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Sustainable Schools

Sustainability in schools encompasses six key areas: water conservation, waste reduction, energy efficiency, green spaces, environmentally friendly transportation, and sustainability education.

The first step to making a school more sustainable is to establish a sustainability team that includes students, teachers, other staff and, ideally, parent volunteers. This team must evaluate the school’s environmental friendliness, determine which issues can be feasibly addressed, create both short- and long-term goals, and develop an action plan. It’s also beneficial to consult with other sustainable schools and organizations to learn about best practices and to celebrate successes in meeting sustainability targets.

The following are specific actions that can be taken for each of the six sustainability areas.

  • Water conservation: Collect water in rain barrels for watering school gardens and other green spaces. Install low-flow toilets. Encourage students to drink tap water rather than bottled water (large quantities of water are squandered to produce bottled water). Use environmentally friendly cleaning products to avoid polluting water.
  • Waste reduction: Develop a school-wide recycling and composting program. Use recycled paper and set printers to use both sides of each page. Establish a zero-waste policy.
  • Energy efficiency: Turn off computers, monitors, and lights when not in use. Install solar panels and energy-efficient lighting.
  • Green spaces: Plant school gardens that can be used both as teaching spaces and to provide healthy food. Plant trees around the school. Replace concrete areas with green spaces (preferably natural spaces with a variety of plants rather than mown grass fields or lawns). Have students research and design a wildlife garden on school grounds. Avoid using toxic pesticides.
  • Environmentally friendly transportation: Encourage students to walk or bike to school and parents to carpool multiple students if driving. Offer incentives or hold green transportation contests to increase the appeal of environmentally friendly transportation. Provide secure bike storage.
  • Sustainability education: Incorporate sustainability principles and environmental education into lesson plans and teaching units. Teach children how to calculate (and reduce) their ecological footprints. Directly teach sustainability issues such as water conservation, energy efficiency, over-harvesting, loss of biodiversity, social and environmental inequality, and food security.


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