Citizenship and Pathways for a Green Economy

On Monday and Tuesday, September 20-21, the Department of Education held the national Sustainability Education Summit: Citizenship and Pathways for a Green Economy at the Washington Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C. Approximately 300 participants spent two days discussing ideas and proposals for a national agenda to advance a sustainable economy through education. Participants came from federal agencies, higher education, career and technical education, community colleges, K-12 education, business, and environmental organizations. Congress requested that the Department organize the summit in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008.

On Tuesday, the conferees were addressed by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who stated that the Department of Education had “been mostly absent from the movement to educate our children to be stewards of our environment” and had not “been doing enough in the sustainability movement.” But the Secretary further stated, “I promise you that we will be a committed partner in the national effort to build a more environmentally literate and responsible society.” The Secretary went on to speak to the issue of the central role educators must play in promoting a culture of change in our schools and in our communities. “President Obama has made clean, renewable energy a priority because, as he says, it’s the best way to ‘truly transform our economy, to protect our security, and save our planet.'”

The Secretary pointed to the efforts being made across federal government agencies to link education and sustainability. “The National Science Foundation has created a network of projects that are advancing programs that teach about the impact of climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency makes grants to support environmental literacy through its own grant program. The Department of Labor has awarded $490 million to support job training in skills needed in green jobs. All of this money comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.” Through the administration’s Blueprint for Reform, the department will support local efforts to teach environmental education as part of a well-rounded education.

On Monday, Under Secretary Martha Kanter reinforced the Department of Education’s commitment to “focus on policies and strategies to educate our citizenry and to support clearly articulated education pathways toward a sustainable future.” The Under Secretary spoke to the role of teachers as agents of change toward empowering our youth to make better choices. “Quite simply, the daily choices our young people make will shape the future of our planet – and America’s teachers are the gateway to giving every student a ‘green’ education.”

As the chancellor of Foothill-De Anza Community College District, the Under Secretary led the colleges’ sustainability initiatives and served on the Steering Committee of the President’s Climate Commitment. As chancellor, the Under Secretary saw that her institution “partnered closely with area K-12 schools and universities with the understanding that stakeholder engagement is a powerful catalyst at all levels of our education system and communities.” This reinforces the department’s underlying support of higher education as “transformational leaders and role models for the nation’s green revolution.”

The Under Secretary also emphasized that the “effort to define pathways to green, clean-technology careers, and to build a competent 21st century green workforce, is in the field of career and technical education.” Established programs of study “combine rigorous academic and technical content with employer validated ‘green technology’ standards to prepare secondary and post-secondary students for high-skill, high-wage, high-demand employment in ‘green-focused’ fields including the President’s priority areas of energy, transportation, housing, and construction.” The Obama administration is committed to the creation of a world-class workforce, including “a special emphasis on promoting student achievement and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.”

The design of the Green Summit allowed broad sector participation in a conversation with experts in the field of sustainability. Panelists from institutions across the country gave brief presentations, followed by discussion among panelists, and with the participants at large. Participants then moved into small group discussion to discuss actionable steps that can be taken toward the goals of the mandate.

Join the conversation:

1. How is your school involved with promoting sustainability either through curriculum or practice?

2. How much community involvement is there with promoting sustainability at your school?

3. What specific sustainability projects are you promoting within your organization or institution?

Leigh Jenkins
Office of Vocational and Adult Education


  1. It’s a noble effort to attempt to educate our children on the environment. You need to consider the problem of greed in that education as well because once these children become adults and go to college, what will they learn there? They learn about how to get into an industry that the public needs whether it be transportation, energy, housing, etc.

    As they climb the various corporate ladder they begin to lose their innocence of the greater good and the focus is no longer on helping others but on what they can gain from the masses. There is where the problem lies.

  2. What do you think about a cute polar bear named Pinot being the mascot for “Environment Ocean Awareness”? Now, how about having him come to your child’s school and interact with students while teaching them about environmental awareness and how they can contribute to “Keeping Oceans Alive”. Then ask them to take a pledge about it….. do you think this program could be what we have been asking for?

  3. Two comments: (1) Sec’y Duncan could make a huge step forward in promoting sustainability education simply by encouraging state commissioners of ed to observe National Sustainability Education Week, Nov. 8-12. (2) A common refrain from school leaders is that “we can’t do it if it is not in the standards.” Vermont solved this problem over 10 years ago when the State Board of Education required primary and secondary schools to achieve the following outcome:

    “Students make decisions that demonstrate understanding of natural and human communities, the ecological, economic, political, or social systems within them, and awareness of how their personal and collective actions affect the sustainability of these interrelated systems.”

  4. I am intrigued to see what will come of Secretary Duncan’s promise to build a more environmentally literate nation through education. Depending upon how successful the proposal is, it may have a great affect on our nation’s economy and the prosperity of our planet. It is extremely important to install a sense of global responsibility, and in order to achieve this we must begin by first educating our future leaders. I feel something as simple as environmental education should have been implemented years ago, but I am glad to see the effort today.

    I attend Indiana University Bloomington (IUB) and our Office of Sustainability has made great strides in improving the campus and the community. This year there are numerous events promoting sustainability, thirty-three alone took place in September. IUB has received multiple sustainability research grants for the 2010-2011 school year, and is now offering a Ph.D. minor in sustainable energy science. I do not know how involved other universities are in their sustainability efforts, but IUB has really impressed me by how serious it is taking this green revolution. Moreover, we are currently in the process of greening our Indiana Memorial Union, modeled on efforts such as the Greening of the White House in the 1990’s. Also, in April of 2009 we completed the year-long project of increasing the campus’ tree canopy, which began at 20.4 percent and is now at 40 percent. There are 24 Green Teams at IUB which are composed of various faculty, staff and students working together to enhance, not only the campus, but the entire Bloomington community.

    I am proud to say I am a student at IUB and glad my school is so devoted in leading efforts that improve our planet.

  5. What has become of conservation education including all aspects of water saving techniques, ways to save on electricity usage, how to prevent fires/ forest fires, and proper disposal of litter/waste products/electrical devices, i.e. batteries, cell phones,computers? These are such elementary ideas yet vital actions to be taught to keeping our planet in balance. I propose we stop trying to reinvent the wheel and just get back to teaching the basics! The planet will follow our lead thru action not “green” talk.

  6. I am encouraged by Secretary Duncan’s promise to integrate the concepts of sustainability into the educational curriculum. I hope he and President Obama understand that sustainability is much more than just promoting green careers and supporting alternative energies. Sustainability is as much about social studies as it is about science and math. Students need to learn to think systemically and understand the complex relationships that exist between the natural and human communities. Moreover, they will need to develop a solid ethical foundation that will enable them to better understand how their actions and decisions affect both current and future generations.

  7. May I make a suggestion. There is a Sundance Film Festival documentary titled Climate Refugees that should be screened by all schools across America. It shows the human face of climate change, and why we all need to go green. The film is set to play to the leaders of the world in November and scheduled to play in many colleges around the world.

  8. I would recommend STEM be expanded to ESTEEM. STEM tells us what we can do and guides us on how to do it right. But STEM cannot tell us what is the right thing to do. We make choices based on Economics and Ethics. Economics is about the efficient allocation of resources to satisfy our wants. Ethics is about our broader responsibilities to family and community. Every day we face numerous choices that challenge us to choose between what we want to do and what we should do. STEM can tells us how to create the future, but we will need ESTEEM to choose a future that can fairly satisfy our wants within the constraints imposed by natural systems.

Comments are closed.