Another school year is just around the corner and with rising energy costs, increasing concern over air quality and growing interest in preserving resources for the future, a growing number of parents, teachers and school administrators are reevaluating their school environmental policies. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, taxpayers spend $8 billion dollars on energy for schools each year.

Not only can good environmental stewardship help cut costs, but integrating sustainability into classrooms can be an effective cost-saving measure for taxpayers and provide worthwhile lessons for students of all ages.

Teachers can implement small improvements in their classrooms that make a big difference. Parents can talk with teachers and administrators about making their children's classrooms more environmentally friendly. Here are few tips and tricks to get you started:

Green your school:

  • Replace ordinary incandescent bulbs with those that are compact and fluorescent, use 75 percent less energy and can last up to 10 times longer.
  • Try to keep the thermostat in your classroom at 78 or higher in the summer and 68 or lower in the winter to save energy. Let students know the weather forecast in advance, so they can dress accordingly.
  • If you need to purchase new computers, TVs or other appliances, look for EnergyStar-rated options.
  • Keep a few plants on classroom windowsills to improve air quality.
  • Encourage recycling by purchasing separate bins for bottles, cans and paper waste. Have students label them.

Green the cafeteria:

  • Suggest that students bring their lunches in reusable containers and sip from reusable water bottles.
  • Ask your school to source sustainable food for cafeteria lunches, including locally grown or Rainforest Alliance Certified produce.
  • If your school has a garden, consider collecting organic material in a compost bin in the cafeteria and creating fertilizer from lunchtime waste.

Greener technology:

  • To reduce computer energy use by 60 to 70 percent, switch classroom computers to sleep mode, rather than using screensavers when they are not in use. Be sure to turn off monitors, too.
  • Plug classroom electronics into a power strip and turn the power strip off at the end of each day. By doing so, you can reduce energy-use by up to 40 percent.
  • Make lessons available online, rather than printing paper copies.
  • Allow students to submit papers and exams electronically.

Minimize waste:

  • Print handouts, instructions and exams on double-sided paper and make your margins narrow. Encourage students to do the same.
  • Use recycled or Forest Stewardship Council / Rainforest Alliance Certified paper.
  • Have a designated spot for recycling paper and scrap paper in your classroom.
  • When possible, consider reusing textbooks so that students can buy their books second-hand; the editorial difference between two textbook editions often is negligible.

The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. For more information, visit their website. 

Photo: D Sharon Pruitt