Your guide to making this school year the greenest yet

Published on: 
30 Aug 2018
Kristen Keim

The beginning of the school year is the time to make new, sustainable habits. Want to dedicate this year to zero waste lunches or eliminating single-use plastics? As a parent, teacher, student or school administrator, there are easy ways to reduce the school's and your own personal environmental footprints. Start the year out strong, with sustainability in mind.

Parents and students: Put your best foot forward

  • Back-to-school shopping: While new supplies are always fun and exciting, there are plenty of last year’s items that are reusable. Reusing items is friendly not only to the environment, but also to your wallet. For supplies that can’t be reused, look for items that are made from recycled materials and have Forest Stewardship Council, Green Seal and Safer Choice labels. For more details, read our back-to-school shopping guide.
  • Zero waste: Reducing waste doesn’t just apply to school supplies. Reduce waste this year by making zero waste lunches, reusing water bottles and recycling. If you don’t already have one, buy a reusable lunch bag, and pack zero waste lunches. Extra points for getting everyone involved in making lunches, for lifelong lessons on healthy eating!
  • Reduce carbon emissions from transportation: If your school is close enough to walk or bike, ditch the car a few times a week. The exercise helps students focus in school, reduces your carbon emissions and saves you money. If students can’t or shouldn’t walk alone, form a neighborhood walking school bus. If your school isn’t located within walking distance, talk to administrators about starting a match-making effort to help families find one another for carpooling.
  • Start or join an environmental club: Make changes both at your home and in school by starting or joining an environmental club. A club can convene other like-minded students to start recycling and composting programs, initiatives to use reusable or non-plastic silverware or energy efficiency improvements. To get the whole school involved, host a Green Apple project.

Teachers and staff: Set the tone for the year

  • Back-to-school shopping: Before creating your supply list, consider what students really need to bring versus what can be reused from last year. For the items that students need to bring, encourage recycled, healthy and eco-friendly options with “suggested types.”
  • Zero waste:
    —Do you have markers that are dried out? Check out Crayola ColorCycle, which takes dried-out markers and refills them with ink to reduce waste and save money.
    —Tired of having to sort out the classroom recycling and trash bins? Avoid the confusion by using the first days of school to teach students what goes in each bin and placing signs displaying the relevant types of items. Check out Learning Lab for waste lessons to teach your class.
    —Show students how easy reducing waste is by creating classroom and school challenges. Compete among other classes and offer prizes to the class that creates the least amount of waste in a month. Use the waste-reducing Green Apple project idea for inspiration.
  • Sustainable education: Build sustainability concepts into your curriculum. This can be as simple as providing math problems that calculate water consumption or as complex as students conducting a school-wide water audit. Learning Lab is a great place to find high-quality lessons that are aligned to national standards and ready to implement.
  • Green Classroom Professional Certificate: Want to learn how to make your classroom and school the most sustainable it can be? Consider taking, or having your teachers take, the Green Classroom Professional course. The class guides school staff on steps to increase sustainability in schools.
  • Green cleaning: Set up green cleaning in your school or classroom. Buy and use cleaning supplies with Green Seal or EPA’s Safer Choice logo and implement integrated pest management. For more guidance about these types of programs, check out green cleaning Green Apple projects. If you can’t set policy, but want to create and implement whole-school green cleaning programs, use our advocacy toolkit to talk to your school decision makers.

Check out Green Apple Project Ideas for more inspiration