Tips: Green Schools 101

1589R-60262UPDATE THE LIGHTS Swap out old, inefficient incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) last up to 10 times longer than standard incandescent light bulbs, saving you time buying and replacing bulbs, and an average of $30 or more in energy costs over the life of each bulb. Every CFL can prevent more than 450 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. Every bit helps to reduce the risks of global climate change. Many local utility companies have free or reduced-cost exchange programs.


Organize school garden projects that engage students, teach about nutrition, and produce some food for their consumption (like they have at the White House). Create a school-wide composting program of cafeteria and food scraps. Composting provides a way not only of reducing the amount of waste that needs to be disposed of, but also of converting it into a product that is useful for gardening, landscaping, or house plants. Through basic and worm composting programs, students can learn about ecology, biology, and waste reduction.


Create a school recycling program. Recycle everything that cannot be reused; and encourage the purchase of items that can be recycled. A successful and meaningful recycling program must involve the whole campus -- there is no teaching tool like the daily, hands-on practice of recycling everything that cannot be reused. By recycling just one glass bottle, you save enough electricity to power a 100-watt bulb for four hours.


You don't have get too technical to teach students about energy use; you can simply take stock of where and how you're using energy, by assessing where in the classroom energy is going (and being wasted). A simple energy audit can help out. How many lights are on? Is there heat or A/C? Do the computers get left on at night? Determine where you can cut back, then create a checklist kids can follow every day. You can help raise awareness by adjusting computer monitor settings, turning the lights off before recess, have a "lights-off" hour once per week, and so on.


There are many ways that green schools initiatives can support your school's curriculum, with key tie-ins to science, math, social studies, and economics. Establish a strong link between energy and the environment. Protection of the environment is a strong motivator. Help students and adults understand that more than 80% of pollution results from the production, consumption, and disposal of energy -- and that actions they take really do make a difference.


Create an educational display for your school on energy, efficiency, and/or environment. Track monthly energy savings or classroom behavior changes, and post them in a common area at school. Broadcast reminders over the school PA system each day to students, faculty, and staff, reminding them to turn off all unused equipment. Use the school¹s electronic marquee to display messages of conservation to the public. Have students attend PTA meetings to discuss the school's energy conservation efforts.


Have students complete a walk-through energy audit of their homes. Make a list of energy problems in the home and suggest solutions, which students can bring home to their families. By modeling and discussing ways to save energy at home and at school, you can spread the energy-efficiency message to families and the community. Include practical and convenient energy saving tips in your school's monthly newsletter as well.


Demand from school administrators and district personnel the right to know about environmental health issues such as pesticides, commercial cleaning products, lead, mold, indoor air quality (especially in portable classrooms), and industrial emissions at and around school. Advocate that schools use alternatives to pesticides, herbicides, and toxic cleaning materials whenever possible.

In California -- where  one of every eight American students is educated -- the Clean and HealthySchools Act (AB821) was introduced by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D, Santa Monica) in February 2009 to require schools to use green cleaners. Following similar laws adopted in New York and Illinois, California has the opportunity to reduce exposures to toxic chemicals among students, teachers and staff. Send an email to support AB821 to your representative.


You can work with parents, students, teachers, principals, district staff, school board members, and advocacy groups to get your local school board to pass a framework resolution promoting sustainable and healthy schools. By organizing around a school board resolution, disparate local groups working on issues from pesticides in schools to environmental education can join forces and work together, both to get the resolution passed, and then to implement it. Download our letter to send to school officials urging them to make your school a green school.