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U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

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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 to be an ED-GRS.

Participating states have considerable autonomy on how they select their nominees to ED.  For instance, they may designate a lead who forms a committee. These committees might include representatives from state education agencies, including facilities, health, and curriculum personnel; natural resources, energy, or agriculture agencies; and non-profits working with school sustainability in the state, such as state affiliates of North American Association for Environmental Education, U.S. Green Building Council, Project Learning Tree, and National Wildlife Federation Eco-Schools USA. These partners can help to identify candidates to nominate.

For postsecondary nominees, state selection committees may include input from the governor's office, postsecondary offices, and/or associations of higher education, as appropriate.

ED Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Awardees. Each authority is permitted as many as five pre-K–12 school or district nominations. For nomination as a district, the administrative unit must be comprised of multiple schools. 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, 2 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. School nominees from previous district awardees must document achievements that differentiate the school's work from that already honored districtwide. Authorities are encouraged to consider a school’s or district's academic achievement, success in closing achievement gaps, and diversity when selecting school nominees. 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 3 for progress in all three Pillars. For this award, state selection committees are encouraged to consider diverse types of institutions. 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 documentation of school, district, and postsecondary nominees' progress under the Pillars and Elements, listed below. They are encouraged to reference a variety of widely accepted sustainability standards, certifications, ratings, and programs. Nominating authorities, district officials, and principals (where applicable) must certify compliance with all applicable civil rights, student aid, health, environment, and safety statutory and regulatory requirements.

Nominating authorities are encouraged to engage state health, environmental, and safety authorities; nonprofit 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.

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 it assesses to be the highest performing in their jurisdiction, based on the authorities' evaluation of applicants' progress in all Pillars and every Element.

Authorities should take into account demographic and geographic diversity and success in closing achievement gaps in their selections. 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.

The Three Pillars of the Award

It is important to note that, to be selected for the federal award, states’ ED-GRS nominees must show progress in ALL the following areas, not merely some. These are minimum requirements for the federal award.  Different states may have more specific requirements in any of the following areas.

  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 and renewable energy options and implementation of alternative transportation supportive projects and policies.
  2. Improved Health and Wellness
  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.

State nominating officials are asked to show ED how their nominees are progressing in all three of the above Pillars and encouraged to work with partners to develop their selection process. How each state does that is entirely up to the individual state. There is no required federal application.

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.

2 If a state receives four or fewer applicants and none can be classified as disadvantaged, this provision will not be used to limit the state's nominations to two.

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

Last Modified: 07/18/2022