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The Green Schools Catalyst Quarterly, published by Green Schools National Network, serves as a record of the green schools movement, showing our past successes and challenges as well as our current progress. This quarter’s content focuses on policy levers to effect change, including policy at the school district, state and regional levels:
- Jeremy Sigmon, from USGBC’s advocacy team, outlines recent progress and future opportunities in state legislation to support green schools. He highlights nine recently passed policies that illustrate the current interests of state policymakers.
- Amy Cortese, from New Buildings Institute, dives into the results of California’s Proposition 39, which was passed by voters in 2012 and allocates funding to school districts for energy efficiency. To illustrate the impact of the legislation, she profiles three school districts of varying sizes and the lessons learned from each district’s experience.
- Ghita Carroll, sustainability coordinator at Boulder Valley School District and 2016 School District Scholarship recipient, tells the story of her school district’s effort to embed sustainability in its management and policy frameworks. Over the past eight years, the district has moved from an initial sustainability management system to deep curricular integration and energy efficiency targets.
The Center for Green Schools at USGBC is proud to be a distribution partner for Green Schools Catalyst Quarterly. Access this exceptional content for free, and learn more about how our collective work is shaping schools.
For years, the Center for Green Schools at USGBC has kept a close eye on the way that K–12 schools interact with or purchase the resources and products that USGBC provides. It’s one way to tell how well the benefits of green building are reaching schools and school districts, and it also tells USGBC when we need to do some research to improve the solutions we’re offering.
Just recently, we reached a major milestone: 2,000 LEED-certified K–12 schools.
True to our LEED standards, our 2,000th school, the Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, operates with high levels of sustainability. With on-site renewable energy, the use of low-emitting materials and reduction in water use, among other features, the Rio Grande High School earned LEED Gold certification.
With thousands of schools becoming certified, there’s a wealth of sustainability trends to observe. Here are some we've been noting:
- Public schools are leading. These 2,000 projects represent well over $30 billion in investment. They also cover a total of 160 million square feet of education space, approximately 2 percent of the total square footage of all U.S. public schools. Public schools make up the vast majority of LEED certification commitments, driven by either state laws or by the desire of school districts to show good stewardship of tax dollars.
- Large districts make large-scale commitments. Typically, when we take a look at LEED-certified projects by large/medium public school district size, we see large districts with big capital campaigns at the top. Over the last couple of years, Houston Independent School District and Washington, D.C., Public Schools have risen in numbers quickly as they dive fully into their bond projects. They’ve overtaken Albuquerque Public Schools, whose recent capital campaign is winding down, and Chicago Public Schools.
Looking at the numbers another way, within the large/medium public school district group, we see that Cincinnati Public Schools and South-Western City Schools, both in Ohio, have huge percentages of schools that have achieved certification. In both cases, nearly 40 percent of all schools in the district are certified, constituting a major commitment and commendable effort.
- Some states distribute funding to assist smaller districts. The state-level data tells another angle of the national story because it highlights the state of Ohio’s commitment to LEED certification for all of its schools. Just over 300 schools have been certified in Ohio, more than double the number certified in the second-place state, California. The certified schools in Ohio are distributed around the state, reflective of the state’s commitment to assist smaller, less-wealthy school districts with needed capital construction funds.
- The places using LEED are geographically diverse. The list of top states for LEED-certified schools emphasizes the broad appeal of green schools and green building practices. The top six states for LEED in schools are Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland and Florida. Schools are seeing the value of the third-party verification that LEED provides—whether rural, urban, suburban on the coast or inland.
Feature image copyright: Stan's Daughter Studios LLC.
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.
Cold and flu season typically begins in early October and extends into late May, with flu activity commonly peaking in late January or early February.
Facility managers tasked with protecting hardwood gym floors, such as those in schools or recreation centers, will find creating a gym floor management program a good first step.