What are the environmental issues facing American schools and the children and adults who spend their days in them? Schools in growing numbers are addressing issues that can be understood in four groups, or "Pillars," as in the graphic below. The Pillars deal primarily with facilities and resource use, and rethinking how schools approach waste and purchasing.

Understanding and addressing the issues described in the Four Pillars help us make progress on the ecological and health challenges schools l face while heightening student engagement and achievement. The GSEE School will educate the school community about the environment while transforming the environment into a healthy, vibrant ecosystem that can catalyze change in the broader community.

Read the Report:

The GSEE School: Thinking Big About Environmental Health and Ecological Sustainability in K-12 Schools in the U.S.

One in five Americans —55 million children, teachers, administrators, nurses and janitors—spend their days in K–12 schools. Yet our current school systems are models of unsustainability that threaten children's health, and contribute significantly to society's broader environmental and health problems.

The GSEE goal is to create schools that are healthy environments for students and staff; schools that promote ecological sustainability, by using alternatives to toxic chemicals, pursuing green building and maintenance practices, changing resource consumption patterns, serving nutritious food, and teaching students to be thoughtful stewards of their communities, the earth and its resources.

Strive to be Toxics Free

Overcrowding, toxic waste sites, polluted indoor air, toxic chemical and pesticide use, mold, lead in paint and drinking water, asbestos....These are words that make us cringe, yet almost ten years into the 21st century, these all continue to threaten the health and well-being of American children at school. Much of the debate about conditions in and around schools focuses on drug use, violence, budget cuts and test scores. But the threat to schoolchildren from environmental health problems is just as real.
Many childhood diseases are on the rise. Asthma afflicts nearly 5 million children in the US, and is the primary cause of school absenteeism. The rates of many types of childhood cancer have risen, as have learning disabilities. Many scientists believe that a great number of these diseases and learning problems can be related to children’s exposure to environmental health hazards in the womb and in their environment—including at school.
But parents, teachers, students and communities are demanding -- and creating -- change. Discover how you can create a toxics free environment at your school. It's simpler than you think.
Children's Exposure to Toxics: Costs and Solutions
Children's exposure to toxics has been all over the news lately. That's because concern is growing nationwide over the shocking costs of those exposures, and their impacts on children's health. Chemical exposure during childhood has been linked to serious conditions like asthma, cancer, and ADHD. Schools can stem the tide.
National Healthy Schools Day Helps Clear the Air - And You Can, Too!
Schools around the nation celebrated healthy and green indoor school environments on Monday April 11th as part of the 9th annual National Healthy Schools Day. And the air needs clearing: the EPA has estimated that half of all U.S. schools have indoor air problems. Your school can take these simple low-cost or free steps to improve indoor air at school.
Press Release: New Data Show Schools Ignore Children's Health
“Parents are stunned when they discover schools have known about environmental factors affecting their child and have done little or nothing. Then they learn that no agency responds either. Every effort should be made to intervene when children are in harm’s way.”
EPA Schools Chemical Cleanout Campaign
There are literally tons of chemicals in schools nationwide that need to be removed. Use the EPA's Schools Chemical Cleanout Campaign (SC3) resources to rid your school of potentially dangerous chemicals.
"This Vinyl School": Interactive Tool to Rid Schools of PVC
CHEJ has released a great new interactive website to help us identify poisonous PVC plastics in our schools and replace them with safer alternatives.
Cleaning for Asthma Safe Schools (CLASS): The Green Cleaning Toolkit
Start a green cleaning pilot program in your school district! These tools will help you take inventory of existing products and practices, and test certified green products to see how they measure up.
Indoor Air Quality: Strategies for Maintaining Healthy Learning Environments
Read the report by the Environmental Law Institute that discusses the role state policy can play in advancing best practices for Indoor Air Quality management in schools.
If You Can't Breathe, You Can't Learn! Cleaning for Healthy Schools
How PTAs can help schools switch to green cleaning to save money, boost student achievement, and safeguard health.
The Green Seal Standard
Green Cleaners Get the Seal of Approval
Use Safer Disinfectants and Disinfecting Practices
Since both disinfectants and sanitizers contain chemicals that are designed to kill organisms, it's critical that they be chosen carefully and used properly. Here are our recommendations about best practices.
School Custodians Choose Clean and Green
Custodians make small changes that have a big impact
Toxins and Brain Damage in Children
British medical journal The Lancet reports that millions of children worldwide may have brain damage from the effects of industrial chemicals.
Can We Get Toxic Metals Out of Children's Products?
In response to multiple product safety recalls in 2010, Bay Area Rep. Jackie Speier introduced legislation that would set standards for toxic metals found in children's products.
Toxic Toys
Chemical found in baby products and toys may trigger breast cancer
Toxic Air at School
Citizens demand action to clean up air surrounding schools
Artificial Turf: The Dangerous Downside
Turf made of nylon or nylon/polyethylene fibers may expose children to dangerous levels of lead.
Manteca Schools Make the Switch to Green Cleaners
Recent research shows that a typical assortment of cleaning products released 457 distinct chemicals into the air. Ordinary cleaning supplies are fouling classroom air with toxic airborne contaminants.
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Selects Green Cleaning Chemicals
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is switching to green cleaning procedures and green cleaners for use in classrooms and district facilities. With a grant from the State of California Department of Health, the District will receive training for custodial, facilities and purchasing staff on the hazards of conventional cleaners, and how to select and purchase safer, more environmentally preferable cleaners.
States Rack Up Green Cleaning Successes
More than a dozen states have passed bills requiring green cleaning in schools in the last couple of years. Momentum is growing, as about a half dozen other states caught on in 2009-10, introducing legislation for green cleaning in schools.

