We live in a world where it has become more and more important to live “green” as environmental concerns rise. It is no longer enough to simply recycle or buy reusable items for the home. For this reason, many citizens are also attempting to go green in their workplace. When incorporated into schools in particular, this practice not only offers the opportunity to reduce our current environmental impact but also instills students with good, green habits that they can carry into adulthood.
But what exactly does it mean to have a green school?
The Green School Defined
It’s true that you can and should take strides to be more eco-friendly in all aspects of your life. However, a green school might look different from a green home. A school will use more resources per day than a home, for instance, due to the volume of people. Furthermore, it’s both a workplace and a place of learning. A green school should take both functions into consideration when making environmental improvements.
The National Association of Independent Schools defines a green school as having the following hallmarks:
- Efficient use of resources — Green schools cut down on waste and opt to use sustainable resources whenever possible.
- A healthy environment — Students are encouraged to exercise through physical education, and staff are encouraged to stay healthy through work programs and incentives.
- An ecological curriculum — Beyond putting green habits into practice, green schools also have a responsibility to teach students the importance of protecting the environment.
- Nutritious food — Green schools encourage students to eat nutritious and even locally sourced food by making this type of food available in the school cafeteria.
- Sustainable community practices — Get involved! Green schools participate in bettering the community through sustainable practices. Consider taking students on a field trip where they can help clean up a park or learn about sustainable practices.
Understanding the Eco-School Program
The trend toward green schools is taking hold, not just in the United States but throughout the world. Some of this has been helped by programs such as Eco-Schools. “Eco-Schools is a growing phenomenon [that] encourages young people to engage in their environment by allowing them the opportunity to actively protect it,” the Eco-Schools program explains on its website. “It starts in the classroom; it expands to the school and eventually fosters change in the community at large.”
Eco-Schools aims to give students a voice regarding the green practices of their school and community at large. They can make suggestions and even help enforce relevant eco-friendly policies. Once the school meets certain criteria, it is awarded a Green Flag and receives certification as a green school. “The Eco-Schools [program] is an ideal way for schools to embark on a meaningful path [toward] improving the environment in both the school and the local community while…having a lifelong positive impact on the lives of young people, their families, school staff, and local authorities.”
7 Steps to Creating a Green School
A green school offers tremendous benefits to its students, staff, administration, and ultimately the community. But how does one go about creating a green school? The Green Schools Initiative offered these seven tips for creating a green school environment:
- Establish a “green team” or eco-committee. The process begins by organizing. Find people who are passionate about creating a green school. Teachers, administrators, stakeholders, parents, and students can all make up part of the green team. This group will produce initiatives to make the school more eco-friendly and start putting them into practice.
- Adopt an environmental vision statement or “planet pledge.” What are your goals in creating a green school? What about your mission statement? Write this out so that you have something you can aim toward in trying to create a greener environment.
- Conduct a school environmental survey or audit. Assess where your school is right now. How much energy do you use? How much waste do you produce every day, and where can that be cut down? You’ll need everyone to be honest with themselves about this and to remember that this is just the starting point.
- Create a green school action plan. Look back at that vision statement, and turn it into actionable steps to take toward that goal. Maybe this could be reducing waste, finding energy-efficient lighting options, or changing the food in the cafeteria. Devise steps, and start to make them happen.
- Monitor and evaluate progress. Progress is not always linear. You’ll need to keep an eye on how the green school action plan is going. You may find it necessary to reassess your plan once you start its implementation.
- Integrate “greening” into the curriculum. A school is a place of learning, so make sure to educate students about green communities and why the school is going green. Find lesson plans and curricula that cover the environmental crisis and how to take better care of the planet. In this way, students will become both informed and passionate about going green in the future.
- Inform, involve, and celebrate! Don’t limit the green school initiatives to the green team; involve the whole school! Let people know what you’re doing and why. Have assemblies where you discuss the need for a green school. However, these don’t have to be dour occasions. It’s also important to celebrate your improvements and victories. Set up rewards to work toward so that when it’s time to celebrate, everyone can.
The Benefits of Green School Initiatives
Protecting the planet is essential to our continued lives, so some of the benefits of enacting green school initiatives are obvious. However, there may be benefits that you haven’t even considered.
Research shows that schools that meet the criteria of the U.S. Green Building Council tend to have healthier and more productive learning environments, which can lead to better academic performance. Students perform better when they eat healthier and their environment is cleaner. Improving everything from the natural lighting to the acoustics and indoor air quality can be a boon in a building full of children where infectious viruses quickly spread.
Perhaps the best benefit, however, is the impact on students and on the community. By setting an example and educating students about the importance of going green, schools can encourage today’s youth to be more environmentally conscious. Hopefully, they will take this practice with them when they leave school, bring it into their community, and also one day teach their own children about taking care of the planet.