Sandy Underscores Maintenance, Utility Cost Control, Schools as Shelters, and Environmental Education

While U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) honorees are outstanding examples of healthy, safe and efficient school facilities and outdoor environments, ensuring that all schools meet basic standards of health, safety, efficiency, and modernization, so that students and staff can achieve to their full potential, is our goal. The impact of Hurricane Sandy on schools underscores the importance of facilities’ maintenance and environmental health, controlling school utility costs, and schools as emergency shelters. It also highlights the need for effective environmental education.

We know that capital projects and maintenance expenditures are often scaled back when budgets are tight. The result is an accumulation of deferred maintenance, which leads to higher school operational costs and more equipment malfunctions. When maintenance is deferred in school buildings, these facilities are more vulnerable to damage from natural events. For example, a roof with old flashing, is more likely to come loose and tear off in high winds; masonry in need of repointing is at greater risk for collapse; and trees that have not been maintained are more subject to falling and damaging nearby structures.

As many of our ED-GRS honorees have discovered, by redirecting a portion of utility savings, they can undertake health and safety promoting maintenance and infrastructure improvements.  These honorees stay on top of repairs by controlling their utility costs with behavioral changes and retrofits to existing buildings. They also adhere to strict contaminant controls and other indoor environmental health standards. Because of their regular upkeep and healthy environment efforts, there are potentially fewer dangers, such as lead, chemicals, and asbestos that might contaminate debris or water, at all schools that follow Green Ribbon practices and make use of available resources, when storms hit.

The storm also reminds us of public schools’ role in their communities as vital emergency shelters and polling stations. During Sandy, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island schools served as community evacuation centers, including 2012 ED-GRS honoree, Alder Avenue Middle School, in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., which served as an evacuation center.

Importantly, Alder Avenue and fellow ED-Green Ribbon Schools implement environmental education programs that teach students about the dynamic relationships among human, ecological, energetic, economic and social systems. This includes how human activity can cause meteorological changes on our planet. Alder Avenue takes students out of the traditional classroom setting and introduces them to tangible outdoor learning excursions. Their Catawba Project program is packed with differentiated instruction that incorporates core content standards and appeals to all students. It also is infused with character-building service-learning initiatives designed to partner middle school students with township leaders, environmentalists, parents, and community members to work together to help solve real environmental problems.

A wealth of resources is available to help inform a safe and healthy post-hurricane cleanup in our schools and communities, among them FEMA repair grants and food assistance from the USDA. In addition, there are countless tools for getting utility costs under control and teaching environmental education on the ED-GRS resources page.  Sign up for the ED-GRS newsletter or find us on Facebook.

ED-Green Ribbon Schools Inspire Other Schools

At the inaugural ED-Green Ribbon Schools awards ceremony, the 78 winning schools were given an important homework assignment.  Each school was challenged to return to their community and adopt a future green school.  These partnerships will help to share best practices in reducing schools’ environmental impact and cost; improving health and wellness; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education. Several 2012 ED-Green Ribbon Schools have already begun to work with schools in their communities:

  • Longfellow Elementary School in Long Beach, California has partnered with a local middle school to form a green schools coalition in order to disseminate good practices to area schools.
  • Hilltop Elementary in Wheeling, West Virginia has created Sustainable Schools Learning Kits for area schools through the use of a $54,000 grant from an anonymous donor.
  • Fishburn Park Elementary School in Roanoke, Virginia participates in a “Green Spot” on a local radio station and previously filmed a segment on “what it takes to be green” for Blue Ridge Public Television. Summer school students weed a neighboring middle school’s garden through the summer, getting a practical lesson on being a good neighbor.
  • Grand View Elementary School in Manhattan Beach, California has received visits from three local principals interested in replicating their greening efforts.
  • At Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. students work with children at Brightwood Elementary School, Phoebe Hearst Elementary, and St. Coletta’s, a school for students with developmental disabilities.

As you can see, the work is never done for ED-Green Ribbon Schools. In addition to inspiring tomorrow’s biologists, chemists, nutritionists, and engineers, ED-Green Ribbon Schools also have the job of inspiring tomorrow’s green schools. Learn more about the work ED-Green Ribbon Schools are doing in their communities here.  Find resources to help move toward the three Pillars of the award here.  Connect with ED-GRS on Facebook.

Kyle Flood

Sorry, Kermit — It Can Be Easy Being Green

As Director of the new Green Ribbon Schools program, I have visited a lot of Green Schools. I have been thrilled by geothermal heating and cooling systems; intrigued by water retention ponds and cisterns; and delighted by practical yet attractive recycled building materials. But I’ve also been impressed by schools that have “gone green” through sheer ingenuity. My visits to schools that look like any other reinforce our understanding that any school, no matter its resources or location, can take relatively simple steps toward the goals of the Green Ribbon Schools recognition award.

