USGBC’s Center for Green Schools Making Healthy, High-Performing Schools A Reality

USGBC’s Center for Green Schools Making Healthy, High-Performing Schools A Reality

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) established the Center for Green Schools to educate and to change schools into sustainable and healthy places to learn, work and play. The organization believes everyone, from the kindergartener entering the classroom to the Ph.D. student performing research in a lab, should have the ability to learn in an environment that enhances their experience. As such, the Center provides resources and supports countless schools and campuses, which can benefit from improvements to their buildings, grounds, operations and maintenance. This partnership enables a shared vision of green schools for everyone in this generation. With thousands of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified and registered K-12 and higher education buildings, it is clear that schools and educational leaders understand the importance of creating sustainable learning environments for students.

The Center engages educators and applies solid research to inform leadership – from school boards to college presidents – about the benefits of healthy, high-performing schools. Understanding that green buildings are about more than just bricks and mortar, these leaders are creating new learning experiences and facilitating higher levels of community engagement. This includes engaging the parents, teachers, students, school administrators and community members, who use these schools every day since only through engagement of all stakeholders can true change occur.

The Center recently launched Green Apple, which is a cause marketing initiative and global movement to put all children in schools where they have clean and healthy air to breathe, where energy and resources are conserved and where they can be inspired to dream of a brighter future. This initiative was kicked-off with the first annual Green Apple Day of Service on Sept. 29, 2012, and it brought together tens of thousands of volunteers from around the world to conduct service projects at their local schools. This included parents, teachers, students, elected officials and more. Day of Service will be an annual event and through participants’ local efforts schools and communities will begin to adopt sustainable practices.

Students and teachers live in more than one-half of all U.S. households with more than one-quarter of Americans walking through the doors of a school every day. Yet instead of walking into places of opportunity, millions enter buildings where the air they breathe is filled with toxins and mold, where classrooms are poorly lit and overcrowded, and where resources are limited and outdated. In addition, American students miss more than 10 million school days each year because of asthma symptoms worsened by poor indoor air quality. Too many children are learning in buildings that are compromising their health and ability to succeed.

Green Apple gives individuals, companies and organizations the opportunity to transform all schools into healthy, safe, cost-efficient and productive learning places. The initiative is powered by volunteers who participate in community-based efforts. It is promoted by media partners, like-minded NGOs and high-profile ambassadors.

© | A vegetable garden at an inner city elementary school. The garden helps to teach the students the basics of organic farming.

© | A vegetable garden at an inner city elementary school. The garden helps to teach the students the basics of organic farming.

And, it is funded by corporate partners who contribute a portion of proceeds or make a sponsorship donation and receive the right to use the Green Apple mark to show their association with and support of the initiative.

Green Apple was recently named a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) commitment at the annual meeting in September 2012. And partners, including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), United Technologies Corporation (UTC), Interface, Excel Dryer, Armstrong and SolarCity, were applauded for their efforts. As part of the CGI commitment, Green Apple is working with these partners to develop and to deploy resources, including toolkits, trainings and case studies, to help schools implement positive change.

In addition to the Day of Service, the Center reaches teachers and parents directly through programs like the Green Classroom Professional Certificate, an online course and evaluation designed to educate teachers, parents, principals and other school staff on what they can to do improve their classrooms. It contains practical suggestions and solutions from knowing what questions to ask the school staff to making sure the air is circulating properly to understanding why it may not be a good idea to purchase an air freshener to mask a mold smell.

The Center also provides support for K-12 and campus buildings looking to seek LEED certification. Currently, more than 7,400 registered and certified LEED K-12 and higher education projects exist at schools throughout the United States. LEED-certified green buildings are designed and built to use energy and water in a measurably more efficient way when compared to conventionally designed buildings. They also reduce waste streams during construction and are built to minimize their footprint, which includes reducing their impact on the ecosystems around them. LEED buildings are also constructed with sustainably produced, recycled and recyclable materials and products.

In higher education, the number of LEED certifications for existing buildings (LEED EBOM) recently surpassed the number of certifications for new buildings. And more institutions of higher education are focusing on integrating sustainable practices into the daily operations and maintenance of buildings. In addition, 76.8 percent of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) Signatories have committed to “establish a policy that all new campus construction will be built to at least the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Silver standard or equivalent.”

