U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

Education Secretary Duncan, EPA Administrator Jackson and CEQ Chair Sutley announce the Green Ribbon Schools program with local students.

Education Secretary Duncan, EPA Administrator Jackson and CEQ Chair Sutley announce the Green Ribbon Schools program with local students.

The Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality launched the concept of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools on April 26, 2011. Further information and applications will be announced in September 2011.

The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) recognizes public and private elementary, middle and high schools that save energy, reduce costs, protect health and exemplify environmentally sustainable learning spaces and educational programs to boost academic achievement and community engagement.

Through ED-GRS, the Department will facilitate the dissemination of best practices and established federal metrics regarding energy, cost, health and environmentally sustainable learning spaces and education among federal agencies, states, localities and improve the coordination of efforts to achieve these objectives in public, private and non-profit sectors.

While the U.S. Department of Education has not yet announced final Green Ribbon Schools recognition award criteria, we provide some guidance as to features-of-green-schools. The Department offers this as a resource for schools, teachers, parents and students who are excited about Green Ribbon Schools even in its early stages, but does not guarantee that schools taking these steps will be awarded the Green Ribbon.

To submit general written comments on U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, e-mail Green.Ribbon.Schools@ed.gov, or post your comments below. All advising is informal and will not determine final recognition criteria. Please bear in mind the Department’s statutory authority and the volume of submissions when articulating your comments.

See our frequently-asked-questions for answers to general inquiries about U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.

See also a list of resources for creating green schools. We welcome recommendations on additions to this list.

The US Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Program is a federal program and should not be confused with any green schools program conducted by individual states.


  1. Is something similar going to be done for colleges and universities? We are looking for similar sorts of certification to build out our profiles of schools offering sustainability focused programs at http://www.sustainabilityschools.com. We want to be able to focus on schools that “practice what they preach”!

  2. Very good idea. I hope the Green Ribbon Schools program applies not only to the 50 states and DC, but also to the US territories, such us Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, in the same way that the Blue Ribbon program does. Not to do so, would be discriminating with thousands of American citizens who live in those places. Thanks.

  3. Thank you, Andrea, and thanks to ED!

    I am delighted to hear there will be a public comment period for the GRS award. May I assume this means that ED will incorporate and/or address comments prior to finalizing and re-posting the award criteria for 2012?

    As soon as you have dates, I will be happy to share widely.

    Healthy Schools Network

  4. I appreciate the information shared on the conference call on 29 July. I also wanted to commend the moderator for her patience and communication of the vision of the initiative.

    I believe it is important to not overcomplicate or overthink this recognition. Key stakeholders may wish to emphasize the area or group that they represent to the exclusion of other important aspects of “green” education.

    As a school administrator, my input is as follows:
    1. Keep the message simple and clear
    2. Recognize schools for what they can reasonably implement themselves (e.g., not big capital improvements that take millions of dollars and years to implement)
    3. Green Ribbon recognition should not represent a “finish line,” but rather an award based on ongoing efforts including plans for the future
    4. Give special weight to student, staff and community engagement in ongoing green school efforts (e.g., recycling programs, energy conservation).
    5. GRS should not be a recognition of programs that are sustainable and not a “one and done” initiative
    6. I want to expand on the example in #2: While it is very nice to see a few solar panels on the roof, LEED certification of a building, and/or a school lunch program that includes locally grown produce, these are elements that cannot be implemented by students, staff, community members or administrators at a public school building. There are federal and state guidelines on spending and school lunch programs that place the policy making authority at the district level. Since this is a school recognition program, I believe it is essential that the final criteria award schools based on elements over which they have control. Citing one example: our PTA has been involved in a citizens’ board to give recommendations for a more nutritious school lunch menu. While no changes to the menu have been made, that level of engagement should be recognized.

    In the end, I hope the GRS program keeps the “big picture” in mind and recognizes schools that incorporate green principles every day. The sustainability and momentum of these efforts should determine whether the school is worthy of recognition.

