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The Center for Green Schools at USGBC was founded in 2010 with a vision to put every child in a green school within this generation. The very week of its founding, I moved to Washington, D.C., to bring to a national scale the work I’d been doing with the Recovery School District in New Orleans.
Through my work in that district, I had learned that healthy and safe learning environments cannot be taken for granted. I had also grown to understand that, every time a community builds a school, it has the chance to tell its children that they are valued. Over the nine years I’ve worked with USGBC, I have been privileged to be able to help many communities make good choices for their students’ futures.
The energy and leadership that USGBC has invested in the green schools movement has paid off, and our commitment remains strong. We believe the mission we’ve set forth is about lifting people up and making our world not just more environmentally friendly, but more equitable. Everyone, from the kindergartener to the Ph.D. student, deserves to attend schools that sustain the world they live in, enhance their health and well-being and prepare them for 21st century careers as global sustainability citizens. Our mission is about building a green future for all, regardless of one’s social or economic background.
“As part of our vision for 2020, USGBC has committed to investing in the future by developing the full potential of the diverse, committed and passionate people who power our movement,” says Mahesh Ramanujam, President and CEO of USGBC and GBCI. “And we know that one crucial way to achieve that is through empowering our movement’s future leaders. By ensuring that children all over the world have the opportunity to learn in a green school, we will lay this foundation. So let’s keep striving to build a better world for our children, their children and generations yet to come! That’s how we’ll achieve the world we’ve imagined.”
Anisa Heming while working in New Orleans schools. Photo credit Kai Keane.Where we learn matters
My experience with schools and school districts in nearly all 50 states and several countries outside of the United States has given me a litany of reasons why green schools matter. It’s an easy question to answer when you have been in both the worst schools imaginable and the most inspiring learning environments in the world. By the numbers, schools have an enormous impact on people and the environment. Globally, 1 in 8 individuals set foot in a school each day. There are over 130,000 schools in the U.S., occupying square footage equivalent to half that of the commercial building sector. It is clear that where we learn matters, and better schools have the potential to improve the lives of millions around the world.
A school’s curriculum, pedagogy, operations, culture and learning environment are all connected. Green schools serve as hands-on educational tools for students to learn about green building and sustainability. The real-world, project-based learning that sustainability education provides prepares students to discover new solutions for our global challenges, and we can best educate students for a sustainable world by modeling it for them at their own school.
We also know that green school buildings are critical for student and teacher health. The importance of facilities to student health, wellness and performance is well established, and research also tells us that responsible investment in school buildings can lead to thriving local communities. Green schools support community health by reducing harmful emissions, minimizing environmental impact, saving energy and water while reducing utility costs, reducing waste going to landfill and lessening the burden of extraction of new natural resources for construction and operations.Nothing beats results
Since 2010, the Center for Green Schools has sustained volunteer action in every U.S. state and educated thousands at our annual Green Schools Conference and Expo. We have inspired acts of service to benefit over 7 million students during Green Apple Day of Service with almost one million volunteers across 73 countries. We launched Learning Lab, a platform for K–12 sustainability curriculum content, which now hosts over 500 high-quality lessons in English and Spanish. LEED Lab, a course to teach the LEED rating system to college and university students by giving them hands-on certification experience, is now offered in 25 institutions in nine countries around the world. As of October 2017, we have more than 12,100 certified and registered LEED K–12 and higher education schools projects.
We have reinforced our belief that healthy learning environments lead to thriving communities with the publication of original research and policy analysis, and we have increased the introduction of green schools legislation in U.S. states fivefold. Our staff and volunteers have worked to establish the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools award program in dozens of states, strengthening the program’s “three pillars” of a green school as unifying criteria for the movement. This criteria is now used by organizations in 25 countries through our Global Coalition for Green Schools.
Anisa Heming at the Green Schools Conference and Expo. Photo credit: coolgreenschools.com.
Finally, we have been the primary voice for a new job class, the K–12 sustainability director, providing professional development to a growing network of 120 school district staff who collectively serve over 7.5 million students. We have established Green Schools Fellowships and school district scholarships to successfully institutionalize sustainability positions in school districts.What’s next for the Center
The Center sits at the forefront of USGBC’s drive to broaden our message about the impacts and benefits of green buildings. As the Center for Green Schools’ Director, I approach the work with the knowledge that schools are central to our communities and our future. Our children’s schools are of interest to the public in a way that few other buildings are. Additionally, schools have the potential to prepare students to care for and sustain the world in which they live, taking on their future careers with a mindset rooted in sustainability.
I am excited that, with USGBC’s tools and the new Arc platform, schools and school stakeholders can benchmark their performance, access important educational resources, find inspiring examples of success, and connect with and learn from each other. High-quality tools enable passionate people to do transformational work, and these tools will help the green schools movement go further.
