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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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5 Steps to a Greener School

Ahhh, August -- the dog days of summer. Before the back-to-school frenzy. I hope that you, your family and students everywhere have enjoyed some unstructured time, some time outdoors, and some time getting your hands and feet dirty at the beach, the park, your backyard, or your front stoop or sidewalk. While you are -- hopefully -- in this relaxed state of mind, I want to plant a few ideas to change your perspective and practices as you head back to school this year. These are ideas for bringing the outdoors, healthy living and stewardship into your school and community.

Environmental Impact

When you start thinking about heading back to school, what comes to your mind (or your kids' minds) first? I bet they are thoughts like, "What shall I wear on the first day? What kinds of notebooks and supplies do I need to get? Who will my teacher (or students) be?" And then, "What will we do and learn this year?"

You are probably not thinking about how your answers to these questions have tremendous impacts on our environment, our health and our learning. Did you know, for example, that K-12 schools' paper use consumes about six million trees? What about pencils? There are 14 billion produced every year, many made with wood from ancient forests. And what about school lunch? It's estimated that the average school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That's about 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school!

Now imagine your dream school. This school has a garden where students learn science by getting their hands dirty growing food they cook and eat. The classrooms are flooded with natural light, and the air is fresh because the cleaning products the school uses are free from asthma-causing chemicals, and that increases attendance. With the participation of the whole school community, the district has cut its garbage bill in half and is composting and recycling more than 50% of its garbage. The students track daily energy production from the school's solar panels, using their math skills. They share their knowledge about sustainability with the surrounding community through a video they made and recently presented at a city council meeting.

At Green Schools Initiative, we believe that dream green schools like this are fundamental to a high-quality, 21st century education, and we have seven simple steps you can take to transform your school environment, curriculum and school-home connection. The three pillars of an exemplary green school are:

  • Green buildings and facilities
  • Healthy operations
  • Programs for environmental literacy

Visit our Green Schools Profiles page to get inspired by the stories of green schools or share your own school's story of going green.

5 Steps to a Greener School

So, as you start thinking about heading back to school, think about how to go green. You can:

I hope that greening your back-to-school will save you some green in your pocket as you shop at used-clothing stores and reuse some of last year's pencils, binders or backpacks. And when you think of back-to-school, you can know that you helped lighten the impact our schools have on the planet and engaged your children in practicing stewardship.

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