How to start a green initiative at school

Tips for Starting Your Green Team

The Green Team is at the heart of green school efforts. Here’s how you can organize your own Green Team.

1. Membership – Greening a school touches on all aspects of a school’s operations and administration, from facilities and maintenance to curriculum, from school lunch to purchasing. So, the Green Team can offer a forum where all the different members of a school community can come together to brainstorm ideas and solutions, make joint recommendations, and collaborate on implementation. Ideally, a Green Team at a school or district level should have representatives of teachers, parents, students, administrators, and facilities and maintenance staff. Student involvement is essential. Sometimes student representatives will come from the Student Council, other times there may be students specially appointed or elected to the Green Team. However, there are schools where a Green Team starts initially as a student club or as a parent committee, and later grows to include more members of the school community. Many schools PTAs or PTOs are creating a Green Team Coordinator position as part of their leadership. Regardless of how your Green Team starts or who your members are, it is critically important to coordinate your efforts with your school’s administration and facilities and maintenance staff, since many activities – from recycling to energy conservation – touch on the jobs of facilities staff.

2. Purpose and Role of the Green Team – The Green Team is often established as part of a "Green School Policy" or "Resolution" adopted by a school or district (see here for sample policies and resolutions). The purpose of the Green Team is to help identify issues, undertake research and analysis, make recommendations to relevant school decision-makers, coordinate many of the greening activities, and facilitate communications with the school community. The Green Team is most often advisory and decision-making authority remains with the school board, principal, and/or governing bodies of the school and district.The Green Team can collaborate with student clubs, PTAs or PTOs, individual teachers, or specific school departments to implement activities or host events. Forming a Green Team is one of the "7 Steps to a Green School."

3. Getting permission from the school or district – We highly recommend that you get official approval and permission for your Green Team from your school’s principal and/or your school board or school district administration. This way, they will be supportive of the efforts and it will make it easier to move your activities along. Write a letter to the principal, superintendent, or school board president and ask permission to establish a Green Team. Describe the purpose, role, and goals of the Green Team and ask for a representative of the administration to participate in the Green Team.

4. Establish regular meetings and goals – To make it easy for people to participate, it’s best if you can establish regular meeting times – whether monthly or quarterly – at times when everyone can participate, most likely after school or at lunch. Work with the whole school community to identify key issues and goals that people are excited about. You can do a survey of families, teachers, students and staff, hold an assembly, organize an evening forum or other ways of reaching out to the whole school community. It is best to set some small goals initially that can be achieved within one school year. Demonstrating early success is the best way of building more support for bigger or longer-term goals. Goals could include setting a specific schoolwide recycling and waste reduction target (like increasing recycling rates by 5% or diverting 50% of the school’s wastestream) or establishing an annual Earth Day celebration.

5. Develop a work plan and timeline – The arc of a schoolyear provides the natural timeline for your school greening workplan. Ideally, you want to work with teachers in September – or even at the end of the previous school year – to identify some student projects that can be integrated into the curriculum. The topic can be introduced to students in October and student-led environmental audits of school resources uses can be done before Winter Break. Students can analyze the results in January and February and take actions based on their analysis in February to April. They can share their results and celebrate by Earth Day around April 22, and evaluate their progress in May, reporting results by the end of the school year. Download a sample worksheet (Word doc) to help you create a work plan and timeline. You can also download this sample Green Team calendar and checklist that highlights in one page a few key activities throughout the school year.

6. Learn from other schools – Check out the profiles of what other schools are doing and how a Green Team was part of their success.

We asked members of our Green Team Leaders Network for their tips, advice, and tricks on running successful Green Teams. Here’s the top 10.

Use these tips to help kick start a Green Team in your office, lab, or School.

How to start a green initiative at school

“Get together a small group and agree on achievable goals. The sense of accomplishment from reaching these goals will generate lots of momentum.”

– Claire Reardon , FAS Center for Systems Biology

How to start a green initiative at school

“Make sure to hold Green Team meetings on a regular basis (quarterly works best for our group). Hosting year-end and year-beginning celebrations is a good way to set “green goals” and a great time to check-in to make sure you’re meeting them/reporting progress to date. Celebrate both fiscal year-end and beginnings as well as calendar year-end and beginnings. That way you can involve your greater community in the updates, not just your Green Team.”

– Kim Salley, Alumni Affairs and Development Green Team

How to start a green initiative at school

“Feel free to work on issues across departments, divisions, schools, and campuses. It can spread out the work load, encourage collaboration and learning, and is a fun way to meet people who are doing something similar or completely different from you.”

