Green Ribbon Schools

Passive strategy classroom designs create sustainable, healthy environments for students

“Preparing our children to be good environmental citizens is some of the most important work any of us can do. Its work that will serve future generations and, quite literally, sustain our world,” said US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on announcing the creation of a new incentive for schools to adopt environmentally friendly building practices.

The Department of Education has added a new color ribbon to its retinue of school awards. The Blue Ribbon Award currently goes to schools who display academic improvement, and now the Green Ribbon will be awarded to sustainable schools. Schools will compete for the award in the arenas of:

  • Energy efficiency and resource conservation
  • Environmental education
  • Community engagement and service learning
  • Healthy operations and maintenance

The Green Ribbon schools program shows unprecedented cooperation between the White House Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Education. The departments already offer incentives, grants and programs to help schools operate in an environmentally responsible manner; the Green Ribbon Awards program ties all of these initiatives together.

The purpose of the Green Ribbon Award is to encourage schools to create a healthier environment for students while educating them on the value of, and methods for, achieving sustainability. Providing such a backdrop will help children to learn about sustainability and our impact on the environment. Schools should strive to create an environmentally literate generation through education while providing healthy, sustainable environments for learners.

What exactly is a sustainable school and, given the budgetary constraints school districts currently face, how would one be created? One of the most cost effective strategies is to use the natural elements.

Studies show that naturally lit classrooms improve student’s performance and test scores (Heschong-Mahone, 1999). Concentration, health and general well-being are also improved. School buildings should devote at least 20% of wall space to windows. Skylights and building orientation aid in maximizing use of natural sunlight. Exterior fins can be installed to control sunlight and prevent overheating. Speciality glass can be used to insulate classrooms to retain heat or reduce glare. Light shelves can be employed to bounce light off white walls and ceilings to ensure that all areas of the classroom are well lit.

Solar PV panels have been utilized as a source of renewable energy while providing shaded parking structures. Solar water heaters provide schools with hot water.

Natural heat from sunlight can be captured and used to heat buildings through thermal mass. Thermal mass structures are designed to absorb heat from the sun and radiate it back into the building. Natural heating methods are complimented by insulated building envelopes. Additional insulation in walls and ceilings prevents heat from escaping and vastly reduces energy consumption. A popular and effective method to insulate new schools is through the use of Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs). The poured concrete walls provide excellent insulation and longevity.

Non-deciduous trees can be planted as wind breaks for protection from cold winter breezes, while vents and windows allow fresh air to circulate and cool buildings in the summer.

Further Reading:

Department of Education Starts Award for ‘Green’ Schools
Thatcher Hall – Darlington Middle School


Green Building

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