    • Thank you. We will keep the “big picture” in mind. At the federal level, that is how we best work with state and local education authorities and individual schools. If we aimed to provide a detailed green schools program, it would be difficult to encompass the needs and resource capacity of all schools. Instead, we are working on a recognition award to set a high overall bar for recognition for states and schools, but will leave the work of determining the most appropriate program to state level authorities.

      I think you will find that we’ll set a very high bar, incenting states and schools that aren’t already acting in the areas of environmental impact and energy efficiency; healthy school environments; and environmental and sustainability education to consider making those a priority. Newcomers will forcibly look to those schools that have been at the forefront of these changes for examples, advising and lessons learned.

      Of course, we will have final review processes in place to ensure that nominees for the award from the state level meet eligibility requirements, so that there will be no danger of awardees not meeting federal regulations in the areas for example of civil rights, environment, and safety, and to ensure that they’re meeting high college and career-ready academic standards.

      The award will also take into consideration the development of students’ community and civic engagement skills, which are such a critical component of environmental and sustainability education. This would include the development of community sustainability partnerships with other schools and entities, so this is neither “one and done,” a finish line or highlighting isolated efforts. In tight economic times, we simply must look at ways to multiply every effort and leverage existing resources. This initiative will exemplify that sort of efficiency.

    • I agree wholeheartedly…if this is an award to recognize schools, award them on things they can implement themselves. There is also danger of this award becoming one for the haves and no chance for the have-nots.

      I believe that the area to focus on if more widespread and meaningful change is desired is to give DISTRICTS this award. A focus on the districts and school boards will allow meaningful environmental practices and education to trickle down, especially if it resulted in an incentive to the district.

      • And yet, we cannot discount the District involvement here. In the case of any big awards program, unlikely, underdog schools will win some years, certainly. However, the most common winners will be those who have the district on their side and this is the way it should be.

        Green ribbon schools should be an honest award. It should count effort into it’s criteria. But it should not honor schools ONLY based on effort – for example, if you have a committee about local food options in the cafeteria, but nothing changes, are you any greener? have you lessened your impact on the environment? have you nudged the market towards making local food cheaper and more available for other schools? The answer is: that is unlikely.

        In the case, then, of school achievement vs. district achievement, some things become clear. Some outstanding individual schools will win this award on shear persistence and leadership. It’s likely, also, that some districts will win this award for a school through their persistence and leadership. But the schools that are most likely to win, and hence be more successful in greening, will be those that work WITH their district and state, and have both their own on-the-ground motivation mixed in with the capacity and resources made available through that partnership.

        In this way, if a district or state poses a barrier to success for GRS awards, then they receive fewer such awards. They feel the consequences of their policies and actions. This way, when they choose to recognize the value of shooting for these awards, they can better know how to make fundamental solutions (i.e. more democratic policies, impact transparency) and not just symptomatic solutions (like lip service to being green) to be truly transformative. .

  5. Thank you for an informative an exciting update call today. This work is essential. The good news is that there are literally thousands of resources available to support environmental education and environmental literacy efforts at the school and district level.

    The North American Association for Environmental Education (http://www.naaee.net) offers resources and expertise that will help states, communities and schools in the development of programs. Specifically, educators may want to consider the Guidelines for Excellence series produced by the National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education (http://eelinked.naaee.net/n/guidelines). These documents, created through a national process of critique and consensus, provide guidance for the development of instructional resources, student environmental literacy expectations, early childhood environmental education, and professional development.

    In addition, NAAEE works with state environmental education organizations that provide a wealth of expertise.

  6. There is already an extensive federal program for recognizing schools and energy efficiency. Why is the Department of Education investing staff time and resources attempting to duplicate those efforts? The Department of Education focus should be on promoting those environmental factors that impact academic performance. ENERGY STAR for K-12 School Districts has extensive research, models, guides and awards for schools. Schools need leadership in the area of environment and academic performance. Leadship is in place in terms of schools and energy. To expend limited resources duplicating existing federal efforts in the areas of waste, energy and chemicals when we have this opportunity to define and improve those environmental factors that impact academic performance may not be the best pathway for Depatmnet of Education to serve the education sector. If Department of Ed is not going to focus on the factors that impact academic performance, who is?