– David Havelick, Harvard Longwood Campus EcoOpportunity Team

How to start a green initiative at school

“If you don’t have them involved already, do whatever you can to get your Building Services leadership on board. Infrastructural projects that may never be seen by the public are the backbone of legitimate efforts. They allow for a more nuanced pitch to non-engaged citizens. Building Services can be instrumental in project approval/support, data collection and monitoring, as well as instituting wholesale changes that force behavioral change by occupants.”

– John Aslanian, Graduate School of Design Green Team

Partnerships don’t stop at building services! Fostering strategic relationships and partnerships with departments across your School allows for broader communication and involvement in sustainability efforts. For example, as a result of partnering with Human Resources, many Schools have incorporated sustainability into their new hire orientations.

How to start a green initiative at school

“Come up with a 12 month campaign schedule to focus on different sustainability topics each month. For example the Green Team at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Harvard Business School dedicate March activities to water awareness and October to energy. This promotes sub-committee groups spurring off to spearhead specific activities related to the monthly themes.”

–Allison Webster, Senior Sustainability Coordinator, Harvard Business School and Harvard Graduate School of Education

How to start a green initiative at school

“Brainstorm about priorities and interests and create subcommittees to work on certain projects and issues that are the most doable and the most popular among Green Team members.”

–Harvard Longwood Campus EcoOpportunity Team

“One of things we have at Harvard Law School are subcommittees that are involved in their own projects. For example, I run the Waste Reduction subcommittee, and we also have committees for outreach and events.”

– Carrie Ayers, Harvard Law School Green Team

How to start a green initiative at school

“Don’t take yourselves too seriously! Even though sustainability work addresses very serious concerns, you’ll get more active participation if you lighten the mood. The EcoOpportunity team is always trying to make the Longwood community laugh a little by putting cartoons, memes, and jokes in the stairwells during the Take the Stairs campaign, hanging an irreverent newsletter in the bathroom stalls, and holding a trivia night and the occasional happy hour.”

–Caitlin Key Alfaro, Harvard School of Public Health

How to start a green initiative at school

“Create a newsletter, blog, Facebook page, etc. to get the word out about your events, resources and how people can get involved! The EcoOpportunity team sends out a monthly email newsletter, nicknamed the “EcoMosquitio,” that also hangs in bathroom stalls to spread the word about sustainability around campus.”

–Katrina Rudnicki, Harvard Longwood Campus EcoOpportunity Team

How to start a green initiative at school

“If your School has offices in buildings that are somewhat far away from the main parts of the campus, satellite green teams will help keep momentum going. The Longwood Campus EcoOpportunity Team has created satellite green teams at Smith Street, Tremont Street, and Landmark Center for their Campus.”

–Jen Doleva Bowser, Harvard Longwood Campus EcoOpportunity Team

How to start a green initiative at school

“ALWAYS recognize and show appreciation for your Green Team volunteers and members! We’ve connected with the School’s Human Resources department to create certificates for green team membership to go in each participant’s file and we encourage Green Team members to talk with their supervisor about their Green Team work so everyone is on the same page and recognizes their contribution and volunteer work.”

Harvard Longwood Campus EcoOpportunity Team

Employees are also recognized for their sustainability efforts at the annual Harvard Heroes celebrations, and Green Team projects are celebrated at the Green Carpet Awards, the Office for Sustainability’s biannual recognition event. Nominate a fellow team member or let us know about your projects!

How to start a green initiative at school

Download free resources to encourage recycling in your school, plus participate for chances to win cash and prizes! Learn more about Recycle Rally here.

It’s always a good time to go green.

I’ve been a teacher, in both elementary and middle school, for more than 20 years and teaching my students about the environment has always been something I’ve done. Over the years, my students have created a bird sanctuary, helped to save the monarch butterfly population, implemented a lunch composting program, increased school recycling efforts, and more.

Here are my suggested steps to start a green club at your school. Just add students!

STEP 1: Identify a cause and start small.

How to start a green initiative at school

It can be tempting to start a green club without a lot of direction or projects in mind. But I recommend identifying a project (like building a butterfly garden) or cause (like increasing recycling) first. This will not only help give your students a focus, but it will show parents and administrators that this isn’t just some passing club that meets occasionally. You have goals, plans, and projects.

STEP 2: Embrace the survey process.

Part of creating a good club is eliciting feedback from those around you. Members of your green club might already know about sustainability, recycling, and the environment. Use their knowledge. Anytime my students start a new project, I encourage them to put together a survey (you can use free online tools like Survey Monkey) for fellow students and teachers to fill out. You can use this data to help guide your efforts.

