How Schools are Reducing Environmental Impacts, Improving Health, and Cultivating Stewards of Our Planet


Today the U.S. Department of Education named the 2022 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees. Across the country there are 27 schools, five districts, and four postsecondary institutions that are recognized. These honorees employ innovative practices and policies to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.

Could your school be the next U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School? Check out these spotlights from the 2022 honorees: 

inside view of a greenhouse
Crellin Elementary School in Oakland, Maryland

Environmental education and sustainability changes at Crellin Elementary School (CES) began when the school community found historic mining contaminants in the creek behind the school. Not only was CES able to remedy the pollution, but it increased the overall health of the riparian area while creating an outdoor classroom. The environmental education laboratory is an outdoor classroom where students participate in hands-on activities using the wetland, boardwalk, hemlock forest, vernal ponds, meadows, orchard, and adjacent creek. CES’s agriculture program features barns with sheep and hens, with a solar panel to maximize hens’ egg production through daylight provision. The greenhouse employs hydroponics systems. CES has made efficiency upgrades, including building automation, interior and exterior LED lights, double-paned windows, HVAC, and building envelope, leading to an immediate decrease in energy usage. Low-flow fixtures reduce domestic water consumption and rain barrels provide water for gardens and barn animals.   

group of students outside in river or creek
Escuela Verde in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Escuela Verde is a school founded on ecopedagogy that is constantly striving to live out a vision of creating a just, peaceful, and sustainable future. As a project-based learning school, students explore how science and ecology connect to many other domains. Students choose a topic for their senior thesis projects that they are passionate about and complete a year-long, 300-hour project. Recent topics have involved leading nature hikes and forest bathing; improving health and well-being through biking, camping, mindfulness, and art therapy; organizing neighborhood cleanups; building a chimney swift tower; and distributing bird houses. The school has energy efficient windows, lighting, and heating/cooling systems. The school also installed a solar voltaic array on the roof, which offsets about 32% of the school’s electrical use. The school’s emphasis on food and food justice has led to an entirely vegetarian school lunch. Efforts to reduce waste include composting and the use of cloth towels and mops rather than paper towels. Escuela Verde’s guiding curriculum is based on sustainability themes, which have been adapted from The Cloud Institute’s Education for Sustainability Standards & Indicators.

group of kids shredding carrots
Suisun Valley K-8 School in Fairfield, California

Located in the heart of a viticulture area, Suisun Valley School (SVS) is a K-8 school focusing on agricultural technology.  In 2020, SVS applied a cool roof system on all school buildings. SVS has a trench drain, xeriscaping, and drip-irrigation campuswide. Students designed and maintained two 2,500-gallon cistern rain harvester systems that function with solar and wind energy. SVS raises chickens to consume waste and contribute organic fertilizer to the school garden. Together with a student devised and operated on-site composting bin system, a vermiculture program, and city organics pick-up, these efforts eliminate the school’s waste removal costs. SVS employs a full-time agriscience teacher to oversee the school’s two-acre farm, which features a three-tower indoor hydroponic center, an outdoor kitchen classroom, a greenhouse, a quarter-acre of field crops, 104 raised beds, 29 fruit trees, a vineyard, a quarter-acre permaculture guild area, an eighth-acre California native garden section, and seed/cutting production areas. The goal of the agriscience program, in addition to teaching and reinforcing state science standards, is to teach K-8 students the origins of food, how it is grown or produced, and the vital role that agriculture plays in human survival.

young students looking at Monarch butterfly
Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy in Windham, Connecticut

Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy (Barrows) was designed for sustainability and use of the school as a learning tool. The school is a Connecticut Green Leaf School, National Wildlife Habitat, and Monarch Way Station. Sustainable education unfolds in specialized labs and classrooms, outdoor classrooms, raised garden beds, courtyards, walking paths, meadow, marsh area, wetland, and wooded temperate forest. Barrows’ oceanography room boasts saltwater and freshwater tanks and leverages NOAA B-Wet grant funding. A new 160-foot greenhouse will extend the growing season and enhance the urban farming curriculum. Using the outdoors as learning labs, from planting window box seeds to managing outdoor gardens, students learn firsthand about alternative energy generation from renewable energy sources. Barrows’ food share program helps students facing food insecurity, and composting efforts benefit the garden. Stormwater management features funnel water down rain chains and into a dry riverbed. Project-based learning provides a real-world context for learning STEM, both outdoor and in classrooms.   

Caddo Parish Magnet High School in Shreveport, Louisiana

At Caddo Parish Magnet High School (Caddo), student green and interact clubs spearhead environmental service and stewardship, including participation in national convenings, education about the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a monthly blog, composting, and cleanup days.  Through partnerships with the Louisiana Water Environment Association, Caddo students identify ways to solve water problems. Annually, students engage in Envirothon, a state natural resources agency sponsored event, to demonstrate their knowledge of environmental science and natural resource management. Students engage in the school’s energy conservation efforts through programs and activities in Advanced Placement Environmental Science and Greens Club. Water quality and grounds efforts include student research and construction of stormwater retention areas; the installation of a greenhouse, rain barrels, raised beds, and water bottle filling stations; student water quality monitoring and storm drain marking; and the designation of a National Wildlife Federation Certified Schoolyard Habitat and Monarch Butterfly Waystation.

people outside digging with shovels and planting trees
Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois

Northwestern University (Northwestern), ranked AASHE STARS Gold, is guided by a Strategic Sustainability Plan. In 2020 and 2021, Northwestern became the first university to receive the EPA’s ENERGY STAR® Sustained Excellence Award. Partnerships with Clearway Energy and Ameresco offer solar projects and infrastructure upgrades for efficiency, while facilitating student learning. All new campus construction is required to meet or exceed LEED Gold certification, and the university already is home to 23 LEED-certified buildings. Northwestern’s facilities and grounds include solar panels, electric vehicle charging stations, bioswales and retention basins, and reflective and green roofing. Waste reduction efforts include composting. Across all departments, over 100 courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels focus directly on sustainability, with an additional 140+ courses featuring sustainability-related content. Northwestern’s Institute for Sustainability and Energy offers interdisciplinary graduate and undergraduate courses in the fields of sustainability and energy. Other departments offer environment and sustainability-related degrees and certificates, ranging from environmental engineering to environmental policy and culture. Programs, such as the Global Engineering Trek in Sustainability and Chicago Field Studies, give students opportunities to study abroad and/or work in the local community to gain experience in the sustainability field. A Green Office Certification program empowers community members to evaluate and improve their office sustainability practices.  

To learn more about U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools, visit the ED-GRS website. If you are inspired to make your own school more sustainable, visit ED’s Green Strides School Sustainability Resource Hub.





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