    • If I understand correctly, Brian, that’s exactly what the Department of Ed is doing. The award will recognize schools which are performing the best in BOTH reducing envirommental impact AND inreasing academic performance of their students. The Department is partnering with EPA on this award precisely to bring EPA’s skills in reducing environmental impact (particularly in the area of energy) while the Department is bringing its skills regarding the factors that impact academic performance.

      So I believe they are doing what you propose.

    • There seems to be a need to go beyond cost, energy and environmental sustainability of existing programs to address “health, productivity and academic achievement” more directly.

      I’m not an expert, but brainstorming some of the factors that might be important, the standard might include removal of distractions from noise, lighting, temperature control or space considerations such as availability of group work areas and spacing between desks. Availability of natural light, acoustic treatment, color selection, visual distractions, etc. might also be important.

      I remember from my grade school days having to cope with all of these issues at one time or another and often in combination. It could be argued that an ability to concentrate and learn in any environment is an asset, but with the perpetual distractions of our age it may be better if schools focused on being quiet places of refuge and contemplation.

      • Thanks for raising this. We are working closely with partners at EPA and have heard from nutrition and wellness experts on this.

        We are considering environmental health a critical component of this recognition award. By that we will include the practices related to design, construction, renovation, operations, and maintenance of schools, including such elements as pest and asbestos management and indoor and outdoor air quality, among other factors.

        The environmental health of schools would be incomplete if we did not also give consideration to the behavioral factors impacting student and staff health, productivity and achievement, including standards for outdoor activity time and high quality nutrition, so those will also be pillars for the recognition award.

  7. Interested in learning about ED-GRS? Register for our informational call on 07/29 at 2PM ET by emailing Green.Ribbon.Schools@ed.gov by 07/28. We will provide an overview of where ED-GRS stands in its development prior to the anticipated fall criteria announcement, answer your questions and take comments. Also feel free to pose your comments and questions here.

    • What is the phone number to call in order to participate in today’s Green Ribbon Schools informational call?

  8. I encourage you to explore what several school districts in Colorado have done over the past 5 years – that is, develop district-wide, strategic sustainability management plans (SMPs) or sustainability management systems (SMSs). Poudre School District was the first to develop an SMS (http://www.psdschools.org/about-us/district-operations/sustainability); they have been followed by Boulder Valley School District, Academy District 20 and now Denver Public Schools (http://static.dpsk12.org/gems/sustainability/DPSKickoffPresentationFINAL5112011.pdf). SMPs and SMSs embody comprehensive strategies to move districts toward sustainability across a wide range of topics, from building construction and transportation to energy and curriculum. These districts have also identified significant cost savings and resource efficiencies through their SMPs and SMSs, making them not only motivational tools but vehicles for making the business case for sustainability. I am happy to direct you to resources and contacts if you’d like, as we think there’s tremendous potential to share these successes with districts outside of Colorado.

    • Thanks. We will mention these precedents to our Facebook followers as well. We absolutely want to encourage folks to build on successful examples.

  9. Some contacts in Washington State who could be helpful are Abby Ruskey from the Environmental Education Association of Washington and Gilda Wheeler from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. In addition, information about Green Schools efforts in Washington State can be accessed via the e3 Washington website (Education, Environment, and Economy) and the Washington Green Schools website. Washington State has adopted state standards for Environmental and Sustainability Education.
    Contact info is available at:

    • Thank you, Peter. We know Washington has been one of several states at the forefront of the green schools movement. Other states newer to the area will look to these examples as they consider how to encourage environmental education and sustainable learning spaces with similar state programs.