Use Resources Sustainably

Taken collectively, schools are major consumers of energy, and contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. They also have the potential to use resources sustainably and become producers of their own power. This potential, combined with their ability to teach the next generation and communities of families by example, makes schools strategic actors in the drive to transform the world's energy and resource consumption from a destructive model toward more sustainable patterns of development.

For a fuller discussion of sustainability issues, read Pillar 2: Sustainable Resource Use in our Report. To get started on a more sustainable path right now, click on the links below:

Green Fundraising

Green Your Events
Use Energy Star's Computer Power Management (CPM)
To free up hundreds or even thousands of dollars with little or no upfront costs, activate computer power management features on all PCs and laptops within your district's network. Activating power management on a computer and monitor can save your school district $60 – $100 per computer per year, which can add up to serious savings. And by saving energy, you're preventing air pollution and helping the environment.
Energy Efficiency Dashboard Wins Award
For the 2nd year in a row, QA Graphics' Energy Efficiency Education Dashboard was named the best Energy Conservation product by Environmental Design + Construction and Sustainable Facility magazines' annual Readers Choice Awards.
UPDATE: California Schools Chief Leads Drive for Energy Efficiency in Schools
California's State Superintendent Tom Torlakson wants to ensure that school construction projects incorporate energy efficiency and renewable power, so he's creating a "Schools of the Future" team to make it easier for schools to build energy efficiency into every project.
High Tech, Big Impact: Energy Efficiency Tools for Schools
The huge majority of the nation's over 130,000 schools are significant energy consumers and contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Schools can lead the way in energy efficiency and sustainable resource use by taking advantage of high-tech 21st Century tools to drastically reduce energy use.
"Energy Efficient Schools Initiative" Launched
By engaging students in hands-on STEM projects, the Energy Efficient Schools Initiative plans to introduce its green experiential education model in 500 schools by the end of 2012.
Update: Solar Powered Schools
Creative financing options allow schools to produce electricity, save money, reduce greenhouse gases and provide a valuable learning opportunity for students and adults alike.
Beyond the Bake Sale...New Solar Fundraising for Schools
Sungevity, a Diamond-certified solar installer based in Oakland, California, is partnering with public and independent schools in California, Arizona and Colorado to raise money for schools while helping school communities go solar.
Safe Routes to School
Get kids walking and bicycling to school to promote exercise, reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and save gas and money - all while having fun! Organize a walk or ride to school event for World Environment Day June 5, 2011.
"Junior Energy" Changes the Nation's Light Bulbs
How many kids does it take...?