Every school can become a green school by making progress in the areas of: 1) environmental impact and energy efficiency; 2) health and wellness; and 3) environmental literacy. So what does a green school look like? Don’t be fooled by ordinary appearances. What sets apart a green school requires a look inside, where enterprising school administrators, teachers and community members lead enthusiastic students toward change.

In a green school, the community might help with the construction of a simple outdoor amphitheater that serves as an open air classroom. A green school can start a recycling program that encourages communities without district waste management programs to bring their recyclables to school for collection. Or recognize quarterly the class with the highest number of students commuting by a means other than their parents’ cars. Administrators can engage community volunteers to help students plan and maintain school gardens. They can adopt a no cupcake policy and offer students healthy birthday reward alternatives, such as additional recess. They might ask students to “trash the trash” with reusable lunchware. A good-humored principal might don his Mr. Banana costume – and check his self-esteem at the door – all in the name of teaching young scholars good nutrition.

At the high school level, a motivated environmental science teacher could have a huge impact, using an aquaponic garden to teach the nitrogen cycle in biology, horticulture and other environmental science classes. Students might develop not only science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills through their projects, but also develop civic skills. Students could use the profits from the plants they grow and sell to improve the schools’ environmental impact and cost savings. The teacher might organize an annual clean-up in nearby woodlands, highways or trails and garner local organizations’ sponsorship and collaboration. The green high school’s environmental club can help the school transition to compact fluorescent bulbs and task lighting, reducing the energy consumption of classrooms, and to implement a recycling program.

These are all real-life examples from visits not far from the U.S. Department of Education’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, but efforts such as these are being implemented all across the country. Every school that takes these simple steps can save energy, reduce costs, increase health and wellness, and offer effective environmental education. These schools are proving that it’s easier than you think being green.

See Green Ribbon’s previous blog posts:

US Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools is a federal recognition award and should not be confused with any green schools program conducted by non-governmental entities.

Andrea Falken, Director, Green Ribbon Schools

Green Ribbon Receives Overwhelming Support… and A Few Ribbons of its Own

States Participating in Green Ribbon Pilot Year

States Participating in Green Ribbon Pilot Year

This fall the Department of Education launched the Green Ribbon Schools award to recognize schools that have integrated best practices in energy, water and waste management, healthy school environments, and environmental education. In an overwhelming show of support for recognition of high achievement in these areas, 33 states, the District of Columbia and the Bureau of Indian Education indicated that they would nominate schools to ED for the new award. Here’s what state education agencies are saying about Green Ribbon Schools:

Arkansas Deputy Commissioner Tony Wood: “The Arkansas Department of Education recognizes the benefits of the ‘Pillars’ laid out in the Green Ribbon program for the overall environment, cost savings for individual school districts, and improved health/performance of Arkansas’ students.”

Hawaii Assistant Superintendent Randy Moore “Hawaii is delighted by the opportunity to participate in the Green Ribbon Schools program. A number of our independent, charter, and regular public schools have implemented a variety of green school strategies, from facilities to behaviors to curriculum.”

Iowa Deputy Director Jeff Berger: “The Green Ribbon Schools project allows us to highlight the efforts many of our schools are making to improve the physical learning environments for our students… Many of our schools are taking this very seriously and we appreciate a mechanism to reward efforts that are currently going unnoticed.”

Maryland Interim Superintendent Bernard Sadusky: “Our schools have long felt a connection to the world around them. The outdoors is a natural extension of the classroom for many of our students. We look forward to participating in this valuable program.”

Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary Michael Walsh: “As schools across Pennsylvania take steps to reduce energy expenditures and use the natural and built environment as a teaching tool, the Green Ribbon Schools program is a great way to recognize their efforts, and to encourage those that are just starting on the path towards a more green and sustainable educational future.”

Rhode Island Commissioner Deborah Gist: “Sustainable schools, or green schools, are excellent environments for students and great investments for our communities… Green schools save taxpayer dollars… Green schools can also serve as models for student explorations in science, ecology, engineering, and other career & technical fields.”

Washington Deputy Superintendent Alan Burke: “Our state’s economy and the well-being of its people depend upon a healthy environment. Education plays a key role in ensuring this.”

West Virginia Superintendent Jorea Marple: “Schools in the Mountain State are already doing great things related to creating a healthy environment in school facilities. Now we want to recognize schools that strengthen that work by imbedding sustainability practices into all aspects of school life.”