  10. This is a wonderful incentive for our specific industry. I would like to second Fred’s commentary regarding the need for the Green Ribbon School’s leadership to keep in consideration that there are many more school’s operating in the US with older technologies and still maintaining excellent IAQ and energy savings through internal monitoring and energy operating policies. I manage a school that will be celebrating 100 years of community service this year and we have managed to become energy star rated, Wisconsin Green School certified, and won the 2009 EPA WasteWise award for School/School District. As we renovate, we do prioritize environmental sustainability, green material content, responsible recycling, and energy consumption into our specifications, but we MUST always be prudent with taxpayer monies as the individuals held responsible for the end line of budgets.
    We are looking forward to reviewing the final application produced by DOE this fall! Best of luck in your implementation!

    • Great site,

      I am working on a manuscript about “green” education in our classrooms. I have found interesting information about California Green curriculum but there are very few studies about the effectiveness of “green” education on student learning because it is so new. Any advise or answers to the following questions?

      How will instruction change as a result of this initiative?

      What is the impact for students in the classroom?
      What is the impact on teachers? How will instruction change?

      • Great questions! Many private non-profit organizations and state green schools programs have studied these matters, even before they approached ED, EPA and the White House to propose that we spearhead such a school recognition initiative.

        To be clear, ED-Green Ribbon Schools is a recognition initiative, not a green schools program. It represents the first comprehensive federal direction-setting encompassing the three areas of 1) building efficiency; 2) school environmental health; and 3) environmental literacy. The initiative is intended to set a high bar for schools; to incent those that are already on the road to achieving high standards; and to propel those which have yet done so to move in the right direction. In that sense, the recognition initiative can have a broad impact on students, teachers and instruction — indirectly.

        We say indirectly because the real aegis of change and impact on these groups will be at the school, district and state level, as communities work to determine appropriate state-level standards by which to select proposed nominees for the award to the Department of Education. In doing so, we expect them to broaden the scope of or model after existing green schools programs, aligning their work to the recognition standards ED will announce this fall. So, as a level-setter, the recognition initiative will have broad impact; however, it will not be the on-the-ground implementer of change.

        You are right that there are still limited, widely published studies of the impact of green schools programs and still fewer that address all three of these functional areas of schools. However, studies linking energy savings to schools’ cost savings’ and subsequent ability to invest in other areas (Department of Energy), linking school environmental health to student and staff productivity (Environmental Protection Agency) and linking improved student performance (as measured by assessments), reduced behavioral problems and increased student engagement, particularly in STEM subjects and critical thinking skills (National Science Foundation) are numerous among the localities having implemented green schools programs from Maryland to California and everywhere in between.

        Many of the states we include on our list of resources for creating energy, cost, health and environmentally sustainable learning spaces and education link as having implemented a green schools program can speak to these benefits. The 10 million students and 60,000 teachers in 35,000 schools in 17 countries of the international Eco-Schools program also provide anecdotal examples of schools’ experiences reducing costs, improving health, student and staff performance, productivity and, of course, environmental literacy.

        Another interesting place among those we include on our resources link to see the results of these programs is on Project Earth. We are updating that page all the time, so feel free to submit other good resources, including models, frameworks and lessons learned.

        And, by all means, please share your findings on our blog page or Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/EDGreenRibbonSchools. Green schools success stories, particularly those that encompass the three pillars of building sustainability, school environmental health and environmental literacy, are an area ripe for research and assessment, for their impact on student productivity, engagement and performance, as well as future contributions to the green economy.

  11. Topic III, Environmental Sustainability, offers a great opportunity not only for education but to physically transform schools into more beneficial public examples of best management practices for clean water and wildlife habitat. These are important issues and schools are ideal locations because they are large tracts of public land that is highly visible and dedicated to public education. The US EPA has recommendations regarding reducing storm water runoff pollution at: http://www.epa.gov/epahome/school.htm#stormwater. The the US Fish and Wildlife Service has recommendations on improving habitat at: http://www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/schoolyd.htm.