STEP 3: Recruit school and community members.

How to start a green initiative at school

You never know where you’ll find support when you’re planning to start a green club. When my students created a bird sanctuary a few years ago, we received all sorts of donations of bird feeders, seed, and other items just by asking local businesses. Don’t be afraid to identify your needs very clearly and then ask around about who might be able to help. Even if you’re having a fundraiser for a project, spread the word and ask for support.

STEP 4: Stay motivated and don’t go off task.

It’s so easy to get sidetracked by other projects you want to do, but try not to let it happen to your green club. Have students keep notes along the way so you can always go back and identify additional projects for future initiatives. But don’t let these sidetrack the current project. Also, keep your meetings and updates regular, even if there is not much to report on—it will help everyone stay on track.

STEP 5: Spread the word and share your progress.

How to start a green initiative at school

This one is so important. Don’t forget to document your progress and share it with others. Social media, a school newsletter, or a website can be great for this. And don’t overlook your local community newspaper! You might even consider putting a video together—a slideshow with photos counts. Another idea is to make educational posters or put up facts about the project you’re doing to raise awareness around school. All of this will help show others what you’re doing and make your students feel really proud of their efforts.

STEP 6: Celebrate.

Once you’ve completed your main project, don’t forget to celebrate. Throw a party, have a dedication, or recognize members of your group in some way. I like to let my students do a final presentation to other students about what they did and learned. I love seeing how proud they are for taking ownership of a project and succeeding!

STEP 7: Pick a new project, and let the magic of green continue.

How to start a green initiative at school

Take time to celebrate your accomplishments, then keep going! Connecting with an established year-round program, such as PepsiCo Recycle Rally, can be a good way to keep the ideas and motivation coming throughout the year. Or perhaps you can get an admin or community member involved in helping to identify the next initiative. The best green clubs keep doing work and spreading the word. Then more people will want to get involved and help grow the efforts.

For additional ideas about how to start a green club, check out this thorough Green Team Startup Guide.

Green schools are not only environmentally friendly but also generate cost savings in the form of reduced water and energy use. The standard for environmentally friendly schools is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a framework for building schools that meet certain benchmarks for sustainability, and a certification that more schools are seeking to achieve as they upgrade existing facilities and expand their campuses.

Green Schools Alliance

Many schools are taking the pledge of the Green Schools Alliance to make their campuses more sustainable and to reduce their carbon footprints by 30 percent over five years. The goal is to achieve carbon neutrality. The GSA program involves 5 million students at more than 8,000 schools, districts, and organizations from 48 U.S. states and 91 countries.

All this work by schools around the world has helped the Green Cup Challenge to yield a savings of more than 9.7 million kW hours. Anyone can join the Green Schools Alliance, but you don't need to be a part of a formal program to implement environment-friendly practices in your school.

There are steps that parents and students can take separately from their school to reduce energy use and waste, and students and parents can also work with their schools to determine the school's energy use and how to reduce it over time.

Steps Parents and Students Can Take

Parents and students can also contribute to making their schools greener and take steps such as the following:

  1. Encourage parents and kids to use public transportation or to walk or bike to school.
  2. Use carpools to bring many students to school together.
  3. Reduce idling outside school; instead, turn off car and bus engines.
  4. Encourage the school to use buses with cleaner fuels, such as biodiesel or to start investing in hybrid buses.
  5. During community service days, have students replace existing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents.
  6. Ask the school to use environmentally friendly cleaning fluids and nontoxic pesticides.
  7. Encourage the lunchroom to avoid using plastics.
  8. Spearhead the use of "trayless" eating. Students and teachers can carry their food instead of using trays, and the lunchroom staff won't have to wash trays, thereby reducing water use.
  9. Work with maintenance staff to put stickers on the paper towel and napkin dispensers reminding students and teachers to use paper products sparingly.
  10. Encourage the school to sign the Green Schools Initiative.

How Schools Can Reduce Energy Usage

In addition, students can work with the administration and maintenance staff at their schools to reduce the energy use. First, students can conduct an audit of their school's light and energy use and then monitor the school's energy use on a monthly basis.

The Green Schools Alliance provides students with a step-by-step plan to create a task force and reduce carbon emissions over a suggested two-year timetable. Their helpful tool kit provides actions schools can take such as using daylight instead of overhead lighting, weatherizing windows and doors, and installing Energy Star appliances.

Educating the Community

Creating a greener school requires educating the community about the importance of reducing carbon emissions and living more environmentally sustainable lives. First, inform yourself about what other schools are doing to become greener. For example, Riverdale Country Day School in New York City has installed a synthetic playing field composed of cork and coconut fiber that saves millions of gallons of water per year.

