Similar to the Blue Ribbon award that distinguishes academic excellence, the U.S. Government will soon be launching a national program that will recognize schools that demonstrate high levels of involvement and concern with the environment. The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) program was first proposed by the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality on April 26, 2011 and its anticipated release is expected later this month, after final details of the program are worked out.
The program will award a Green Ribbon to schools based on the following criteria:
- the energy efficiency and environmental impact of the school and its teachers, students, and staff.
- how going green has improved the school’s teachers, students, and staff, such as health and social improvements.
- the level of environmental literacy and knowledge the students acquire in school.
Until September 14, the Department of Education is requesting and asking the public for comments and suggestions regarding the program.
Applauding the efforts and achievements of eco-friendly schools is not the only purpose of the program. The government also hopes that other schools will be encouraged to go green because not only is it good for the environment, but it offers a number of other benefits.
What are some of the benefits of going green any school can enjoy? First, any school would like to save money. Schools that strive for energy efficiency usually enjoy some money savings. Energy efficient appliances, lighting, and electronics use less energy and lowers electric bills.
Another way some schools go green, although somewhat extreme, is by eliminating paper at school. However, there is no clear advantage paperless schools have over schools that use paper because there are numerous trade offs. Paperless schools help saves trees but rely heavily on computers and electronics. Using computers drains electricity and manufacturing them often involves toxins and environmentally damaging processes. Also, the heavy reliance on computers and electronics introduces another problem: a rise in electronic waste, which is much more of a hassle to recycle or dispose of than paper.
Of course, some of the environmental harm computers can do can be minimized. Many computer and computer parts manufacturers are increasingly striving to develop products that have minimal impact on the environment. Antec has developed their Earthwatts line of power supplies which uses a third less energy than comparable power supplies without compromising performance. Also, electricity can be provided by renewable sources, such as solar panels or biofuels.
Another benefit of going green is the positive effects it has on teachers, students, and staff. For example, a school that serves local food and avoids processed or pre-packaged food can certainly improve the physical health of its occupants and lessen its impact on the environment. Locally grown foods lack additives, preservatives, and chemicals and decrease fuel costs. Local foods are usually more nutritious than processed or packaged food. Foods that are shipped from afar, processed, or pre-packaged all required additional resources and energy before being served. Additionally, packaging can be a source of litter.
Schools can also go green by utilizing cleaner modes of transportation. Using fuel efficient or electric buses or shuttles or promoting walking or bicycling to school reduces pollution and can be a form of healthy, physical exercise.
Lastly, going green and increasing knowledge among the youth would be a benefit, not only to schools, but to society as a whole. Promoting environmental literacy in schools increases awareness and can even dispel common myths and misconceptions about going green. Some people may be discouraged from becoming more environmentally friendly because, to them, “going green” may mean flashy solar panels, acres of forest, a radical change in your diet or lifestyle, or an empty wallet.
However, teaching people that going green can be easy and accessible to anyone would encourage them to adopt environmentally conscious practices. Kids can learn about solar panels and renewable energy and why they are advantageous but children can also learn that turning off lights and televisions when not in use saves energy, too. Going green is also about being creative and imaginative; there are no set rules and the opportunities are endless.
As the government has initiated numerous environmental programs and initiatives, the Green Ribbon Schools program hopes to furthermore encourage schools and communities to go green. The program looks to be more promising because it actively involves children and students, a group of people that sometimes is overlooked.
Photo credit: ed.gov/blog/2011/05/green-ribbon-school-resources