    • Great resources from our partners at EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Thank you for sharing. School yards can, indeed, serve as examples to the public and enhance learning opportunities for students. ED-GRS fans may also be interested in the National Wildlife Foundation’s School Yard Habitats, with additional resources to support the development on-site outdoor learning classrooms at http://www.nwf.org/schoolyard.

  12. Hurray!

    Good conservation education in the schools leads to conversations in the home that in turn helps families understand how their energy behaviors can be changed to save family resources and support sustainability.

    We should know: http://www.conservationconversations.com

    Please feel free to contact us if you need help setting the program up.


    • Interesting resource. We’d be glad to add it to our list.The underserved community outreach listed is commendable. Many thanks and best wishes supporting school and community efforts.

  13. The CMS Environmental Charter Engagement Tactical Management Plan Team is developing an environmental recognition program specific to our 178 schools. In brief, our philosophy is that all schools should be able to achieve recognition if they desire it. To this end we have created our environmental partnership program. Any school whose principal endorses the CMS Environmental Stewardship policy becomes a partner, gets a certificate of recognition and listing on the CMS environmental website. Here is a link to our partnership webpage: http://www.cms.k12.nc.us/cmsdepartments/construction/buildingservices/EMS/Pages/SchoolEnvironmentalPartnership.aspx. This has become a bit of a competition in and of itself between our regions and I suspect could also between large school districts or states in the case of your program.

    The second category of recognition is the Green Guardian category (pick a name). Schools that achieve a certain amount of points (green stars) become Green Guardian Schools. Green stars are issued for participation in program areas we have deemed important to our environmental stewardship program. Green Guardian status is the prerequisite to enter into the Environmental Champion level which recognizes stewardship over and above. Green Guardian and Champion categories will be rolled out with the coming school year, the partnership program is in full swing today.

    The CMS Environmental Charter believes it is important to level the playing field. To illustrate this point…a school may achieve energy star certification with little culture change effort of the occupants if the District invests in energy efficient equipment and design. Whereas, a school that is an older energy hog could have a really excellent culture with active PTA, fantastic recycling program, indoor air quality program and coordinated school heath efforts. So consideration for culture needs to be addressed though defining a measure of culture is a bit more of a challenge, than measuring energy conservation for instance. In part to address this issue we developed green guardian status. A school that meets certain pre-requisites, not necessarily all, may be recognized for their efforts.

    From an administrative standpoint this approach is not as complicated as it may seem at first glance. Partners and guardians are basically automatic recognition based on an automated form. We are actively collecting partner data via a similar automated form today. Champion scoring is automated also, but we do see value in limited validation of data provided by winners.

    Good luck with your program!

    • Thank you for sharing about a local level initiative. These serve as valuable examples to districts just beginning their efforts toward energy, cost, health and environmentally sustainable learning spaces and education. Make no mistake — ED-GRS will provide some direction and leadership at the federal level, but the real work toward sustainability will take place at the state, district and school level. Keep up the sharing of what works!

  14. Please understand that these “green” and “sustainability” programs are part of the United Nations’ Project 21 or Sustainability programs. They are internationally driven with Al Gore types being the drivers. So, the umbrella governing level is just that – centralist and international. Did I hear someone say One-World Government?

    Look folks, conservation programs are older than the UN itself. No sane person is against taking care of our corner of the planet. It’s just the idea of smug internationalists thinking that we’re to greedy or stupid to take care of our own turf.

    Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t mind how-to suggestions from any quarter, but the spread-the-wealth programs coming from the UN make the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention.


    • Thank you for your comment, Ed. You’ll be pleased to know that this program was devised at home in the U.S., with the Campaign for Environmental Literacy leading the charge, rather than by interests overseas. The coalition group submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Education urging that this program be created. Their letter featured 76 signatories, including:

      • 36 national organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Education Association, and National School Boards Association
      • 36 state green schools initiatives, representing 31 different states from across the country
      • Earth Day Network, National Wildlife Federation, and US Green Building Council, Green Schools Network, HealthySchools Campaign, the Audubon society

      You can read the petition and see the full list of U.S.-based signatories at:

  15. I am excited about the opportunity to recognize all the hard work that my staff, parents and students have done in environmental education.