Building on this foundation, the priorities of the Center for Green Schools over the next three years are to
- Prepare students for a sustainable future by influencing the value of sustainability within mainstream education and serving sustainability education online.
- Engage communities for impact by driving engagement in sustainability at school and leading and educating green school champions.
- Guide policy and investment by advocating for school facility equity, encouraging investment in green school facilities globally and influencing school system practices and policies.
We will leverage USGBC’s considerable strengths to maximize the work of the Center for Green Schools and bring the green schools movement into its next phase. Through all of this work together, we will grow the audience for green schools and provide a launching pad for schools around the world to do great things for their students’ futures—because where we learn matters.
Mary Lin Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia, is so dedicated to Green Apple Day of Service that in 2016 the school leaders stretched it out into a whole "Go Green Week." This weeklong event raised awareness and funds for the school’s outdoor classroom and learning garden. Students, parents, and staff were involved in activities to promote sustainability in school and at home.
On Monday, the students took a pledge to go green and were given challenges throughout the week, such as bringing a lunch and snack consisting of no waste; wearing clothes that were either recycled, vintage or secondhand; and creating a fashion show using trash.
Mary Lin used its recycling fundraiser, “Turn Trash into Ca$h,” to support construction of the outdoor classroom and garden. Working electronic waste (such as cell phones, smart phones and iPads) were sent to a company who recycled the e-waste and gave the school the proceeds.
The Saturday after Go Green Week, students and families of Mary Lin gathered to clean up their existing outdoor garden. Volunteers split into two groups, one to clean up the garden and the other to install and paint outdoor chalkboards for the playground. After the day’s work, the garden had been revitalized into a beautiful learning space.
The following spring, Mary Lin began the construction of the new outdoor classroom. Though the school has many more plans to improve the area, the volunteers completed the first of four phases of their outdoor classroom. The addition contains a garden that can serve a new garden club, expanding students’ ability to participate throughout the year. The outdoor classroom was unveiled in September 2017 to the public, for the community to see the product of their fundraising efforts. Mary Lin plans to continue building their outdoor classroom in the upcoming year.
Creating an outdoor classroom or school garden is a great way to involve the community in your own Green Apple Day of Service project. To get started, read Green Apple Day of Service’s create or tend a garden page. To fund your project, consider having an educator at your school ask for materials and supplies through DonorsChoose.org. If your project is registered on greenapple.org, the Center for Green Schools will match funds raised through Donorschoose.org, up to $200 per project.
This fall, USGBC staff joined the movement of parents, teachers and organizations working to make our schools greener through Green Apple Day of Service. More than 70 percent of our Washington, D.C.-based staff and over 50 percent of our staff around the world participated in Green Apple projects this year. Throughout the months of September and October, D.C. staff volunteered with sustainability-focused programs in K–12 schools around the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area.
Discovery Elementary in Arlington, Virginia.
Our volunteers began each day visiting our closest net zero energy school, Discovery Elementary, to experience firsthand the impact of a green school. We saw how the physical environment and school curriculum can creatively work together to drive student understanding of sustainability. Among the highlights of the tour were an interactive rooftop solar lab, educational signage about the sustainable building features, physical design elements related to local plants and animals and a solar clock integrated into the school entranceway.
Discovery Elementary uses signage and graphics to educate on sustainability.
After the visit to Discovery Elementary, our staff split up to volunteer with two different projects. At Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School, volunteers helped rearrange existing planting beds to create a space for classes to meet outside. Incorporating outdoor space and daylight into learning environments has been shown to improve student performance and increase productivity, as well as conserve energy resources.
USGBC staff volunteer at a Green Apple project at Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School.
The remaining staff volunteered for Joyful Food Markets, a program hosted by Martha’s Table and the Capital Area Food Bank that increases access to and encourages consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. The program is run at elementary schools in neighborhoods that have a lower income and less access to healthy foods, such as Cornerstone of Washington School, Cedar Tree Academy, and Powell Elementary School, Turner Elementary, and DC Prep, where USGBC staff volunteered.
USGBC staff volunteer at a Green Apple project for Joyful Food Markets at DC Prep.
Green Apple Day of Service projects focus on making school improvements to benefit students in line with the three pillars of a green school: reduced environmental impact, health and well-being and increased sustainability and environmental literacy. The volunteer projects that USGBC staff participated in this year contributed in particular to the second and third pillars. Our staff was among the thousands of volunteers across 70 countries participating in Green Apple Day of Service, helping make schools everywhere healthier and more sustainable for future generations.
Registration is now open for the 2018 Green Schools Conference and Expo and Rocky Mountain Green in Denver, Colorado. The Green Schools Conference and Expo (GSCE) is the only national event to bring together all of the players involved in making green schools a reality: people who lead, operate, build and teach in U.S. schools.