Bureau of Indian Education Director Keith Moore: “The Green Ribbon Schools award will provide additional opportunities for us to showcase our schools making the educational experience of American Indian and Alaska Native students healthier in an energy efficient environment.”

ED Green Ribbon Schools has been delighted to receive a few ribbons of its own both for the substantive goals the award sets—reduced environmental impact; improved environmental health and wellness; and environmental literacy—and the innovative way in which ED encourages schools to achieve these aims. Recent accolades include the Center for Environmental Innovation and Leadership’s 2011 Excellence in Education and Outreach and the US Green Building Council’s Best of 2011 awards.

To learn more about the new U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School recognition award visit:

See Green Ribbon’s previous blog posts:

Green Ribbon Schools Program Has State Agencies Working in New Ways

In September, Secretary Arne Duncan announced the Green Ribbon Schools program, which honors schools for reducing environmental impact, promoting health and wellness, and providing effective environmental education. In seeking to identify and celebrate schools’ achievement in these areas, the recognition award has also encouraged state agencies to work together on behalf of schools in new ways.

Notably, the program is helping to break down one of the chief obstacles to schools providing environmental education in sustainable, healthy spaces. It does this by creating an opportunity for federal and state governments and non-governmental entities to work together, bringing more private and public resources to support schools, in spite of tough economic times.

State departments of education have taken bold steps to achieve the vision that Green Ribbon Schools sets. Education departments were quick to reach out to peer agencies with critical resources, enlisting help in designing processes for selecting and rating schools for submission of nominees to ED.

As one of the first states to announce participation in Green Ribbon’s pilot year, the Pennsylvania Department of Instruction is building on its Pathways to Green Schools with work bolstered by environmental protection, conservation and natural resources, and community and economic development agencies. Likewise, in California, Hawaii and Washington green schools nominations, the inter-agency groups that are providing input into Green Ribbon policies and procedures include agriculture, public utilities, public health, energy and state parks.

Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, which implements energy, resource conservation and health programs will support the Alabama Department of Education in its efforts to nominate green schools to ED. In Colorado, the Department of Public Health and Environment will build on an existing awards program to assist Colorado Department of Education in selecting the state’s nominees to ED. In North Carolina, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will serve a similar function.

In numerous other states, departments of public health, environment and community development, among others, are offering to support state departments of education and schools in their green schools efforts, by providing much of the technical expertise, and some of the manpower, required to submit nominees to ED for the award.

For years, at federal, state and local levels, health, natural resource, energy and safety authorities have possessed expertise and programs appropriate for school communities. Green Ribbon has encouraged connections among schools and this existing pool of resources — one that will enable them to advance more speedily toward reduced environmental impact, improved health and environmentally literate graduates.

ED salutes the various state agencies for their hard work in making the pilot year of Green Ribbon Schools possible. Here’s to maximizing efficiency with minimal resources, in each of our governments – and at every level — just as we are asking of our schools.

This is the first in a series of blog posts on the Green Ribbon Schools program’s pilot year. Check back for stories on:

  • The overwhelming number of states taking part in the Green Ribbon Schools program in its pilot year;
  • State departments of education leveraging the support of non-governmental entities to achieve Green Ribbon’s vision; and
  • Schools and state departments employing complementary federal resources, standards and programs thanks to Green Ribbon.

Final Plans Announced For Green Ribbon Schools

This week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made public the final plans for a new award program that will encourage our nation’s schools and communities to promote healthy and sustainable environments and educate students to become environmentally literate citizens. In this video, Arne talks about the new Green Ribbon Schools competition and urges states to “get started right now in identifying their best candidates” for the award.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

For several months, the U.S. Department of Education has been developing criteria and selection guidelines for the pilot year of Green Ribbon Schools. During this process, ED heard how facilities upgrades can reduce schools’ environmental impact and costs, improve their and staff productivity, and create jobs. ED listened to arguments about the need for well-rounded, environmental education with strong science and mathematics foundations—efforts that develop students’ robust civics skills and environmental stewardship and enhance students’ career and college preparedness. ED learned that, across the country, achievements vary greatly in the areas to be honored by the Green Ribbon Schools award, and states will require some flexibility as to how they conduct their green schools selection processes.

ED took this input into account in designing the pilot year of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award. As a result of this broad input, the new program will take advantage of the experience of efforts already underway in communities across the country and rely on a host of existing resources, standards and programs to encourage schools to:

  1. implement energy conservation measures that pave the way for reduced environmental impact, cost savings and job creation;
  2. undertake environmental and behavioral changes in schools that ensure the health, wellness and productivity of students, teachers, and staff; and
  3. promote environmental education that supports students’ strong civic skills, environmental stewardship and workforce preparedness.