  16. We have a massive “green” program at our school, Saint Camillus Academy. We have a nature trail, two wetlands with an
    Observational blind at ohe of them, a bird sanctuary, a butterfly garden, greenhouse, organic garden, and a huge recycling program. We have replaced our lights and turn our computers and air off every day at 3:30. What else can we do to reduce our carbon footprint.

    • Through energy conservation your schools might save some money by turning off lights or turning down the AC a degree or two. Through recycling your schools might reduce the cost of waste disposal reducing the number of times waste is picked-up. Through green cleaning your schools migh increas the attendance rate.

      Would saving money help save jobs at your school district?

      • yes it would, a school has saved enough money through these types of savings to save 2 teachers jobs. I say jump on the train.

    • Excellent points. To recap, energy, learning tool and maintenance cost efficiencies allow us to provide better learning environments and education to our students, ensuring more of them graduate and become productive contributors to our society and economy.

      So, working toward ED-GRS principles — outlined on our “Steps toward Energy, Cost, Health and Environmentally Sustainable Learning Spaces and Education” link above — is a great way to save schools money.

      Furthermore, ED-GRS is a recognition, not a grant program. It will incent change through recognition, not funds. Apart from basic administrative costs, the program is not anticipated to spend a dime of taxpayer money.

      The result is government efficiency at a variety of levels — something that we can all get excited about!

    • Our district’s (90 schools and auxiliary buildings) Go Green Initiative, through a partnership with a local non-profit environmental organization, saw $500,000 avoided in electric and natural gas cost this past year. We also received over $75,000 in utility rebates for lighting equipment upgrades. This current school year’s waste/refuse removal bill is $100,000 less than last years because of our recycling efforts.
      We are saving tax payer dollars with our greening efforts!! And by continuing our Go Green Initiative, we will be saving jobs!

  17. Hello! I am excited to hear about this opportunity for our schools. We have a new elementary school (opening Fall 2011) called Grindstone Elementary. The school was built thanks to federal funding! So thank you!!!! It is a geothermal building as well. We will have a rain garden, organic vegetable garden, storm-water run-off retention basin (underground), native plant garden with informational signage, a rain barrel, a walking trail around the building (to promote good health) and curriculum for pre-K-4th grade regarding sustainability. The lessons will be taught to the elementary students by our high school students on “Sustainability Days” scheduled throughout the year. The key areas I addressed I believe should be integrated into the application for such a “ribbon”. Please email me the application or notify me ASAP! Need help? I am here ;0) Regards~ Mother Earth

    • Great work! Does your school have a website where others might learn from your experiences?

  18. Please define what GREEN really means in an existing school building so that applications can be applicable to old buildings that are OPERATED as efficiently, healthily and cleanly as possible can recognized for doing the best they can with what they have. A 1950’s school which is operated as efficiently as possible with the technology that is installed, is kept clean and healthy using green cleaning techniques, where there are good IAQ & IPM programs, etc. should be able to compete with a 2011 high performance school because there are more older school buildings and new ones.

    • We launched the concept of the green recognition program in late April and hope to announce specific award criteria sometime this fall. For the time being, you can keep up with us on our ED blog and on our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/EDGreenRibbonSchools. Be sure to check out our
      “Steps toward Energy, Cost, Health and Environmentally Sustainable Learning Spaces and Education” and our “list of resources for creating energy, cost, health and environmentally sustainable learning spaces and education”
      links above. We regularly add new resources to our list and consider submissions to green.ribbon.schools@ed.gov.

    • Great! Thanks for sharing. We hope that post-secondary institutions will continue to set an example of excellence in this area and maybe even coach or mentor their K-12 counterparts along.

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