Green Purchasing
Green Back-to-School Supplies
Environmentally-friendly purchases for school can make a huge difference
Green Schools Buying Guide
We've launched a new Green Schools Buying Guide to help schools make purchasing decisions that will protect children's health and the environment. Schools spend billions of dollars on facilities, energy and water, office and school supplies, cleaners and pesticides, food and play equipment. Why not leverage these funds to benefit our health and the environment? We can! Through Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) or Green Purchasing.

The Five R's
6 Resources for Becoming a Zero Waste School
Use these guides, tips and tools to help your school reduce waste, save money and build a better future.
Changing Paper Consumption
Your school can protect ancient forests by recycling and buying recycled paper
Districts Save Paper, Time, and Money with Paperless Governance Solutions
BoardDocs, a Web 2.0 paperless e-governance solution, is helping school districts save paper, time, and money.
First Green Modular Classrooms Arrive at Albany High
Who says schools can't have state-of-the-art, budget friendly green classrooms buildings? Four Gen7 modular classrooms made their Bay Area debut at Albany High School in Albany on June 3rd. The classrooms offer a range of eco-friendly features, an inspiring learning environment and a budget-friendly price tag.
Of Dryer Lint, Plastics and Petroleum Products: 2011 Earth Day Stories
It was all about the impact of plastics at Santa Barbara's Montecito School's Earth Day Movie Night. At Cleveland Elementary in San Francisco, students enjoyed a hands-on Earth Day science fair outdoors. For their Earth Day project, students at Wade Thomas, a K-5 in San Anselmo, entered a Creative Reuse Contest and won a valuable prize.
Prospect Sierra School's Zero Waste Lunch Efforts - Now on Eco-Company TV!
Fourth graders at Prospect Sierra lead the way to measure and reduce school food waste with an annual waste audit. This year, several alumni, now in high school, returned to see how the program they helped initiate is making a difference. Watch the new video by Eco-Company TV.
Schools: Waste Not!
Simple ways schools can help dry up the waste stream, especially at lunch.
Short Video Tells "The Real Story of Water"
"The Cycle of Insanity: The Real Story of Water," a short animated video, exposes the dangers of current water management practices and offers simple common sense solutions to sustainably managing this precious resource.
Student Carrotmob is Saving the World One Scoop at a Time
"This whole event has made us take a deep look at everything we can do to become more sustainable and we plan to continue making greener improvements as time goes on." That's the conclusion of the owners of Sugar Cone Cafe in Kensington where Prospect Sierra students and families recently held a Carrotmob.
Textile Recycling: Get a Bin and Get Paid for Recycling
Recycling at school now goes beyond bottles and cans, and textile recycling is being used by some schools to raise funds while helping others. 7th Generation Recycling offers bins to schools for collection and recycling, and pays schools 2 cents a pound for clean old clothes, shoes, hats, and household textiles.
The Story of Stuff
A look at the dark underbelly of our production and consumption patterns
Update: Green Dream Contest Winners Make Haste to Reduce Waste
The winners of our Green Dream Contest -- King Chavez Academy in San Diego and Berkeley High School -- have made exciting progress in just a few months. Berkeley High School's Green Team undertook a school-wide garbage audit as one of its first actions towards reducing its waste. King Chavez Preparatory Academy is taking their waste reduction efforts to the next level, recycling more types of materials.
UPDATE: Students Mob Pizza Parlor to Promote Greening
Prospect Sierra middle school students were the first school group to organize a "Carrotmob." Their actions have had a huge impact on waste reduction at the Emeryville Public Market.
Zero Waste: Schools and Kids Lead the Way
All over the west, schools are hot-beds of zero waste activism, taking exciting steps to reduce waste as part of shrinking their environmental footprints. These three examples from San Diego, Hawaii and Santa Cruz are leading the way. Read about what they're doing and use the tools below to join the movement.

