Green Schools & Environmental Education

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Green schools are an initiative which are growing in popularity all the time, as the forerunners show that investing in sustainability pays off in quality of life of the mind and the environment. The support of environmental education provides students with the critical thinking, sensitivity, and compassion needed to bring sustainable solutions to the challenges of today. Together, these initiatives are helping the next generation move into a proactive and positive relationship with their future. 

Green Schools

The philosophy behind Green Schools is healing the divide between man and nature, and from a more intimate relationship encouraging sustainable, long-term educational policies. Advocates encourage, “It's not enough to be doing less harm…We have to be doing something that benefits our world so they [the students] don't see this separation between the natural and built environment” (Kay). Case studies point to the destruction of the Arches National Park. If students are always cut off from nature they can develop many behavioral issues complicated by poor nutrition. These issues inhibit the process of learning and quality of life. As a result of this common sense approach, “Green building is taking off right now…People realize that this makes sense for so many reasons. It's healthy, it's smart, it's a responsible use of tax dollars [and] it raises test scores” (Kay). While it is more difficult to turn older schools green, many are beginning from the ground up construction with this aim for the long term.

While some cite that this initiative is expensive, studies emphasize that green technologies save money over the long run. Setting up schools on the right green footing has proven that, investments in green technologies significantly reduce the life-cycle cost of operating school buildings. And the public benefits of green schools are even larger than those that work directly to the financial advantage of schools. These include reductions in water pollution, improved environmental quality, and increased of learning in an improved school environment. (Kats)

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The guidelines and criteria for a school to be called green is intense and comprehensive. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building standards are the first:

1. Sustainable Siting -- site selection, alternative transportation, stormwater management, urban redevelopment

2. Water Efficiency -- water efficient landscaping, water use reduction, innovative waste water use

3. Energy & Atmosphere -- CFC reductions, renewable energy, reduced energy consumption, green power, reducing ozone

4. Materials and Resources -- building and resource reuse, local materials, recycled content, certified wood

5. Indoor Environmental Quality -- indoor air quality, CO2, ventilation, low-volatile organic compound (VOC) materials, thermal comfort, daylighting innovation in Design. (Kay)

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Besides the design of the building itself what goes into the building must also qualify for the green standard. While some find this expense hard to justify, it all pays off. School Procurement Policies are in regard to the materials and their green impact. Such as: 

B. Healthy School Lunches: Does the school serve organic and/or locally-grown food for school lunches?

C. School-wide Green Initiatives: Does the school have a recycling program, carpool incentives, or any other initiatives that show that the school is taking action to be pro-environment?

D. Green Education: Is there an environmental curriculum?

E. School Procurement Policies: Does the school use recycled paper, organic cotton for sports uniforms, low-energy computers or other green products? (Kay)

Also, the school must have green spaces and ways to integrate the landscape into the school grounds so that children do not feel too disconnected. School administrators must ask themselves:

1. Does the school have green spaces or gardens that students are part of, and do the students participate in greening their school?

2. Does its landscaping including native plants (which also reduce the need for pesticides)? (Kay)

This is a relatively new initiative, and the forerunners of the Green Initiative are setting new standards and providing an example for other schools to aspire to. The top 10 Green Schools are:

1. Clackamas High School in Oregon

2. Michael E. Capuano Early Childhood Center in a dense Somerville, Massachusetts

3. Case Middle School in Honolulu

4. Sakai Intermediate School in Bainbridge Island, Washington

5. Third Creek Elementary School in Statesville, North Carolina

6. Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco

7. The Goodwillie Environmental School in Ada, Michigan

8. The Clearview Elementary School in Hanover, Pennsylvania

9. John M. Langston High School Continuation and Langston-Brown Community Center in Arlington, Virginia

10. Willow School, a private school on a 34-acre former farm in Gladstone, New Jersey. (Kay)

Environmental Education

Environmental education is a natural extension of Green Schools. The building itself is a lesson in addressing the challenges of climate change, as Green schools have less, 

1,200 pounds of nitrogen oxides (NOx) – a principal component of smog.

1,300 pounds of sulfur dioxide (SO2) – a principal cause of acid rain.

585,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) – the principal greenhouse gas and the principal product of combustion.

150 pounds of coarse particulate matter (PM10) – a principal cause of respiratory illness and an important contributor to smog. (Kats)

Environmental education is essential for cultivating the awareness which will cultivate greater sensitivity to the needs of the environment. This practice also encourages the teaching philosophy to critical thinking skills which is needed for addressing these complex challenges, as well as,

Awareness and sensitivity to the environment and environmental challenges

Knowledge and understanding of the environment and environmental challenges

Attitudes of concern for the environment and motivation to improve or maintain environmental quality

Skills to identify and help resolve environmental challenges

Participation in activities that lead to the resolution of environmental challenges. (EPA)


Green schools are one effective method of addressing the challenges of unsustainable building practices which increase environmental toxicity and cost. Research has found green schools to benefit the costs of operation, environmental health, and the learning objectives of the student body. Environmental education prepares the next generation to be better stewards of the environment, and cultivates compassion towards life. Together, these methodologies address some of the most pressing issues of today.


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Works Cited

EPA. “What is Environmental Education.” US Environmental Protection Agency, 2016. Retrieved from:

Kats, Gregory. “Greening America’s Schools.”, 2006. Retrieved from:

Kay, Jane Holtz. “America's Top 10 Green Schools.”, 24 Aug. 2005. Retrieved from:'s_top_10_green_schools