Other schools offer classes in living environmentally conscious lives, and their lunchrooms offer local produce that is shipped shorter distances, thereby reducing energy use. Students may be more motivated to make their school greener when they are aware of what similar schools are doing.

Find a way to communicate regularly to your school about what you are doing to reduce energy use through newsletters or a page on your school's website. Get people involved in taking and meeting the goals of the Green Schools Alliance to reduce carbon emissions over five years.

If you want to help make your child’s classroom and school more eco-friendly but you don’t know where to start, one of these ideas may help. My friends Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson from Celebrate Green sent me these tips to share with my readers, and chances are one of them will resonate with you.

They’ve got some good advice for starting out, too. Before you leap in, be sure to get support, buy-in and permission from the principal (for any ideas that would require it), and anyone else you might need buy-in from. Nothing will quash a program more quickly than a loud, "No!" after the fact.

1. Pack a No-Waste Lunch

Pack a lunch with no leftovers in food or packaging. Why use paper or plastic bags when you can substitute sustainable packaging like reusable cloth bags, stainless steel and yes, even glass containers, cloth napkins and reusable tableware. Be sure to talk with your child about the no-waste goal and encourage her to bring home anything she doesn't eat to snack on later in the day. (Include a cold pack in her lunch bag.)

2. Provide a Party Package

Offer teachers a box filled with reusable items for parties. Include napkins, plates, bowls, cups and flatware. If you're especially creative, you can even include decor items. Let the teacher know that you're willing to pick up everything after each party, take it home, clean and return it. Donate extras you have at home or purchase items inexpensively at a thrift store or ask each child's family to contribute one place setting.

3. Send Reusable Water Bottles

Avoid buying bottled water and sending children to school with it. Instead, fill a metal bottle with filtered water each night then put it in the freezer so your child has cold water to drink throughout the day.

4. Motivate Your Child's School to Become a "Green School"

There are many green schools initiatives across the country. Some may involve grants to schools that make changes like saving energy or creating and integrating sustainable curriculum. Talk to your school's parent-teacher group and the principal about the importance of this type of program to the students. You can learn more at any of these sites:

I’m a junior at New Canaan High School, and I am grateful for the ways my schools have worked environmental lessons into my education. When environmental consciousness starts young, students can form green habits that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. While tight budgets may make it a challenge for schools to make big changes, here are some inexpensive ways to get started greening your school.

1. Save recyclables for art projects.
In elementary and middle school, I remember using common household recyclables in almost every art project. We were encouraged to keep tissue boxes, newspapers, magazines, toilet paper rolls, milk jugs, and more. One popular project was paper mache, which required layers of newspaper usually recovered from our parents. We created collages by cutting scraps from magazines. These projects allowed students to be creative, but used leftover magazines instead of printing images onto fresh pieces of paper.

2. Take a field trip.
Nothing helps a school become greener than a motivated student population. And one of the best ways to get students motivated is through learning about things firsthand. A trip to visit an energy plant, landfill, farm or recycling center can be an eye-opening experience, and most places are willing to give free tours. I will always remember going to a recycling center in third grade and seeing the thousands of plastic items being sorted into different categories. This trip made me realize how significant recycling was for making new items and reducing landfills. These types of outings gives students an opportunity to see how their local community is being affected by their actions and learn how they can be a part of positive changes.

3. Grow a garden.
Creating a small garden can teach students that going green can mean getting dirty. Research shows that while gardening is a great learning platform, it can also encourage healthier eating habits and improve collaborative skills. With a garden, students can work there, eat lunch there, and sell the produce. In my elementary school garden, we would grow flowers and give them to our mothers for Mothers Day. It was a truly green present that reaped many benefits to everyone involved in the growing process.

While there are many great reasons to start a school garden, the task may seem daunting. A key to a successful program will involve a community of people including teachers, students, parents, and community volunteers. Kidsgardening.org has detailed resources on how to build the garden and projects to help students understand the significance of a garden.

4. Conduct a food waste audit.
In cafeterias everywhere, many students are throwing away their milk cartons or apples that come with their lunches. By studying the amount of food that is going to waste in their cafeteria and coming up with solutions to the problem of food waste, students can make a direct impact on their school environment while taking an important lesson with them for the rest of their lives. The Guide to Conducting Food Waste Audits was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the University of Arkansas to help schools get insight into what food is going to waste and how to prevent it.