The Center has created several resources to assist schools interested in LEED Certification:

  1. The Roadmap to a Green Campus. The Roadmap to a Green Campus provides strategies for using the LEED green building certification program as a framework for developing and evolving campus-wide sustainability plans.
  2.  The Paid-from-Savings Guide to Green Existing Buildings. This guide provides information to help facilities managers and energy service companies leverage utility cost savings to fund comprehensive green building retrofits. The resource provides detailed information on how to aggregate green improvement measures and to achieve LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance certification.
  3. Hands-on LEED: Guiding College Student Engagement. This document provides guidance on how campus staff and faculty can involve students in green building projects and facilitate their contributions to the LEED certification process. Specifically, the guide outlines three options for engaging students, which includes course work, internships and volunteer opportunities, and provides implementation options for each.


The Center for Green Schools works throughout both K-12 and higher education sectors to advance green schools policies, to work with on-the-ground staff at school districts and to educate the next generation of “sustainability natives” – people who inherently use what they need not what they can. Other Center programs include:

  1. The Coalition for Green Schools, which is an alliance of the nation’s leading educational and environmental associations. The Coalition is made up of child advocates who are working together to create a national infrastructure of healthy, high-performing schools. Coalition Executive Committee participants represent more than 10 million members nationwide.
  2. Community Green supports community colleges in educating the next generation of green building professionals who can drive sustainable local economies. Community Green engages faculty, staff and students at community colleges and provides them with resources, tools and direct support in bringing green building education, credentialing and networking opportunities to their campuses and communities. With support from the Center for Green Schools and USGBC, colleges involved with Community Green work to integrate green building concepts into curricular and co-curricular opportunities so they can educate a diverse workforce that can succeed in the 21st Century economy.
  3.  The Green Schools Fellowship Program provides partner school districts with fully-funded, dedicated experts who work with district leadership to change the culture from the inside out by providing clear direction, comprehensive training and valuable resources. The Fellowship Program provides school districts with the tools and resources not only to implement improvements to facilities, operations and instruction but also to sustain these improvements throughout the years. The Fellows provide clear direction, comprehensive training and valuable resources to demonstrate how these initiatives can save money and resources while creating healthier learning environments for students, staff and faculty.
    Hired for a three-year term, Fellows work to initiate and/or to accelerate various initiatives within districts, such as monitoring energy usage and decreasing consumption by educating staff and students, disseminating environmental curriculum resources, establishing indoor air quality policies and practices, revising maintenance and transportation contracts and improving recycling, school garden and composting programs.
  4. USGBC Chapter Green Schools Committees are led by volunteers from the USGBC Chapter network to raise community awareness about green schools by working directly with parents and teachers, students and school boards, administrators and city officials. Across USGBC’s national chapter network, more than one thousand Green Schools Committee members are leading local and regional campaigns to advance the green schools movement. Green Schools Committees are taking on a variety of initiatives and, as a result, are attracting members from throughout their communities. These volunteers are architects, designers and building engineers as well as educators, environmental advocates, local business owners and parents.
  5. USGBC Students is a program to recruit, connect and equip the next generation of green building leaders by empowering them to transform their campuses, communities and careers. Representing college and university-based groups of students, USGBC Students joins thousands of young leaders to access experiences on their campuses through service initiatives. Members of USGBC Students integrate sustainability themes into their coursework and advocate for green university practices and policies on campus.
  6. The Mayor’s Alliance for Green Schools was initiated in October 2008 by Mayor Manuel A. Diaz of Miami and Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle. The Mayors’ Alliance works in conjunction with USGBC and its national network of chapters to harness the leadership and creativity of local community leaders nationwide. Members of the Alliance introduced and helped to pass resolutions at a recent U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting and vowed that “in a generation every child in America will attend a green school.” A major Alliance initiative is the development of public-private partnerships with local businesses to enable schools to install green roofs and solar panels, to implement recycling and to advance other green improvements.


For a comprehensive list of the Center for Green Schools programs and resources, and for more information on how to get involved, visit or Facebook and Twitter. For more information about Green Apple or the Green Apple Day of Service, visit