The Green Ribbon Schools program will recognize schools that have taken great strides in greening their curricula, buildings, school grounds and overall building operations. The program, celebrated during a tree planting ceremony at the Department of Education headquarters, will help cash-strapped schools save money and prepare students for 21st Century jobs.
The Green Ribbon School awards will be given to schools that best exemplify America's transition to a sustainable economy, from graduating environmentally literate students to effectively managing their carbon footprint.
As budget crunches hit school systems across the nation, the Department of Education is providing an innovative solution through the Green Ribbon Schools program to encourage school systems to take a comprehensive approach to becoming a green school by cutting expenses through energy efficiency and green building measures, while at the same time using these sustainable school improvements as part of their efforts to educate students about science, technology and the environment.
"In a time when budgets are tight, the Department of Education is encouraging schools to engage in a creative win-win scenario - cutting expenses while using the school facilities as dynamic learning labs for students," said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. "This federal initiative supports the work of the National Wildlife Federation, which has helped more than 4,000 schools go green over the last 15 years."
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that smarter energy management in schools, which spent between $6-8 billion in 2000 on energy, could reduce energy consumption by as much as 25 percent and cut school energy costs nationally by more than $1 billion annually.
"Today's event marks a significant milestone in the green school movement," said Jim Elder, Director of the Campaign for Environmental Literacy. "Green Ribbon is more than just another award program. It puts the weight of the U.S. Department of Education behind a comprehensive vision for green schools, and with a strong push from everyone involved, will significantly accelerate the adoption rate of green school practices among schools across the country. It sets a very high bar for schools to aim for, while definitively answering the question: what exactly is a green school?"
"No other building type speaks more profoundly to the benefits of green building than the places where our children learn. Green schools reduce energy consumption, save money and foster healthier learning environments for our children," said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chair, U.S. Green Building Council. "The Department of Education's Green Ribbon Schools program is a landmark in progress toward green schools for everyone within this generation, which is the vision for USGBC's Center for Green Schools."
According to 75 national and state organizations that supported the push for the initiative, many states have already established either green school programs or environmental literacy plans. The Green Ribbon program will unify and acknowledge such efforts under a voluntary national award intended to stress innovation and new strategies in environmental curriculum development, teacher training, facilities management, operations and community engagement, with criteria developed by the Department of Education.
"Environmental literacy is an important part of a well-rounded, world-class education," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. "Through the Green Ribbon Schools program, we'll be holding up schools that are leading the way in teaching science and in ways that show students the importance of developing clean energy sources and sustainable solutions for the environment."
The effort to get the Green Ribbon program adopted by the Department was conceived and coordinated by the Campaign for Environmental Literacy (CEL), and the Green Ribbon campaign's steering committee - CEL, Earth Day Network, the National Wildlife Federation and the U.S. Green Building Council - worked for over a year to make this happen.
Launched at the behest of teachers, principals, students and others supporters across the country, the program is to be modeled on the nearly 30-year-old Blue Ribbon Schools program, which recognizes schools whose student bodies have displayed high academic achievement or improvement.