Which schools are winning the green awards this year, and what did they do to earn them?

by Brianna Crandall — March 29, 2017 — The Center for Green Schools at the U.S Green Building Council (USGBC), in collaboration with the Green Schools National Network (GSNN), announced last week the 2017 Best of Green Schools award recipients.

The awards recognize 11 individuals, institutions, projects, and events representing the best environmental efforts in the whole gamut of K-12 and post-secondary schools across the country, and highlight the national leaders and innovators in school sustainability for the year. The award honorees were announced at the Green Schools Conference and Expo in Atlanta, Georgia.

Recipients include:

  • Ambassador: Dr. Karla Utting (Miami, FL): Dr. Utting has played an instrumental role in making Dream in Green the leading environmental education organization focused on K-12 students in South Florida. During her tenure, she has brought the Green Schools Challenge to more than 100 schools and launched the Green Leadership Grants and the Water and Energy Learning and Behavior programs.
  • Business Leader: VMDO Architects (Charlottesville, VA): A pioneer in net-zero-energy school design, VMDO provides educational environments that are not only carbon-neutral, but data-rich to facilitate tangible, age-appropriate environmental lessons, including beautiful visual tools and real-time data on energy and water usage, for school projects and lesson plans.
  • Collaborator: Stefan Anderson (Land O’Lakes, WI): As the head of the Conserve School, Anderson developed the curriculum for the Conserve School Semester Program, a semester-long immersion program for high school students from around the country focused on teaching lifelong environmental stewardship and promoting careers in sustainability.
  • Higher Ed Institution: Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ): ASU extends its efforts in sustainability education through a variety of programs for middle and high school students, like the ASU Poly Garden, which leases three of its 48 campus community garden plots to ASU Preparatory Academy’s sixth and seventh grade classrooms and high school environmental science students each semester. To date, the students have logged approximately 2,400 hours in the garden and donated more than 135 pounds of produce to the local food bank. ASU also manages two sustainability education programs, the Sustainability Science Education program and Sustainability Teachers’ Academy.
  • K-12 School (K-8): Prairie Crossing Charter School (Grayslake, IL): Prairie Crossing is committed to environmental learning and green practices. More than 400 K-8 students learn daily in a LEED-certified building surrounded by approximately 40 food gardens, native landscaping, and outdoor classroom spaces. Students complete service projects, such as the creation and installation of rain barrels, growing fresh vegetables to donate to local food pantries, and helping local businesses “go green.”
  • K-12 School (High School): Boston Latin School Youth Climate Action Network (Boston, MA): BLS YouthCAN is a youth-led environmental club whose efforts have resulted in the installation of a 28-panel solar array, 350 trays of vegetation on the school’s green roof, and water bottle filling stations throughout the school. The zero-sort recycling program reduced waste by 50 percent, and helped implement a $75,000 lighting retrofit, saving an estimated $33,000 in energy costs annually. BLS YouthCAN also hosts an annual school-wide teach-in on climate change and sustainability.
  • Moment for the Movement: California’s Environmental Literacy Steering Committee (San Francisco, CA): After the release of “A Blueprint for Environmental Literacy,” California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson established the Environmental Literacy Steering Committee (ELSC) to implement this unique plan’s recommendations in more than 1,000 school districts and reach the state’s 6.2 million students.
  • School System: Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (Chapel Hill, NC): This district has limited its carbon footprint, reducing emissions by 20 percent, or 5,250 metric tons, which has saved an estimated $1.5 million. The district has also implemented a district-wide cafeteria-composting program that has diverted 500,000 pounds of waste from the landfill in just two years. All student activities, from energy reduction and solar demonstrations to composting, are now connected to classroom curriculum to reach all 12,000 students.
  • Student Leader: Hillcrest Elementary School — Student Green Team (Oak Harbor, WA): As a result of the Green Team’s petition to the Harbor Schools School Board, the school switched from Styrofoam to compostable trays in November 2016, which decreased waste production by 75 percent and lowered the school’s waste hauling costs by 50 percent.
  • Transformation: The San Francisco Unified School District (San Francisco, CA): With a goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2040, this district has transformed the process by which it designs, constructs, and modernizes its buildings. The district is identifying a pathway to achieve zero net energy (ZNE) for existing buildings, requiring all new buildings to achieve ZNE-ready status and mandating that deferred maintenance projects must adhere to a strict set of ZNE guidelines. All district vehicles will also be required to run on electricity or low-carbon fuels by 2030.
  • Policymaker: Joseph DaSilva, Ph.D., school construction coordinator, Rhode Island Department of Education (Providence, RI): DaSilva has been at the forefront of the green schools movement in New England, first as an architect and now as the leader of the R.I. School Building Authority at the R.I. Department of Education. In this role, DaSilva has championed green school design and construction standards for all major capital improvement projects, produced more than $100 million in savings for local communities, and facilitated the state’s first net zero energy school, the Paul W. Crowley East Bay Metropolitan Career and Technical Center.

For more information about the impressive environmental efforts at these schools and others, as well as green school resources, see the Center for Green Schools Web site.