Collaboration and innovation are necessary ingredients to transform schools into healthier, more sustainable places to learn, work and play. Leaders and advocates come together each year to work toward making visible, measurable and lasting progress toward the three pillars of green schools: environmental impact, health impact and environmental and sustainability literacy.
This year, the GSCE will be hosted in partnership with Rocky Mountain Green (RMG), USGBC Colorado’s regional sustainability conference. Now entering its 11th year, RMG will convene industry leaders, experts and professionals to inspire, connect and advance sustainable building within the region. Attendees will explore current green building trends and identify upcoming projects that will help shape the growth of the green building movement in the Mountain West.
This year's GSCE and RMG partnership will bring together experts from diverse fields within the realm of sustainability for a unique opportunity for collaboration and networking.
When: May 3–4, 2018
Where: Hyatt Regency Denver in downtown Denver, Colorado
The co-located conferences will feature nearly two days of programming, with inspiring keynote speakers, informative workshops and breakout sessions and the chance to network with colleagues from across the country.
- Speakers: The nation’s education, environmental and business leaders take the stage to motivate, inspire and teach our community.
- Program: Equity and inclusion are critical to ensuring that social justice and environmental sustainability reach all students. GSCE 2018 is offering sessions that address social and emotional climate, special needs in schools and promotion of equity through sustainability efforts.
- Attendees: Participants in the conference are inspired by master series speakers, who address current challenges, set goals for future action and share best practices.
- Exhibitors: In the Exhibit Hall, attendees can discover new products and services vital to their careers, while forging relationships with vendors and service providers that last well beyond the conference. It's a must-see destination, showcasing the best of the green schools community.
Engage in thought-provoking conversations and join the community of passionate individuals who help make schools healthier and more sustainable.
Register todayto save up to 25 percent with early-bird pricing.
It seems like only yesterday, but it’s been 10 years since USGBC launched the National Green Schools Campaign alongside partners at the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) event, committing to a vision of green schools for every child. That same year, USGBC launched the LEED for Schools rating system, which provided a leadership standard for better, healthier school buildings.
After listening to and learning from school leaders around the country, USGBC founded the Center for Green Schools almost exactly three years after its CGI commitment, with support from United Technologies Corp., broadening its foundational work in the green building movement to encompass topics and issues important to teachers, students, staff and parents.Contributions to the green schools movement
Just as when we started, the Center for Green Schools is committed to the highest-impact opportunities to accelerate a global green schools movement. Since the founding:
- We have inspired 2,013 certified and 2,133 registered LEED K–12 school projects as well as 4,247 certified and 3,862 registered LEED college and university projects.
- We introduced, with partners, the concept of Green Ribbon Schools to the U.S. Department of Education and encouraged it to launch the award program. We partnered with the agency to design and host its web site, greenstrides.org, the largest repository of free sustainability resources for schools.
- Our staff and volunteers have worked with state governments to establish the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools award program in dozens of states, strengthening the program’s “three pillars” of a green school as unifying criteria for the movement. This criteria are now used by organizations in 28 countries around the world.
- We have inspired and sustained community service in schools through Green Apple Day of Service, driving the action of more than 790,000 volunteers across 73 countries since 2012, impacting more than 7.1 million students.
- We lead the premier conference for green schools leaders and advocates, the annual Green Schools Conference and Expo.
- We co-published the most comprehensive analysis of the current state of K–12 school buildings in more than 20 years through the publication of the 2016 State of Our Schools report, which appeared in dozens of local and national press outlets and generated more than 546 million media impressions.
- We have reinforced the argument that healthy learning environments lead to thriving communities with the publication of hundreds of pages of original research and policy analysis.
- Through our network of over 300 state lawmakers, we have helped to increase the introduction of green schools legislation in U.S. states fivefold.
- We have been the primary voice for a new job class, the K–12 sustainability director, providing professional development to a growing network of 120 school district staff who collectively serve over 7.5 million students.
- We have established four Green Schools Fellowships to successfully institutionalize sustainability positions in school districts. In addition, we have directly supported intensive professional development for 21 individuals through yearlong scholarships for school district sustainability staff.
- We unveiled Learning Lab, a robust platform for curriculum content, which piloted with over 1,000 teachers in 26 countries. The platform now hosts over 500 lessons in both English and Spanish, provided by 10 high-quality partner organizations besides USGBC.
- We launched LEED Lab, a course to teach the LEED rating system to college and university students by giving them hands-on experience in one of their buildings, an opportunity now offered in 25 institutions around the world.
We’ve been busy, as have the thousands of people we work with each day to make green schools for every child a reality. Don’t miss what we’re up to next—make sure you’re signed up for the Center for Green Schools updates in your usgbc.org subscriptions. And join us in person in May 2018, as we celebrate at the Green Schools Conference and Expo in Denver.
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