ABCs of Sustainable Schools

From book reports to recycling programs, there are many ways to build sustainable schools benefiting students, teachers, and communities.
An elementary school aged girl and boy sit on the floor with books in their laps. They are smiling at each other.
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Growing up, kids spend a lot of time at school—learning, honing talents, and extracurricular activities—so why not add environmental advocacy and literacy? There are many ways to make sustainable schools a reality and encourage students, parents, teachers, and administrators alike to consider sustainability in all they do. 

A is for Assign Yourself Green Topics

Students picking topics is a great chance to research and share a subject they’re personally interested in, like climate change, environmental justice, or renewable energy.

For a book report, check out a story with coming-of-age and environmental themes like We Are Water Protectors, a picture book by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade, about a young Indigenous girl fighting to save her people’s water. Or for tweens and teens, try The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, which is set in a world ravaged by climate change, where only North America’s Indigenous peoples still possess the ability to dream.

Check out your local school or public library, or an independent bookstore like Biblio to find these books and more.

B is for Bring Green School Supplies

When stocking up on school supplies, consider greener options.

In need of a new lunch bag? Try Eco-Bag’s organic cotton lunch bag, which can be custom-printed with a favorite art piece or quote.

For taking notes, GreenLine Paper Company has everything from recycled pens to recycled and tree-free composition books. Or try Green Field Paper Company’s hemp journals and sketchbooks. Students will enjoy writing down assignments in We’Moon’s annual astrology-themed planner. When in doubt, repurpose paper lying around the house.

If art is a favorite class, stock up on supplies from Natural Earth Paint.

C is for Campaign for a Greener School

There are more ways to go green at school outside of the classroom.

Depending on the campus and location, students can ask their teachers about starting a school garden and registering it with Green America’s Climate Victory Gardens. If the school already has a garden to register, email

Students can also inquire about things like a gardening club, a recycling program, and more. At a time when schools are increasingly becoming contentious landscapes of cultural disputes, shared interests and bonding could be a boon for students, teachers, and parents alike.

At Eleanor Roosevelt High School, a Maryland-certified green school, Green America’s membership marketing manager Rob Hanson’s son Nate worked with Climate Parents of Prince George’s County to advocate for solar panels on the school building.

Depending on the school, there may be a student body council. If that’s the case, students can run for a council position on a sustainability platform and hear from fellow classmates.

Parents can get involved, too (beyond footing the bill for supplies). Encourage and engage kids about greening their school, no matter the age.

Dana Christianson, Green America’s director of membership, marketing, and operations, thinks of her son’s pre-school: “Since Eustace was 2 years old, nature has been his playground—literally. I love that the school [Forest Preschool, run by Baltimore City Recreation & Parks] harvests directly from Leakin Park to grow the children’s curiosity and creativity. Eustace has brought home paintings inked with pokeberry, collages from old magazines, and 3-D creations of sticks, seeds, and fashioned with wooden beads.”

School is a powerful and transformative place, home to learning of all shapes and sizes. Be a part of your school’s legacy to become a more ethical, sustainable, and thriving institution.

Green America and the certified Green Business Network members mentioned in this article, which meet or exceed Green America’s standards for social and environmental responsibility, are here to help. 

From Green American Magazine Issue