The United States is home to more than 130,000 K-12 schools and over 4000 colleges and universities, however the majority of these buildings do not adhere to standards set forth by the United States Green Building Council. This is due largely to the lack of education about Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and the benefits of green buildings in general. According to the 2016 State of Our Schools report, the educational industry spends nearly $100 billion annually maintaining school facilities or improving conditions in these buildings, yet it still is underinvesting in new construction by $46 billion. To compound this problem, schools must deal with continual funding cuts for school maintenance and unequal fund distribution between districts.
Green schools follow the guidelines established by the U.S. Green Building Council, which ranks buildings in terms of how environmentally friendly they are. To earn the “green school” designation, schools must adhere to the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) green building ratings system. All LEED-certified schools hold an independent certification based on green building design, energy efficiency, and water conservation.
Colleges and universities currently have an overall higher percentage of LEED-certified buildings and green spaces than any other sector. However, there are several organizations, including the following, that are actively working to bring awareness to the green school movement by educating children, parents, and teachers on the benefits of green schools:
The Center for Green Schools
Part of the US Green Building Council, the Center for Green Schools aims to change how people construct, design and operate educational buildings. The organization also advocates that all students, from kindergarteners through postgraduates, should learn about the numerous benefits of green buildings. To this end, the Center for Green Schools establishes guidelines and dedicates resources to changing operations and maintenance procedures at existing schools to make them LEED compliant.
The Center for Green Schools’ website is a place dedicated to providing handy resources and ideas to encourage active participation in the green building movement. Visitors to the site can download the Roadmap to a Green Campus document, which details everything from LEED certification to how to engage the community in supporting green school initiatives.
National Green Schools Society
The National Green Schools Society (NGSS) is a chapter-based program that provides intensive environmental education opportunities to schools, organizations, and communities. Interested students and faculty can establish their own NGSS chapter within their school. As part of the program, students participate in environmental service projects as well as engage in leadership and activism activities.
Membership is available to all students from second to 12th grade who have a deep interest in saving the environment, regardless of the way they obtain their education. This means that homeschooled children can still get the same targeted environmental education as those who attend traditional classes. The NGSS website also contains an environmental service project database, which allows members to get actively involved in green initiatives in their communities.
Project Learning Tree
Project Learning Tree is a school-based program that empowers children to use their critical thinking skills to tackle environmental issues. As such, it offers educators complete science technology engineering and math (STEM)-based environmental curricula and a variety of resources, including online and in-person professional development training, to help raise awareness about and engage children in the fight to protect our natural world.
Among Project Learning Tree’s many initiatives is its GreenSchools! curriculum. As part of this program, students design their own investigations to figure out how to make their school more sustainable. This includes finding ways to save energy and water, reduce waste and increase recycling, and improve overall environmental quality.
Before starting and maintaining a successful green schools program, teachers need to attend Project Learning Tree’s training, during which they learn the best ways to access data as well as how to encourage students to be forward thinkers who can help design and see a project to completion using STEM skills. Project Learning Tree also provides grant funding to help students carry out their environmental initiatives.
These are just a few of the innovative green school initiatives available to students and faculty across the country. Through targeted environmental education, spreading the word about environmental education and green building will undoubtedly have an impact that may eventually reach all learning institutions.