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  1. What is U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS)?
  2. What is the purpose of the ED-GRS recognition award?
  3. What are the ED-GRS Pillars and Elements?
  4. What are the benefits of being selected an U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, District Sustainability Awardee or Postsecondary Sustainability Awardee?
  5. How can all schools benefit from attempting to achieve the ED- GRS Pillars and Elements?
  6. What is the impact of ED-GRS on students, schools, communities, and education?
  7. How do I determine whether my school/ district/ postsecondary institution is eligible?
  8. How does my school/ district/ postsecondary institution apply for the award?
  9. How would I know whether my state nominating authority participates in this award process? What can I do if my state authority does not currently participate?
  10. How many schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions can my state nominate?
  11. How many times can schools, districts, and postsecondary Institutions apply for ED-GRS?
  12. My school is a Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) school; can it be nominated? My school is a Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) school; can it be nominated?
  13. Do private schools, preschools, and charter schools qualify for awards?
  14. Once my state nominating official nominates to ED, what is the review process and timeline for hearing whether we have been selected? How will my school be notified?
  15. Who do I contact about U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools?
  16. Where can I find resources to help my school progress in the three Pillars?
  17. What is the award called, and how should honorees be termed?
  18. When should schools, districts and IHEs begin the application process?
  19. Where can I view examples of past applications?
  20. How does the award vary for school, districts, and postsecondary institutions?
  21. Where can we find the ED-GRS logo, and what are the terms of use?
  22. Do you have to spend a lot of money to become a green school?
  23. Is Pillar III STEAM/ STEM?
  24. Does ED-GRS require a long, complicated application?
  25. Are only new school buildings eligible for ED-GRS?
  26. Is ED-GRS for K-12 schools only?
  27. Are green schools just about energy efficiency?
  28. Please note

1. What is U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS)?

U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) is an outreach initiative that helps to promote innovative school sustainability practices and resources and multi-agency, multi-sector collaborations at a variety of levels (federal, state, school).

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2. What is the purpose of the ED-GRS recognition award?

The purpose of the ED-Green Ribbon Schools recognition award is to highlight schools, districts, and Institutions' of Higher Education (IHEs) cost-saving, health promoting, and performance-enhancing sustainability practices in the area of our three Pillars and Elements, thereby encouraging other schools, districts and IHEs to adopt similarly innovative practices.

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3. What are the ED-GRS Pillars and Elements?

The Pillars and corresponding Elements are broad and inclusive of many of the elements of existing green schools programs in which you may already be participating, although they may be stated slightly differently. They are:

  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

      High standards of coordinated school health 4, including health, nutrition, and outdoor physical education; health, counseling, and psychological services for both students and staff; family community involvement; and an integrated school environmental health program that considers occupant health and safety in all design, construction, renovation, operations, and maintenance of facilities and grounds.

  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.

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4. What are the benefits of being selected an U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, District Sustainability Awardee or Postsecondary Sustainability Awardee?

U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees are nationally recognized as some of America's most successful educational institutions in reducing their environmental impact and costs; improving health and wellness; and providing effective sustainability education.

Schools, districts and postsecondary institutions selected may report a renewed sense of pride and accomplishment. They may be sought out as mentors to others schools, districts, or postsecondary institutions; and/or may find greater success raising funds and recruiting students.

Each year, representatives from all honorees are invited to Washington, D.C. for a ceremony to celebrate their successes. They are honored with a sustainable plaque to commemorate their achievement.

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5. How can all schools benefit from attempting to achieve the ED- GRS Pillars and Elements?

National studies and existing green schools programs have indicated benefits such as cost savings; improved student and staff productivity and health; increased student engagement, enhanced critical thinking skills, civic skills, preparation for green jobs of the future, and reduced behavioral problems.

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6. What is the impact of ED-GRS on students, schools, communities, and education?

