efforts.

Among many topics covered by participants, the importance of lowering barriers to participation in green schools programs and efforts was raised several times. The barriers cited include limited school staff capacity, lack of pressure from parents and educational agencies, and confusion regarding the best course of action toward sustainability. The representatives of organizations and agencies present at the summit had deep knowledge of existing program data, and several people urged consideration for how data transparency and analysis can be useful to schools and districts themselves.

Participants closed the day with commitments to share knowledge, expertise, and data toward the effort to clarify common measures for schools striving toward sustainability; view a full list of commitments. The Center expressed its commitment to expend the staff time and resources that will be needed to thoughtfully lead the group toward common language through common measures, working alongside the participants and other organizations.

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.