George Lucas Educational Foundation

How to Reduce Your School's Eco-Footprint

Follow these tips for making your school more environmentally friendly.
Sara Bernard
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Credit: Robbie McClaran

This how-to article accompanies the feature "Reading, Writing, Recycling: One Oregon School Is Making the Planet a Better Place."

Rod Shroufe, founder of Clackamas High School's sustainable-systems class, says making your school more eco-friendly is just a matter of taking the initiative. He offers these tips:

Assess your current facility. First off, ask the right questions, says Shroufe: "What is our capacity here? What do we have control of? What don't we have control of? Make a checklist -- this might include recycling, energy use, pesticide and chemical use, indoor air quality, food waste, water efficiency, and so on.

Ask yourself: 'Do I have any control over the immediate building site and its energy use? If so, what can I do about it? Does my school recycle? How much? Do I have any control over school grounds?' Start by figuring out what is there, what is not there, and what is in your capacity to change."

Make sure everyone understands the goal. No schoolwide movement is possible without schoolwide buy-in. All students and staff need to acknowledge and comprehend the problem, the solution, and its importance. Clackamas's recycling program began with students educating other students and staff about the value of recycling and their goals for the program through ten-minute presentations in each classroom.

They also created bulletin boards illustrating the process of, and reasons for, recycling and put them in all the common areas, and continually displayed student-created PowerPoint presentations on television screens stationed around the school. "That educational piece has got to come first," Shroufe says.

Promote the idea with schoolwide events. You can further the educational component by initiating schoolwide challenges, such as "No-Waste Lunch Day," during which students and staff attempt to throw as little as possible into the trash at the end of the lunch period. (Often, two-thirds of the contents of a bag of garbage could have been reused or recycled.) Try initiating a schoolwide reuse competition, too, with prizes for the student or classroom that brings in the most refillable ink cartridges or recyclable cans (a recent success at Clackamas).

Get funding. "Start out soliciting money that is local," Shroufe suggests, "because those people can get to know you and your program. Once you get that initial funding, it becomes easier and easier to get more." Grants for Shroufe's projects come from nearby organizations such as the Clackamas County Recycling Partnership, Portland's Metro (a government body that offers environmental protection-related grants), and the Meyer Memorial Trust.

Also, attend green conferences, such as the Earth Club conference, hosted by the Northwest Earth Institute. The people who are trying to educate the general public about the environment are often willing to fund environmental education and other environmentally conscious initiatives, and these gatherings are great networking devices.

You can also raise a good deal of money by simply being eco-friendly: Recycling ink cartridges, bottles, cans, and consumer electronics, for instance, can earn plenty of cash for your projects (check out EcoPhones or TonerInx, companies dedicated to collecting electronic waste -- and handing out hefty refunds).

Form partnerships with nonprofits and community service clubs. SOLV, an environmental nonprofit organization in Hillsboro, Oregon, turned out to be a perfect fit for Shroufe and his students. Organizations such as SOLV have projects already up and running and resources at their disposal (for example, saplings, shovels, and other equipment). Through connecting with these kinds of organizations, you can extend the reach of your own program, and both groups can benefit from each others' resources.

Tapping into nationally recognized clubs that require community-service hours for membership, such as Key Club International or the National Honors Society, encourages involvement of a larger and more diverse group of students. Also, good relations with local companies in general can help you acquire materials -- the first recycling bins at Clackamas, for instance, were discarded syrup barrels from a nearby Coca-Cola distribution center.

Take it one step at a time. The most valuable piece of advice Rod Shroufe has for those who are interested in growing more environmentally conscious: Don't try to save the world all at once. "One year, when I was trying to clean up my daily behaviors, I decided to start using cloth napkins in the house," he says. "Now, that's part of the routine."

"What next?" Shroufe adds. "You can do the same thing at the school level. Say you wanted to reduce the number of aluminum cans that go into the trash at your school by 50 percent. How would you do that? What would it entail? Figure out the details, do it for a year, and then move on to the next project."

Sara Bernard is a former staff writer and multimedia producer for Edutopia.

Related Green Articles:

How can educators, students, schools, and communities go green? Find additional resources about sustainability, conservation, and other earth-friendly practices and curricula on Edutopia's Environment Education page.

Comments (10) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I have been recycling for a few years now. I recently wrote an essay on recycling.
As I did more research, I learned more ways to improve the environment; Simple things Like: using tote bags instead of plastic bags.(it's a start) Anyhow, I just wanted to share.

Thank you and keep up the good work!

Tamara Pacheco

Recycle-King-09's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would recommend recycling in a public environment, especially in schools. Recycling is good for people, and keeps our planet alive. Energy is required to biologically degrade the waste that we don't recycle, which speeds up the process of killing this earth. RECYCLE!!!

Ben Grundy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Recycle-King-09, I completely agree... only after we have reduced and reused. Recycling uses energy and water too.

ambica's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I now use cloth bags to carry my groceries,instead of plastic.Ten years ago one cloth store started using cloth bags for its promotion when it opened. This bag now serves as my lunch bag.

Michael E. Russell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Excellent, concise, good links

Veolia Environmental Services's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

If we can teach our children about recycling even it if is just recycling a plastic bag we would be able to reach the future of our waste management problems. For sure rubbish removal is not a topic normally high in a child's mind and the planning for going about it here is just great. Lets get our kids on board!

howy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

How to Reduce Your School's Eco-Footprint
Follow these tips for making your school more environmentally friendly.
by Sara Bernard

preethi's picture

Our capacity includes recycling, energy use, pesticide and chemical use, indoor air quality, food waste, water efficiency, and so on.
Air Purifiers

remy na's picture

Amazing what this Oregon school did. All our school admin wants to do is bring out the career goal setting sessions for the students. Wish they would read this and learn something

richard's picture

Great to hear this kind of stuff!!! People really need to take responsibility for themselves and what they do for our planet! In our county new waste disposal rules have come in to action and everything must be recycled. You would think that people would welcome this but all I have heard from eveyone I have spoken to is complaints that they have to put the trash they are making into different boxes. Now come on, surely a little effort is worth put in to help the state of our planet!!!

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