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U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

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Note: Schools, districts, colleges and universities do not apply for the award to ED, but to their state education authorities.

Candidates must contact their state departments of education (or equivalent DoDEA or BIE jurisdictions) or state higher education authorities for information on selection in each state.

The Secretary of Education invites Chief State School Officers (CSSOs) and State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEOs) from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, as well as the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) and the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) (“Nominating Authorities”) to nominate schools, districts, and IHEs that they have determined as meeting the criteria. For all award categories, authorities are strongly encouraged to work with other state agencies, non-profit partners, and associations to ensure appropriate expertise and outreach to eligible candidates. For postsecondary nominees, State Selection Committees should include input from the governor’s office, postsecondary offices, and/or associations of higher education, as appropriate.

The authorities must confirm that the nominees meet the minimum requirements established by ED under the Program Requirements section of this document. They must also describe any other criteria used to select the schools, districts, and IHEs as nominees. The authorities may wish to use, develop, or refine existing green, healthy, and sustainability recognition programs, certifications or ratings, and/or run a competition within their jurisdictions in order to identify nominees to the Department, but they are not required to do so.

ED-Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Awardees. Each authority is permitted as many as five Pre-K-12 school or district nominations. If a state or comparable authority wishes to nominate more than two schools or districts, at least one must serve at least 40 percent of students from a disadvantaged background.1 If an authority wishes to make a fifth Pre-K-12 nomination, it must be a private school. For a private school to be nominated, at least one public school or district must be nominated. No more than one of the five nominees in this Pre-K-12 category may be a private school. A school or district may be selected as an honoree only once. Authorities are encouraged to consider a school or district’s academic achievement, success in closing achievement gaps, and diversity when selecting school nominees. Free standing early learning institutions are eligible in this category.

Postsecondary Sustainability Award. In addition to a total of five school and district nominees, each state may nominate one IHE 2 for exemplary achievement in all three Pillars. For this award, State Selection Committees are particularly encouraged to document how the nominees’ sustainability work has reduced college costs, increased completion rates, led to higher rates of employment, and ensured robust civic skills among graduates and to make an appropriate effort to consider diverse types of institutions. Like a school or district, an IHE may be selected as an honoree only once. While ED is not bound to selecting particular numbers of honorees, the final national cohort will be reflective of the full range of types of IHEs, including two- and four-year institutions and public and private institutions.

Program Requirements

State education authorities, including both CSSOs and SHEEOs, working with governor’s offices, higher education officials, and other partners, as appropriate in each state, must submit an evaluation of school, district and postsecondary nominees under the Pillars and Elements, listed below. They are encouraged to use a variety of widely accepted sustainability standards, certifications, ratings, and programs, some listed in the Framework for Evaluation of Schools. Nominating authorities, district officials, and principals (where applicable) must certify compliance with all applicable civil rights, health, environment, and safety statutory and regulatory requirements.

Nominating Authorities are encouraged to engage the collaboration of state health, environmental, and safety authorities; non-profit experts in these areas; and federal agency field offices with appropriate technical expertise. In addition to providing valuable subject matter expertise, these partners can make the task of recruiting applicants and selecting nominees to the Department less cumbersome. For their postsecondary nominees, state selection consortia may include input from governor’s offices, higher education offices, and/or associations of higher education, as appropriate in each state.

Once schools, districts, and IHEs are selected by Nominating Authorities and presented, ED, assisted by other federal agencies, will conduct final review to ensure that schools, districts, and IHEs: 1) are performing in all three Pillars and every Element; 2) comply with all applicable federal civil rights, student aid and federal, state, local, and tribal health, , safety and environmental statutory and regulatory requirements; 3) meet high college- and career-ready academic standards; and 4) in the case of IHEs, pay particular attention to documenting reduced college costs, increased completion rates, higher rates of employment, and robust civic skills among graduates.3

This federal review will determine the national honorees, which will be announced annually on Earth Day. Authorities must, at a minimum, include documentation of high performance in all Pillars and Elements, as well as the health, safety, and environmental statutory and regulatory compliance of nominated schools, districts, and IHEs, as applicable in each case. They are encouraged, but not required, to conduct on-site verification of compliance matters where these are applicable.

Review Criteria Used by the Authorities to Select Nominees

Each authority is invited to nominate up to five schools or school districts and a single IHE that they assess to be the highest performing in their jurisdiction, based on the authorities’ evaluation of applicants’ achievement in all Pillars and every Element. Authorities should take into account demographic and geographic diversity and success in closing achievement gaps in their selections, as ED will do the same in the federal review, aiming for a diverse cohort, representative of the full spectrum of schools, school districts and IHEs across the nation.

ED-Green Ribbon Schools Pillars and Elements
  1. Reduced Environmental Impact and Costs

    • Reduced or eliminated greenhouse gas emissions, using an energy audit or emissions inventory and reduction plan, cost-effective energy efficiency improvements, conservation measures, and/or on-site renewable energy and/or purchase of green power;
    • Improved water quality, efficiency, and conservation;
    • Reduced solid and hazardous waste production through increased recycling, reduced consumption, and improved management, reduction, or elimination of hazardous waste; and
    • Expanded use of alternative transportation, through active promotion of locally-available, energy-efficient options and implementation of alternative transportation supportive projects and policies.

  2. Improved Health and Wellness

    • An integrated school environmental health program based on an operations and facility-wide environmental management system that considers student, visitor, and staff health and safety in all practices related to design, construction, renovation, operations, and maintenance of schools and grounds; and
    • High standards of coordinated school health, including social and psychological services, nutrition, fitness, and quantity of quality outdoor time for both students and staff.

  3. Effective Environmental and Sustainability Education

    • Interdisciplinary learning about the key relationships between dynamic environmental, energy, and human systems;
    • Use of the environment and sustainability to develop STEM content knowledge and thinking skills to prepare graduates for the 21st century technology-driven economy; and
    • Development of civic engagement knowledge and skills and students’ application of such knowledge and skills to address sustainability and environmental issues in their community.

1 A student from a “disadvantaged background” is defined for this program by the CSSO of each state. The definition must include students who are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals and may include students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient, migrant, or receiving services under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Nominating Authorities must indicate the definition used and the percent disadvantaged for each school nominated.

2An IHE is defined in Section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act as public and private non-profit institutions.

3 For more on college and career-ready standards, see:

Please note: ED's award is called "U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools" and has “District Sustainability Award” and "Postsecondary Sustainability Award" categories. "Green Ribbon Schools" without the "U.S. Department of Education" is not ED's award, but instead is a separate program overseen by another organization.

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Last Modified: 05/22/2014