What is a Green School?

A Green School Is…

green school /grEn skül / n. a school that creates a healthy environment that is conducive to learning while saving energy, resources and money.

Visit the Center for Green Schools to learn more.



U.S. Department of Education 

While there are many definitions of what a green or sustainable school means, in 2011, Arne Duncan from the U.S. Department of Education defined it for the country when he launched the Green Ribbon Schools (GRS) recognition program, to bring awareness to schools and school districts that are demonstrating excellence in green initiatives. Through this program, US DOE has taken a comprehensive look at schools operations, curriculum offerings and institutional culture around sustainability.  Schools that rise to the top and are awarded the Green Ribbon have demonstrated excellence across their school in three categories:

  1. Reduced environmental impact and costs
  2. Improved health and wellness
  3. Effective environmental and sustainability education

In an effort to bring all schools up to the Green Ribbon level, the best practices and accomplishments of the award winning schools are shared online. Click here to read through all the state’s winning applications.


Characteristics of a Green School

Green, healthy and high-performance schools provide many benefits for students, teachers, parents and the community, including:

Protect Health

Asthma is the primary cause of poor school attendance and schools with poor indoor air quality usually have numerous asthma precursors. Schools built with more natural daylight, better ventilation, and healthy green building materials such as non VOC carpets and paints are healthier for students, teachers and other school employees and result in fewer sick days.

Increase Student Performance

A lack of fresh air can cause reduced attentiveness. Studies have shown that student test scores can improve up to 20% when kids learn in green classrooms that provide more natural daylighting, improved classroom acoustics, and healthier paints and carpets that don’t release toxic chemicals into the air.

Save Energy, Save Money

Operating costs for energy and water in a green school can be reduced by 20% to 40%, allowing more money to be used for teacher salaries, textbooks, and computers.

Reduce Carbon Emissions

Green schools significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In Los Angeles alone, building 34 new green schools would reduce 94,000 tons of CO2 — the equivalent of eliminating more than 15,000 cars from the road every year, or planting more than 280,000 trees.

Reduce Water Usage

On average, a green school reduces water usage 32%. This reduction has direct savings for the building, as well as substantial societal benefits from lower pollution and reduced infrastructure costs to deliver water and to transport and treat wastewater.

Improve Teacher Retention

A green school can reduce teacher turnover by as much as 5%, which results in financial savings for the school, as well as a more positive experience for students.

Improve Daily Attendance

Students in green schools are absent less frequently. By reducing absenteeism just 15%, a typical elementary school would save from $40,000 to $60,000.

Provide A Unique Educational Opportunity

Buildings can become teaching tools and important features of science, math, and environmental curriculum when green features and advanced technology and design in schools are used to excite kids about learning real world applications of green technologies.

Create Green Jobs

Investing in building green schools is an investment in green jobs, including green construction, building product manufacturing, and green architecture.

Improve Equity

Greening public schools creates an opportunity to improve the health and educational settings for all students, regardless of income or background.


How to green your school

To learn about what green steps to take next, consider many of the Center for Green School’s green school programs or the Every School Can Be A Green School: Getting Started Checklist.

Visit the Center’s resources page for a full list of research papers, case studies and green school reports.