ED-GRS recognizes a handful of the highest-performing sustainable schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions in the nation each year. The program then uses these examples to communicate innovative practices and highlight critical resources that any school can employ. By communicating cost-saving, health-promoting, and performance-enhancing sustainability practices and resources, the recognition award can impact students, teachers, and instruction in all schools, not just the annual honorees.

The award is also changing how government works. As a result of the award, education, natural resource, health, and energy agencies in both state and federal governments are working together to implement nominee selection processes and, in so doing, bringing more resources and expertise to schools.

Finally, ED-GRS has provided facilities, health and environmental education-focused non-governmental organizations with a clear, comprehensive definition of green schools, allowing the many different green schools programs across the country to unite behind shared goals.

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7. How do I determine whether my school/ district/ postsecondary institution is eligible?

A good candidate for the award would be progressing in every Pillar and Element and using many of the resources and programs listed on Green Strides.

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8. How does my school/ district/ postsecondary institution apply for the award?

Schools, districts, colleges, and universities do not apply directly to ED for the award, but instead to their state education authorities. Candidates must contact their state departments of education (or equivalent Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) or Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) jurisdictions) or state higher education authorities for information on selection in each state. State participation in the award is voluntary, and not all state education authorities choose to nominate schools, districts, or colleges and universities. Hearing from interested schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions may be helpful to state authorities in determining whether to participate.

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9. How would I know whether my state nominating authority participates in this award process? What can I do if my state authority does not currently participate?

States with established participation have contacts listed at this link.  If your state does not already nominate, you can contact your Chief State School Officer or State Higher Education Executive Officer and request that they participate. Every year, schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions have successfully contacted and informed their state education authorities about the opportunity to nominate for this award.  If state education authorities decline to participate by nominating schools, no schools, districts, or postsecondary institutions in that state are eligible for the award.

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10. How many schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions can my state nominate?

Annually, each state is invited to nominate as many as five pre-K-12 school or district nominations, and one college or university, for a maximum of six nominations.  Many states choose to nominate fewer than the maximum of six.

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11. How many times can schools, districts, and postsecondary Institutions apply for ED-GRS?

ED-GRS is not a certification program or a rating system.  The award is intended as a tool to communicate practices and resources that all schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions can use.  For this reason, any given institution can receive the award only once.  Districts with districtwide sustainability policies and practices should not submit one school after another, describing the same (or very similar) policies and practices, but rather seek recognition as a division. Any district having received recognition that subsequently wishes to put forth additional schools must clearly document how the nominated school is going beyond what was already honored. The various pre-existing benchmarking programs that encourage the enrollment of many schools are a good tool for these situations. Some examples of these are Eco-Schools USA, which is aligned to the ED-GRS Pillars, and the many state-specific programs such as the Maryland Green Schools Program.

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12. My school is a Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) school; can it be nominated? My school is a Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) school; can it be nominated?

Yes. Both DoDEA and BIE schools are eligible for the award.

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13. Do private schools, preschools, and charter schools qualify for awards?

Yes. Private schools, preschools, and charter schools may also be nominated for the award through their state education agency.  They count toward the five Pre-K-12 nominations a state may make annually.

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14. Once my state nominating official nominates to ED, what is the review process and timeline for hearing whether we have been selected? How will my school be notified?

Once schools, districts, and IHEs are selected by state authorities and nominated, ED conducts a final review to ensure that schools, districts, and IHEs: 1) are progressing in all three Pillars and every Element and 2) comply with all applicable federal civil rights, student aid and federal, state, local, and tribal health, safety and environmental statutory and regulatory requirements. This federal review determines the national honorees, which are announced each spring.

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15. Who do I contact about U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools?

If you have questions about the program, or if you believe your institution qualifies and would like to request that your state authority consider your school for nomination, you can find contact information on the websites below.

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16. Where can I find resources to help my school progress in the three Pillars?

A site built through the generous support of the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Counsil

Green Strides offers all schools, districts, and IHEs tools that help them move toward the Pillars of the recognition award. The award does not single out one program or standard, but instead encourages all schools, districts, and IHEs to use  the many helpful resources available. The Green Strides newsletter highlights pertinent grant deadlines, related events, and upcoming webinars.