Gardens and Food

Budget constraints often compel school districts and decision–makers -- along with parents -- to choose unhealthy, low–cost options for feeding children. And many schools have turned the cafeteria into a revenue stream at the expense of children’s health, serving high–calorie, high–sugar candy and soda, and junk food.

Fortunately, parents, politicians, and schools are beginning to wake up to the health consequences of such foods, and are daring to envision school cafeterias that not only offer appealing, nutritious food, but also offer ways to cut food waste through recycling and composting.

One of the most creative ways to connect what children eat with teaching about health, nutrition and the environment, is to plant a school garden and grow food on site. Gardens can compost food and yard waste, plowing it back into the soil. Teachers can use gardens to teach basic ecological principles hands–on, while teaching to standards on subjects such as science, math and social studies. Best of all, kids learn environmental and nutritional lessons, leading to healthier choices and healthier lives.

For a fuller discussion of school gardens and food, read Pillar 3: Green & Healthy Space in our Report.
Improving School Food: Do It Now or Pay the Price Later
On May 30, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee voted to cripple the nation’s budding effort to do something about the woeful quality of school food and make America’s kids healthier.
The Secret Life of Beef
Do kids at your school understand how sad their "Happy Meal" really is? Enlighten them in 6 minutes with Inform, Inc.'s "The Secret Life of Beef." Watch the video, get the whole story and consider shedding a few pounds this year...of beef, that is.
Grow an Easy School Garden
Kids love to dig in the dirt, and we all like to eat food fresh from the garden. Teach gardening and nutrition with a school container garden or garden in a bag and container gardening curricula. Container and pocket gardens are being used all over, from the U.S. to the U.K. to Africa. Use our links to learn more and start sowing!
Green and Rebuild with Chocolate
What if there were a chocolate bar whose production actually benefited people in need and the environment? And what if 51% of net sales of that bar aided Haitian rebuilding efforts? That's the idea behind the Haiti51 Chocolate Bar.
Victory! President Obama Signs The "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act"
This week, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which aims improve school nutrition and make meals available to thousands more needy American children.
New Tool for Transforming School Food: Rethinking School Lunch Guide
The Center for Ecoliteracy's "Rethinking School Lunch" guide provides ideas and strategies drawing on lessons from successful programs and the knowledge and experience of nutrition experts.
Proof in the Pudding
A new report by UC Berkeley researchers confirms what teachers, parents, and others involved with school gardens have witnessed: students whose curriculum includes integrated lessons about gardening, cooking, and nutrition, develop better eating habits than kids without such lessons.
Cultivating Healthy, Lifelong Learners
In the Atlantic's “Cultivating Failure,” school garden programs are blamed for cheating students and lowering test scores. We disagree. Read our response and make your voice heard!

"Lunch Lessons"
Changing the way we feed kids at school
Feeding the Children Well
Healthy meals and milk at school
Food Waste in the Face of Hunger
Saving just 5% of the food Americans waste could feed 4 million people per day
Take Back the Tap!
The truth about bottled water
Curriculum: Nourish California Offers Multimedia Resources to Engage and Inspire
Nourish California is a bold new initiative designed to increase food literacy and build healthy communities. K-12 teachers, school administrators, farm-to-school and garden coordinators, food service staff, health professionals, and nonprofit support providers are invited to join the network and receive a free DVD and curriculum at
Curriculum: "The Whole Plate -- A Return to Real Food"
"The Whole Plate: A Return to Real Foods" is a 4-Unit course in nutrition, cooking and food systems that integrates hands-on lessons like preparing and preserving food with critical analysis of nutrition issues and food systems. By the end of each unit, students know how to make a complete meal for their families -- in fact it's a course assignment!