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Stepping Up School Sustainability



With just weeks left to cherish summer’s slower pace, Going-Back-to-School sales will soon leave store shelves void of backpacks, notebooks and other school essentials.  Parent Teacher Organizations, sports teams and clubs will kick-off fundraising, and administrators will choose the foods that find their way to school cafeterias. School-related shopping and activities carry a tremendous environmental impact, but faculty, students, and caregivers have valuable opportunities to make well informed, sustainable choices that promote the health of our climate and quality of life across the globe.


Start by seeking out 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper products and sustainably produced school supplies.  Producing a ton of “new”, virgin paper requires about 24 trees, while manufacturing the same recycled product consumes ZERO – a 100 percent savings! In addition, manufacturing recycled paper consumes less energy and generates only half as much wastewater and 44 percent fewer greenhouse gases than its virgin counterpart.  When shopping for other school supplies,  Amazon’s selection should please green-seeking eco shoppers, with products ranging from plant-able pencils to bio-based 2-ring binders and recycled rubber erasers.


The company EcoLunchbox sells stainless steel bento lunchboxes that make it easy to pack waste-free (and plastic free) lunches – which are paired with washable artisan bags. This green company also offers educational tips and tools on packing waste free lunches and supports schools by offering two easy fundraising options that allow participants to earn up to 15 percent of sales.  In fact, several eco-friendly companies offer a percentage back on sales or allow schools to order products at a discount and pocket the profits. For students that enjoy gardening, a company called Growums offers themed garden kits for sale and as fundraising items, sharing half of profits with the school. EcoSox and Ecostore also provide excellent fundraising options to support parent-teacher organizations, school clubs, sports teams and nonprofits alike.


Make fundraising green by selling high quality, eco-friendly products.

The best fundraisers benefit the organizer, environment and/or local community. For instance, schools can support cocoa or coffee farmers by hosting a Divine Chocolate,  Equal Exchange, or Grounds for Change fundraiser. These fair-trade businesses take care that farmers  earn a living wage that can improve their lives, communities, and the local environment.  Divine sells Fair Trade Certified™ chocolate from Ghana, sold to schools at wholesale prices.  Some companies will assist with marketing materials upon request and offer fair trade curriculum to make fundraising a truly educational experience.


The holiday season is an excellent time for green fundraising with the Global Goods Partners platform, which sells items like recycled cotton handbags from India, glass pendants produced in Ecuador, and soccer balls from Pakistan. Another choice, FairTrade Caravans, returns 25 percent of profits back to schools that sell its ethically made and unique jewelry, scarves, home goods, greeting cards, children’s gifts and other holiday items. An online platform facilitates sales of high-quality fair-trade certified products and provides marketing materials along with information detailing the people, places and stories behind the items.


Selling energy-saving products can be a good launching point for student research on energy-efficiency and a student-led energy audit on school grounds. sells items including compact fluorescent light bulbs, energy-saving power strips, and LED holiday lights, as well as water saving household items – just contact the store to discuss fundraising details. Follow up with school administration about installing LED bulbs, low flow toilets, and addressing areas for improvement.


Engage students in constructing, planting, and overseeing a school garden, and work with cafeteria administration to purchase local foods and offer meatless meals. 

Shifting away from meat – and beef in particular – supports a healthier climate, saves natural resources, and promotes student health.  Business Insider reports that producing a half-pound burger requires 26 pounds of cattle feed and releases 0.252 pounds of methane, a greenhouse gas about 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Every beef hamburger generates four pounds of total carbon, including the methane released by the cow, as well as fossil fuels needed to produce and harvest feed crops and the transportation of beef products to market. 


Substituting vegetables and grains for meat lightens the environmental load on the planet and allows student-grown produce to be incorporated into lunches. School gardens provide hands-on learning, and gardening lessons may compliment studies in subjects ranging from life-science to nutrition and math.  Cafeteria professionals can access plant-based recipes and information on scratch cooking at scale on the Chef Ann Foundation website.  Chef Ann also provides schools access to a free Scratch Cooking Assessment & Learning Evaluation that allows food service directors to input program data and specifics to generate a customized assessment and meal planning recommendations.


Host Green Events


Support a healthy environment and connect the school and community together by hosting an organic fair featuring local businesses selling organic or eco-friendly products including:

  • Beauty products
  • Cleaning products
  • Solar energy products
  • Electric cars
  • Fashion products
  • Foods

On another note, school campuses provide ideal drop-off points for used electronic devices.  Collecting cell phones, MP3 players, iPods, Laptops, PDAs, etc., and identifying companies that accept and recycle them increases student awareness of environmental responsi

bility and provides an excellent introduction to the concept of circular economies. Some companies even pay for these recycled products, providing yet another way to fundraise.


Speak up for clean transportation – get students moving with a walking school bus and support a switch to electric school bus fleets.


In the United States, the transportation sector accounts for about 30% of energy needs and consumes 70% of petroleum. Diesel buses release greenhouse gases as well as harmful pollutants that put students’ health at risk. With funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA’s new Clean School Bus Program provides $5 billion between FY 2022-2026 to replace existing school buses with zero-emission and low-emission models. Urge our local school districts to apply for EPA funding –  $500 million is currently available — through the 2022 Clean School Bus Rebates for these zero-emission and low-emission school buses.


The benefits of addressing sustainability at school extend far beyond the changes made on campus. Schools acting to counter climate change support a healthier environment now and impart important lessons and attitudes on students, teachers, and parents that will last a lifetime.


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