Green Your School: 5 Ways to Convert Your School into a Center for Sustainability

SCA Earth Day Volunteer Pulling Invasive Species in California

Students all over the United States are checking class schedules and shouldering backpacks for another year of learning and growth. But as you head back to school this year, don’t leave your passion for sustainability at the door. Your school needs you – more than you might know. According to the Green Schools Initiative, schools lag behind other sectors when it comes to recycling and sustainability, and “Waste from schools – primarily food and paper – represents about four percent of the municipal waste stream.” Even worse, “Many schools do not recycle and fewer still purchase recycled or ‘green’ products.”

The good news is that it doesn’t take much to start making a huge difference. In fact, with some small changes, your school can be converted into a veritable center for sustainability. Consider implementing one of these five changes – or all of them!

1. Recycle…Really!

Many schools today still do not recycle – which is shocking when you consider that about 40 percent of a school’s waste stream is comprised only of paper. If your school doesn’t already have a recycling program in place, motivate your administrators to adopt one. This handy guide will walk you through the steps, from assembling a team and analyzing your trash to creating a collection system, promoting your initiative, and evaluating it to make necessary changes.

2. Audit Your Food

Isn’t auditing for money, you may ask? Actually, auditing is a way of rooting out waste wherever it exists – and in the lunches you’re served, there is a lot of it. In fact, schools in the U.S. throw out about $1.2 billion in food each year! To that end, the EPA, together with the Department of Agriculture and the University of Arkansas, came up with a guide to conducting a food waste audit at your school. Not only will you gain new knowledge – think science project! – but you can also turn wasted food into compost that can be used for our next idea (see No. 3 below).

3. Start a School Garden

It’s hard to know where to begin to describe the benefits gardening has – fortunately, the Tampa Bay School Garden Network summarized them here. Gardens are educational in disciplines from science to math to language arts (think garden journaling), while also promoting nutrition, environmental stewardship and connections to nature – reducing the incidence of depression and ADHD. And if you use the fruits of school gardens to prepare your meals or snacks, better still!

4. Form a Car, Bike, or Walk Pool

Although many schools provide public transportation, it’s not always universally available or flexible enough if you go early or stay late, for athletics and other activities. In addition to being more adaptable, transportation pools are eco-friendly time-savers that encourage community, new friendships, and exercise. And with the Safe Routes program, you can organize safe ways to walk or bike to school, wherever you live.

5. Make Your Curriculum Green

In order for green efforts to be truly lasting, it’s important that they be incorporated into your school’s curriculum – effectively turning your school into an exciting, participatory laboratory for ecology and conservation. The Green Schools Initiative is chock-full of ideas and tips for “teaching green,” as well as a directory of sustainability-based curricula. What is important, ultimately, is that greening not become a top-down obligation but rather a bottom-up initiative, with room for you, as students, to experiment and become empowered; as more and more schools are finding, it is the “pupil power” of an engaged student body that make these efforts reach their potential.

Of course, these ideas are not restricted to schools alone: while you are helping turn your schools green, your older siblings can take these ideas to college while your parents plant them in the workplace. Nature is everywhere – inside and out – and it’s up to us to maintain our connection to it, wherever we find ourselves spending time.


For more tips on how to buy sustainable school supplies, check our related article here.