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17. What is the award called, and how should honorees be termed?

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. A selected school is a “[Year] U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School.” A selected district is a “[Year] U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School District Sustainability Awardee.” A selected postsecondary institution is a “[Year] U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School Postsecondary Sustainability Awrdee.”  There is no “National” or “Program” in the name.

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18. When should schools, districts and IHEs begin the application process?

Most honorees spend years working on their sustainability efforts by using the many resources and programs listed here. Once an institution can document progress in all three Pillars, it should contact the appropriate state education authority.   State application deadlines will vary, but it generally is helpful to get started as early as possible, usually in the summer or early fall for the next awards cycle, when most states have a winter submission deadline and then submit nominees in February.

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19. Where can I view examples of past applications?

All past honorees' submissions are posted at this link.  Note that ED has a submission page limit of 20 pages. In some cases, state authorities have condensed longer state applications, providing just the summaries to ED.

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20. How does the award vary for school, districts, and postsecondary institutions?

The award is structured very similarly, with ED asking state authorities to document how their nominees are progressing in every Pillar and Element of the award, using as many standards, programs, and other pre-existing measures as possible.

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21. Where can we find the ED-GRS logo, and what are the terms of use?

The ED-Green Ribbon Schools logo is available by request to honorees. It is specific to the year in which the institution was selected.  ED-Green Ribbon Schools awardees are permitted to display their status using the ED-GRS logo and the year in which they received the award. They may not at any time display the logo or advertise their ED-GRS status without using the year in which the award was received.

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22. Do you have to spend a lot of money to become a green school?

Through conservation behaviors, efficiency upgrades, waste reduction, and renewable energy, honorees are saving millions of dollars annually, and putting that money into more staff positions, more school garden materials, and engaging, hands-on field trips, among many other possibilities. Precisely because school budgets are tight, administrators must be concerned with resource efficiency.

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23. Is Pillar III STEAM/ STEM?

The ED-GRS Pillar III asks for applicants to show that they are teaching effective environmental and sustainability education – that is, hands-on, project-based, authentic learning about how humans relate in dynamic, interdependent environmental, economic, and social systems.  The best sustainability education we’ve seen is integrated through all subjects, including arts, languages, and social studies, and not limited to science class.  To receive this award, it is not enough to have a robust STEM program.  Schools must ground themselves in environmental education and education for sustainability.

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24. Does ED-GRS require a long, complicated application?

States are asked to show ED how their nominees are progressing in all three Pillars. How each state does that is entirely up to the individual state. Though there is no required federal application, over the years, ED has encouraged states to simplify their application processes.

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25. Are only new school buildings eligible for ED-GRS?

No. The ED-GRS award criteria are designed so that schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions, whether they are old or new, rural or urban, small or large, two-year or four-year, can qualify under the criteria. ED asks state education authorities to send their highest-performing nominees across the Pillars. Federal reviewers don’t pit states or nominees against one another, nor do they compare different types of institutions.

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26. Is ED-GRS for K-12 schools only?

No. While ED began with just a school award in 2012, it added a District Sustainability Award in 2013; a Director’s Award (to honor a state official advancing sustainable schools practices) in 2014; and a Postsecondary Sustainability Award to honor institutions of higher education in 2015. Early learning institutions are also eligible and count toward states’ five PK-12 nominees annually. Though the bulk of the nominations are for schools, ED-GRS now honors selectees from every category each year.

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27. Are green schools just about energy efficiency?

A green school, as ED has defined it, means all three Pillars, not just one. The selection process has turned away highly efficient, green building standard-rated schools when they were not demonstrating a commitment to other Pillars, such as sustainability education. Along the same vein, not all green schools feature renewable energy. That is an add-on, but never a requirement. Most schools are doing less glamorous but faster payback retrofits and educating their community on conservation behaviors.

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28. 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: 06/28/2018