Large School Districts Come Together to Prioritize Sustainability

I once heard a student ask: “To change everything, we need everybody to take action. How will you engage others in developing a brighter, more just global community?” When I think back to that student’s question, I’m pleased to now report that 21 large districts have come together with the support of the Green Schools Alliance (GSA) to collaborate on more sustainable school options.

Represented by their sustainability personnel, these districts have formed the GSA District Collaborative to accelerate hands-on environmental action in school communities across the nation. Over the years, district sustainability officials had shared frustrations over higher prices for more sustainable products and policies that encumbered their work. This sparked a conversation about collaborating to affect major change, particularly in purchasing. Instead of creating their own separate association, they asked the Green Schools Alliance to house the coalition.

The Collaborative is comprised of 21 U.S. school districts – eight of which are among the 12 largest districts in the country. Collectively, these districts affect the lives of 3.6 million children in 5,726 schools with more than 550 million square feet of building area. The school districts have committed to working together and joined the Alliance as individual members, pledging to reduce their climate and ecological impact; connect their students to nature; and educate and engage their communities on climate and conservation. The charter members of the District Collaborative are:

  • New York City Department of Education, NY
  • Chicago Public Schools, IL
  • Clark County School District, NV
  • Broward County Public Schools, FL
  • Houston Independent School District, TX
  • Orange County Public Schools, FL
  • Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
  • The School District of Palm Beach County, FL
  • The School District of Philadelphia, PA
  • San Diego Unified School District, CA
  • Denver Public Schools, CO
  • Austin Independent School District, TX
  • Virginia Beach City Public Schools, VA
  • San Francisco Unified School District, CA
  • Boston Public Schools, MA
  • District of Columbia Public Schools, DC
  • Oakland Unified School District, CA
  • Detroit Public Schools, MI
  • Lincoln Public Schools, NE
  • Fayette County Public Schools, KY
  • Kansas City Public Schools, MO

These districts concur that every child has a right to learn, engage, and play in a healthy and sustainable environment where every person is aware of and accountable for their impact. Together, they will work in four key areas:

  • Leveraging collective purchasing power to increase access to sustainable alternatives;
  • Influencing local, regional, and national policy decisions;
  • Building and sharing district-level best practices; and
  • Contributing to the development of district-level sustainability programs.

The Collaborative is excited to be working within the GSA to develop programs that directly impact students, including project-based STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Mathematics) initiatives and leadership training programs for middle and high school students.

Later in 2016, the Green Schools Alliance will be releasing a new version of its online community, still based on its long-term goals of peer-to-peer networking and best practices sharing. The new community will enable students and school professionals to more easily search for resources to make their school more sustainable and learn the leadership skills to affect that change. The second phase of the online platform will include a web-based measurement and reporting platform/dashboard that will improve data collection and reporting of resource efficiencies and other sustainability programs in member schools.

District Collaborative membership is open to districts with more than 40,000 students. For more information, visit If your district has less than 40,000 students or you are part of an individual school, you can still benefit from the work of the Collaborative. See for more information.

Dr. Sharon Jaye, D.Ed., SFP is Executive Director of the Green Schools Alliance and former Director of Sustainability for New York City Department of Education.