The U.S. Department of Education late last month announced the creation of the Green Ribbon Schools program, which will recognize schools that have taken “great strides” in greening their curricula, buildings, school grounds, and overall building operations. The program is intended to help cash-strapped schools save money and prepare students for “21st-century” jobs.
“The Green Ribbon School awards will be given to schools that best exemplify America’s transition to a sustainable economy, from graduating environmentally literate students to effectively managing their carbon footprint,” according to the department. “As budget crunches hit school systems across the nation, we are providing an innovative solution through the Green Ribbon Schools program to encourage school systems to take a comprehensive approach to becoming a green school by cutting expenses through energy-efficiency and green-building measures while at the same time using these sustainable school improvements as part of their efforts to educate students about science, technology and the environment.”
Added Larry Schweiger, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation: “In a time when budgets are tight, we are encouraging schools to engage in a creative win-win scenario, cutting expenses while using the school facilities as dynamic learning labs for students. This federal initiative supports the work of the National Wildlife Federation, which has helped more than 4,000 schools go green over the last 15 years.”
The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that smarter energy management in schools, which spent $6-8 billion in 2000 on energy, could reduce energy consumption by up to 25 percent and cut school energy costs nationally by more than $1 billion per year.
“Today’s event marks a significant milestone in the green school movement. Green Ribbon is more than just another award program,” Jim Elder, Director of the Campaign for Environmental Literacy. “It puts the weight of the U.S. Department of Education behind a comprehensive vision for green schools, and with a strong push from everyone involved, will significantly accelerate the adoption rate of green school practices among schools across the country. It sets a very high bar for schools to aim for while definitively answering the question: what exactly is a green school?”
According to 75 national and state organizations that supported the push for the initiative, many states have already established either green school programs or environmental literacy plans. The Green Ribbon program is expected to unify and acknowledge such efforts under a voluntary national award intended to stress innovation and new strategies in environmental curriculum development, teacher training, facilities management, operations and community engagement, with criteria developed by the Department of Education.
The effort to get the Green Ribbon program adopted by the Department was conceived and coordinated by the Campaign for Environmental Literacy (CEL), and the Green Ribbon campaign’s steering committee -- CEL, Earth Day Network, the National Wildlife Federation, and the U.S. Green Building Council -- worked for more than a year to get the initiative launched.
The program will be modeled on the nearly 30-year-old Blue Ribbon Schools program, which recognizes schools whose student bodies have displayed high academic achievement or improvement.