There are many ways to describe a green school, but all share a commitment to environmental sustainability. The elementary school students at the Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes Elementary School in Burlington, Vermont, expressed it well: “Sustainability is the belief that everything is interconnected.” Based on my work at Head-Royce and my case studies of other schools, I believe that there are five critical foundations in a green school. In his remarkable book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge demonstrates how systems thinking is at the heart of high-performing learning organizations. This means that environmentally sustainable green schools need to develop all five of these elements in an integrated fashion:
- Efficient use of resources
- A healthy environment
- An ecological curriculum
- Nutritious food
- Sustainable community practices
It’s important to note at the outset that there is no “one best system” to develop these foundations; every school is unique, and each school can take its own path. But for a school to be a model green school, all elements have to be embraced. When they are, the organization as a whole begins to develop a “culture of sustainability,” one in which individual participants are empowered to make changes and all follow agreed-upon norms. Later in this chapter, I will illustrate these five foundations with the work being done in schools across the country.
Who Says It's A Green School?
- Nature is our teacher.
- Sustainability is a community practice.
- The real world is the optimal learning environment.
- Sustainable living is rooted in a deep knowledge of place.
In April 2011, the U.S. Department of Education announced the creation of a new Green Ribbon Schools program, which seeks to identify exemplary schools nationwide that feature energy efficiency and sustainability, healthy school environments, and educational programs that prepare environmentally literate graduates.
At the state level, there are a number of recognition programs; the Maryland Green Schools Program, administered by the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Education, is a strong example of a program that has certified nearly 400 of 2,000 schools in the state.
How to Green Your School
Inverness Associates Green School Plan
- Develop a mission statement articulating the principles of environmental sustainability, have a clear vision of how the school will look in the future, and incorporate those principles in the larger educational philosophy statement of the school.
- Empower leadership, from the top down and the bottom up, with the head of school and the board establishing direction and with a sustainability director organizing the ongoing change process. The commitment of the head and the support of the board of trustees are crucial, expressed through strategic planning and the budget’s allocation of resources.
- Organize the effort by establishing an Environmental Council composed of teachers, administrators, students, parents, and board members to provide overall direction and to focus on systemic changes. Green Teams of these constituent groups can plan and implement appropriate activities in their sphere of the school’s operation.
- Focus on the five foundations to ensure emphasis on key priorities –– efficient use of resources, a healthy environment, an ecological curriculum, nutritious food, and sustainable community practices.
- Develop a green plan: Conduct an audit of the school’s environmental sustainability, identify annual goals, create an action plan for improvement, assess accomplishments on a regular basis, and report the results to the community.
- Follow a green school process that is appropriate for your school community, and regularly evaluate the strategic direction, current status, and near-term actions.
Green Schools Initiative: 7 Steps to a Green School
The GSI website contains excellent resources, including tools to audit the school’s performance. These are GSI’s “7 Steps to a Green School”:
- Establish a Green Team or Eco-Committee.
- Adopt an environmental vision statement or planet pledge.
- Conduct a school environmental survey or audit.
- Create a green school action plan.
- Monitor and evaluate progress.
- Integrate greening into the curriculum.
- Inform, involve, and celebrate!
- Eco-Schools Committee
- Environmental review
- Action plan
- Monitoring and evaluation
- Curriculum work
- Informing and involving
- Eco-code (a mission statement)
This is an excerpt from Greening America's Schools. Paul Chapman is former head of school at Head-Royce School (California) and now leads Inverness Associates.