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U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

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The aim of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) is to inspire schools, districts, and institutions of higher education (IHEs) to strive for 21st-century excellence by highlighting promising school sustainability practices and resources that all can employ. To that end, the award recognizes schools, districts, and IHEs that:

  1. reduce environmental impact and costs;
  2. improve the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff; and
  3. provide effective environmental and sustainability education

Combined progress in ALL three of these areas, known as Pillars, serves as the basis for recognition.

This award conveys no ED funding to states, districts, schools, or IHEs. ED has limited authorities in the areas of school facilities and grounds, health, and curriculum. Most policies and practices in these areas fall within the purview of state and local education authorities. Thus, this school sustainability initiative is a well-intended federal communications and outreach tool structured as a recognition award. It is not a certification or tracking program, though some states may choose to connect it to existing state-based certification programs.

The award uses a small number of honorees each year to communicate practices and resources that all schools can employ. To this end, ED-GRS launched Green Strides, an effort to connect all schools with the resources these honorees are using in the three ‘Pillars’ of the award.  Annual Highlights Reports detail honorees’ replicable practices.  Social media and newsletters share resources and practices in the areas of school facilities, health, and environment.   An annual Green Strides Tour brings further attention to the honorees and their practices.

Another key function of the award is helping to facilitate state and local collaboration around school facilities, health, and environmental education. States are asked to show ED how their nominees are progressing in all three 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.

Honored schools, school districts, and IHEs are announced each spring. The selectees are invited to a fall ceremony in Washington, D.C. where they receive a sustainable plaque; are the subject of media attention; and feel their efforts celebrated. Other schools, in turn, learn about and adopt their practices. States are encouraged to offer additional state recognition titles and events, and to partner with private sector to offer cash prizes, amplifying the impact of their award implementation.

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

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.

Last Modified: 04/21/2022