The documents made public today reflect months of consultation with a variety of stakeholders and incorporate suggestions received during a public comment period:

The Green Ribbon Schools Criteria explain the program’s purpose, vision, eligibility, requirements and the Department’s authority for creating such an award.

The Instructions for Use of Framework explain use of the following technical assistance document.

The Framework for State Nominating Authorities is a spreadsheet that provides recommended measures by which to evaluate schools and select nominees to ED. It is intended for state nominating authorities’ use and adaptation.

The List of Statutory and Regulatory Requirements summarizes the Federal, state and local requirements with which schools must comply in order to be eligible for the Green Ribbon Schools award. Because the full list of applicable requirements varies by state and locality, each nominating authority will be responsible for determining the compliance of nominated schools with pertinent statutory and regulatory requirements, in consultation with state and local health, environment and safety authorities.

The Nominee Presentation Form is pending approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). While the Department final approval is pending, this version is offered in the interim to provide information for state authorities and communities to help them in their preparations to apply for the Green Ribbon Schools award.

This document contains a tentative pilot year application timeline. After the Nominee Presentation Form receives OMB approval, submission deadlines for the pilot year will be announced.

ED encourages chief officers and their designees to use the following dates to guide their state nomination process:

By November 22nd: Notify ED of participation
By March 22nd: Submit nominees to ED

‎Chiefs offices can contact Andrea Falken ( or 202.205.0708) at the U.S. Department of Education to notify of their participation and ask questions.

As Arne says in his video message, “we are confident that we will have an excellent slate of winners in our first year—great schools that can be examples of the best and most innovative ways to reduce environmental impact, create healthy learning spaces, and teach environmental literacy.” We wish school communities the best in their inaugural Green Ribbon School year efforts!

See our Fact Sheet for a brief overview of the pilot Green Ribbon Schools initiative.

Click here to sign up for email updates on Green Ribbon Schools.

ED Encourages Public Comment on Plans for Green Ribbon Schools Award

The online comment period for Green Ribbon Schools is now closed. Stay tuned for program details to be announced online shortly.

ED is asking for public comment on proposed plans for the new U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognition program. The Department, along with the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Council on Environmental Quality announced their intention to create the Green Ribbon award on April 26, 2011. Beginning today, ED will accept comments until September 14 and will publish the final program details by the end of the month.

The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools will recognize schools that save energy, reduce costs, and feature environmentally sustainable learning spaces, as well as protect health, foster wellness and impart effective environmental education.  The award program will bring together three institutional roles of schools related to environment and health as it acknowledges high levels of achievement in three categories:  1) environmental impact and energy efficiency; 2) healthy environment; and 3) environmental literacy.  Put another way, the award will consider:

  • schools’ and their occupants’ impact on the environment;
  • schools’ environmental and behavioral impact on the students, teachers and others in the facility; and
  • how schools teach students about the environment and sustainability to better prepare them for citizenship and employment in the 21st century.

The proposed plan for the Green Ribbon award was developed with input from a variety of federal, state and local government agencies and a variety of other stakeholders.

Please see our Facebook page, where ED highlights resources that may be useful to schools and other participating authorities in their efforts toward Green Ribbon status:

Recognition Award Criteria and Selection Infrastructure for Comment:

Proposed recognition award eligibility requirements, selection criteria and a framework to assist education authorities in soliciting, evaluating and nominating schools to ED are posted below for public comment. Proposed plans will also receive comment through standard Federal Register procedures.  We look forward to hearing from you.

The Fine Print:

This is a moderated site. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. We intend to post all responsive submissions on a timely basis. We reserve the right not to post comments that are unrelated to this request, are inconsistent with ED’s Web site policies, are advertisements or endorsements, or are otherwise inappropriate. To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information such as Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. For more information, please be sure to read the “comments policy” tab at the top of the Web page.

Please understand that posts must be related to the Green Ribbon Schools recognition award, and should be as specific as possible, and, as appropriate, supported by data and relevant research. Posts must be limited to 1,000 words. All opinions, ideas, suggestions and comments are considered informal input. ED will not respond to individual posts, and these posts may or may not be reflected in the policies and requirements of the program. If you include a link to additional information in your post, we urge you to ensure that the linked-to information is accessible to all individuals, including individuals with disabilities. Additionally, please do not include links to advertisements or endorsements; we will delete all such links before your comment is posted.

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, 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.