5. Take action against idling.
As a student, I see the idling as a prevalent issue in the mornings when students sit in their cars before school, and in the afternoon when parents wait for their children with their cars running. By law in Connecticut, three minutes or more of idling is illegal, but this is rarely enforced. Many states have similar laws. Many of these people are not trying to be wasteful and probably don’t even think about it. Or, they have the outdated notion that restarting your car wastes more gas than letting it run.

How to start a green initiative at school

Upgrade your agricultural or horticulture education program

A Rimol Greenhouse is an excellent way to upgrade or augment your agricultural or horticulture program. Our structures will provide your program years of reliable service. In order to ensure that you receive exactly what you need for your program, use the following guide to help plan your greenhouse project.

What is your budget?

Do you need approval from State Ed and/or local building authorities? If these approvals are necessary, before quoting we will need to know the requirements for the State Ed and/or building department are. Our structures can meet the following:

  • Ground snow load
  • Wind load
  • These code requirements are necessary in order to provide a stamped engineered drawing for your submission to the state and/or local authorities for a building permit, if required.
  • If State Ed approval and/or a building permit are not required, we can quote any of our structures to meet your needs.

What size greenhouse do you need?

  • Standard sizes are 20′, 24′ and 30′ wide bays, with lengths 24′ or longer in 12′ increments.
  • Our Matterhorn greenhouse is the most popular structure for schools and can easily meet or exceed most building code requirements.
  • Sketch a floor plan on graph paper and include the following if needed:
  • Bench size and layout
  • Aisle width – handicap accessible?
  • Work area – for how many?
  • Sink and storage?

What else will have to come out of the budget?

  • Construction cost – builder?
  • Water, gas, and electric?
  • Site preparation – excavating, stone, and concrete?
  • If State Ed is involved, an architect is often used to prepare the package for approval.
  • If the structure is going to be connected to the school, an engineer or architect is required.

Do you have any further questions or concerns?

Call (877) 746-6544 to discuss the project with the regional sales representative for your area. We can answer any questions you may have and make sure that you are getting the right structure in order to avoid surprises in the end.

“All sustainable development goals come down to education.”
– Malala Yousafzai (2016)

Education was recognized as an essential element to generate awareness and cultivate understanding on issues prevalent to our Earth at the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992.

How to start a green initiative at schoolAs we look toward fulfilling the ambitious UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, the plan of action for people, planet, and prosperity cannot be met without acknowledging the important connection between educational development and a sustainable learning environment. They are inexplicably linked to the ability to transform pivotal knowledge into conscious action so students can become catalysts for future evolution.

Impact of Environmental Education on Students

90%
Reported
Increased Skills
How to start a green initiative at school

86%
Reported
Positive Changes
How to start a green initiative at school

83%
Reported
Better Environment Related Behaviors
How to start a green initiative at school

That’s why sustainable schools are important; we need to give students the educational program, physical place, and organizational culture to encourage the development of environmentally conscious global citizens. Students spend the majority of their day in a school building during their most crucial developmental years. In this time of pivotal growth, schools must be a space for creative thinking, a source of inspiration, and a starting point for developing a sense of awareness and responsibility. The journey to that goal begins with educating students in a healthy and sustainable environment.

Benefits of Sustainable K-12 Facilities

Executive views on green school performance compared with conventional schools.

87%
How to start a green initiative at school
Reduced Absenteeism

74%
How to start a green initiative at school
Ability to Attract/Retain Teachers

72%
How to start a green initiative at school
Improved Community Image

How to start a green initiative at schoolSustainable schools create an environment where teachers and faculty can cultivate a positive and progressive school culture. Teachers have more opportunities to devise unique learning opportunities and students benefit through increased participation and productivity and improved problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Sustainable schools are the teaching tool that bring together environmental education and community engagement. These collaborative activities inspire all members of the school community, which creates a culture of continuous learning, growth, and development.

Benefits of Implementing a Whole-School Sustainability Program

STUDENTS

SCHOOLS

PLANET

“Sustainable development will not just be a subject in the classroom: it will be in its bricks and mortar and the way the school uses, and even generates, its own power. Our students won’t just be told about sustainable development, they will see and work within it: a living, learning place in which to explore what a sustainable lifestyle means.”
– UK Prime Minister Tony Blair (2004)

How to start a green initiative at schoolAs hubs of communities, schools can help to transform markets, policy, education, and behavior, increase community resilience, mitigate climate change, and prepare citizens to think and act in new and creative ways. Green Schools Alliance envisions a world where every person is aware of and accountable for the impact they have in creating an environmentally, economically, and equitably sustainable future.