The Award

History of the Award

In February, 2010, Jim Elder from the Campaign for Environmental Literacy first read about the U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon Schools award for academic excellence, and wondered: why not ask ED to create a similar Green Ribbon award for green schools? His thought was that such an award would not only recognize academic achievement as well as progress in reducing a school’s environmental and health impacts, but it would also provide a “big tent” which would encourage greater cooperation among three communities: the environmental and sustainability education community, the healthy schools community, and the green school buildings community. He also hoped that the existence of the award would provide a form of “permission” to those who could take advantage of the validation and endorsement from an authority such as the Department of Education to make change within their schools, while the comprehensive design of the award would encourage schools to “go green” in a more strategic and comprehensive manner.

In light of their experience with working with the federal government and extensive green school networks, Jim asked the National Wildlife Federation, Earth Day Network, and US Green Building Council’s Center for Green Schools to help. They formed the Green Ribbon Schools Partnership (GRSP), and recruited 80 prominent national and state organizations with an interest in green schools to sign a petition to create the program.  GRSP spent the next six months

On Earth Day (April 26), 2011, the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley held a press conference to announce the launch of the Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools to recognize the highest performing green schools in the nation. Shortly thereafter, Andrea Falken was appointed by Secretary Duncan to develop and manage the ED-GRS program.  With input from GRSP and many others, Andrea spent the next five months diligently designing the application process.

On September 23, 2011, Secretary Duncan announced the opening of the pilot year for the new Green Ribbon Schools award  and requested that states inform him of their interest in participating in the program’s first year. With the help and encouragement of many grassroots environmental and sustainability education, green school building and healthy schools organizations across the nation which were often organized by the Green Ribbon Schools partnership, 33 states along with the District of Columbia and the Bureau of Indian Education subsequently signed up to participate. These 33 states are evenly represented by Republican and Democratic governors, making Green Ribbon a fully bipartisan effort.

GRSP then spent much of the remainder of 2011 helping states to design their application processes and spreading the word of the program to schools. As of February, most participating states have opened their competitions, and perhaps as many as 1,000 schools are expected to apply in this inaugural year.

In short, Green Ribbon represents an exemplary public/private partnership which has been implemented in remarkably short time, and is expected to become a milestone in the history of the green schools movement.