6 Ways to Help Create a More Sustainable School Year

There’s no question that schools are major consumers of energy, paper, water, and many other resources, not to mention the significant waste they often generate on a daily basis.

With so many unprecedented challenges facing our planet, it’s now more vital than ever to educate future generations about the importance of creating a more sustainable world.

Yet, many school systems don’t have the full capabilities to make the necessary shifts in curriculum and in school culture to better educate students about environmental stewardship. In fact, without adequate funding and reliable resources, many local schools are still struggling to incorporate basic programs such as recycling.

The encouraging news is that more parents and community members are taking an interest and initiating support for green progress at school. Yet, the question often remains, “where do I begin to try and make a difference?” Here’s how:

1.) Start small and start talking

Get to know more about your school’s needs by starting conversations with faculty and school staff as well as with other parents in the school system to learn more about current initiatives and projects. This can also help you become better connected with others who share similar interests and may want to collaborate with future efforts.

Parent support is key when it comes to initiating change. Nancy McGowan, a teacher at Bluff Park Elementary School, says their school has had parents serve as speakers, project developers, and collaborators for various programs such as their outdoor classroom, Team Green, and the Walking School Bus program, in which a group of children walk to school accompanied by an adult.

As a recipient of the 2015 Department of Education Green Ribbon award, Bluff Park Elementary School has worked hard to implement programs that take students far beyond a simple awareness for environmental issues.

“The problems and solutions are real world,” says McGowan. “The projects in which students will engage have standards embedded and will allow them to utilize a variety of problem-solving skills and tools while achieving goals that directly impact them and their community.”


2.) Encourage recycling

You and your family may be recycling pros at home, but at school, your children may not even have the option. If this is the case, consider talking with your child’s teacher about setting up an in-classroom recycling bin. Be sure to have a good plan in place however, before making the suggestion, and be prepared to follow through with weekly paper pick-ups or other necessary actions.

For detailed steps about setting up a successful recycling program, check out the Recycle Alabama Handbook, available to download for free.

As far as expanding efforts to reach school-wide needs, Alan Gurganus, Recycling Director for Alabama Environmental Council (AEC), recommends searching out others who have similar interests within a wider range of people at the school. “Every school has at least one faculty or staff who is passionate about recycling. This is who you need to engage to keep recycling in the forefront.”

For schools located in Jefferson County, the AEC offers paper recycling bins made available through a grant from the ADEM Recycling Fund and in partnership with the Jefferson County Department of Health.

“We can even provide a free pickup service to Birmingham area schools utilizing 96-gallon carts,” says Gurganus.

“For schools outside of our service area, we help connect them to one of our hauling partners. Depending on their location, this service is often without cost. We were recently approved for grant funds to purchase school recycling bins for plastic bottles, as well. We anticipate having these bins available by spring.”

3.) Share your skills

Think about your own interests and unique skills when considering ideas about how to contribute to expanding your school’s green efforts. Those passionate about gardening could serve as a great resource for implementing a school or class managed vegetable garden to help educate students about where food comes from and about healthy eating.

Parents can also help teachers and school staff by applying for approved grants such as those available for school gardens from the Captain Planet Foundation.

Green 101: Back to School with a Greener Routine

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4.) Ask outside resources for insight

Looking to outside resources for expertise and collaboration is key to enhancing your school’s overall sustainability progress. Take advantage of a wide range of local experts who are capable of providing real world knowledge and solutions to curriculum topics such as greener transportation or energy efficiency.

In 2014, a fourth-grade class at Bluff Park Elementary School completed an energy audit and led an effort in which students worked with Alabama Power as well as local heating and air conditioning specialists to develop strategies for energy conservation.

“Our students are learning about the elements of our carbon footprint individually and as a school,” said McGowan.

5.) Initiate a student-led Green Team

One of the best ways to help support a school’s sustainability efforts is to help students become just as involved in the process. Student-run Green Teams are an ideal way for school-age children to learn about a scope of sustainability-related topics and to research and identify connected issues with their school. Parents can help students formulate plans for related activities and project recommendations for school decision-makers.

The Green Team can also collaborate with specific classroom projects, other student clubs, PTAs or PTOs, and individual teachers or school departments to further their goals. Forming a Green Team is one of the “7 Steps to a Green School.”

Learn more about forming at Green Team at your school with these helpful tips at:



6.) Promote your school’s sustainability efforts

Communicating with the community is another key method for generating more involvement for your school’s green initiatives. Reach out to local newspapers and television stations to promote and showcase your school’s green related projects or ongoing programs.

Connecting with school newsletter staff is also a great way to inform school families of various sustainability accomplishments.

Sharing your school’s progress with the community will not only generate further interest but can also inspire greater action at many different levels.

For more tips and ideas to take to school and use at home, visit our Quick Tips other recent Green Living posts.

We’d love to hear from you about your progress, questions and tips for a more sustainable school year!

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