Cultivating a Future for Green Schools & Green States

June 27, 2013

During a recent two-day summit, nearly 30 state legislators from across the country came to D.C. to learn from one another about state efforts around greening our schools

by Mark Bishop

At the beginning of June, I joined with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Center for Green Schools for a two-day state legislative summit. Nearly 30 state legislators from across the country came to D.C. to learn from one another about state efforts around greening our schools. From green cleaning, to innovations around funding opportunities, to bipartisan strategies for approaching green schools, the workshop was two days full of dynamic discussions.

The idea behind the workshop, which was led by Nathaniel Allen of the USGBC, was to create a community of practice for legislators. Essentially, the USGBC set out to establish a safe space where legislators on both side of the aisle could honestly and openly share their visions for green school state policy and get beyond the politics of legislating. The meeting had Democrats and Republicans working together to brainstorm ideas and support each other’s efforts.

At the workshop, I led a breakout session on state efforts to promote school health policy, including efforts to incorporate health metrics at the state level and green cleaning. We have seen a lot of successes in this area over the past several years, with the number of states requiring green cleaning policies for schools growing every year, but more work always needs to be done, and I was inspired by the engaged, thoughtful stakeholders I met at these sessions who are committed to making a difference.

It’s easy to be in awe of what this group has done. In 2013, this group of committed legislators was responsible for more than 90 bills in 30 state legislatures relating to greening our schools. These important efforts can be found in big states and small, in all parts of the country. They range from a bill in Wyoming that initiates development of a statewide natural resource and energy stewardship program for use in public education that was signed into law earlier this year to a number of bills in Hawaii regarding the energy efficiency of school buildings, to new green cleaning laws in Arizona that call for school districts to adopt green cleaning policies and use environmentally friendly products, to right here in Illinois, where an appropriations bill included grants to school districts for energy-efficient projects and new avenues for charter schools to achieve LEED Silver certification. And these are just to name a few—dozens more green schools-related reforms have either been introduced or passed into law, and that’s just in the past year! The momentum can only grow from here.

It’s a testament to the hard work of these legislators and local advocates in their states, but also to the USGBC, which has done a great job catalyzing this group of leaders. We congratulate everyone involved on their efforts and look forward to seeing what other great changes this group spearheads in the future.

If you are looking for ideas for how your state can better support green schools, check out the Center for Green Schools’ website. This is a great resource full of fantastic ideas to get you started on your way, from information about the state-by-state Green Schools Caucus Initiative, to, for further reading and understanding, literature on the advantages of greening existing schools and using green infrastructure as a teaching tool and a variety of other important topics.

At Healthy Schools Campaign, we will continue to work with stakeholders of all kinds interested in making the shift toward greener schools. We will be putting together a legislative toolkit for advocates that you can use to support green school policy in your state, so keep an eye out for that in the coming months. In the meantime, if you are interested in supporting green cleaning efforts, please contact me at mark@healthyschoolscampaign.org and I will work with you to find the tools and resources you need to bring green cleaning to your school, your community and your state.