www.greenschools.net  [Printer-friendly version]
February 15, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: As we noted in Precaution Reporter #27, the
Emeryville, California, School District has adopted a far-reaching
policy to apply precaution throughout the school system.
Emeryville's policies were based on an earlier report called The
Little Green School House, by Josh Karliner. Your school district
could take precautionary action, too.]

By Josh Karliner

One in five people who live in this country -- 55 million children,
teachers, administrators, nurses and janitors -- spend their days in
K-12 schools. Yet, our current school systems are threats to our
children's health, models of unsustainability, and significant
contributors to society's broader environmental and health problems.

Schools can provide a healthy environment for students and staff,
while promoting ecological sustainability, by using alternatives to
toxic chemicals, pursuing green building and maintenance practices,
changing their resource consumption patterns, serving nutritious food,
and teaching students to be stewards of their communities, the earth
and its resources.

In this report we invite you to imagine this "green" reality. We
have written it as an encouragement for all of us who interact with
schools in our personal and professional lives. It aims to develop a
positive vision of individual schools, districts, state wide
educational efforts and a nation wide US school system that is healthy
and sustainable.

This report expresses a positive vision for healthy, sustainable

Specifically, We Aim To:

** Provide a reality check, zeroing in on just how unhealthy and
unsustainable our current educational institutions are.

** Present a basis for hope and optimism, drawn from the fabulous
mosaic of possibility represented by the thousands of disparate
efforts around the country geared toward creating green and healthy

** Provide a blueprint for parents, educators, students, environmental
and health advocates, school board members, and interested community
members to collaborate on implementing this vision.

Building Blocks For The Little Green Schoolhouse

To help build the vision and organize the wonderful -- yet often
disconnected -- efforts to create green and healthy schools, we
present the metaphorical "Little Green Schoolhouse" as a framework.

The cornerstone or foundation of the building is the Precautionary
Principle -- the basis of decision-making. Flowing from this
foundation, there are four pillars that we can use to transform our
schools to healthy, sustainable, dynamic learning centers:

1. Strive for a toxics-free environment

2. Use resources sustainably

3. Create a green and healthy space

4. Teach, learn, engage!

The Foundation: The Precautionary Principle

The Precautionary Principle promotes policies and decision-making
based on the concept of "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of

Rather than waiting for crises to occur, a proactive approach to
addressing the issues of children's environmental health and the
ecological impacts of schools can be based on the Precautionary
Principle. Such an approach would:

** Take anticipatory action to prevent harm;

** Place the burden of proof on the proponent of a potentially harmful

** Examine a full range of alternatives;

** Provide relevant communities with the right to know about potential
harm; and

** Consider all the reasonably foreseeable costs of an activity.

A growing number of cities, including San Francisco, have adopted the
Precautionary Principle as guidance for a range of decisions to
promote environmental health and safety, to reduce costs, and to
promote sustainability in government practices, including switching to
non-toxic cleaners and environmentally sound purchasing.

The Los Angeles Unified School District adopted the Precautionary
Principle as the foundation for its decision to provide the safest,
least toxic approach to pest problems after children exposed to
chemical herbicides suffered serious asthma attacks.

Pillar 1: Strive To Be Toxics Free

Children are one of our most vulnerable populations when exposed to
toxic chemicals. Yet they are regularly exposed at school through the
application of pesticides and powerful cleaning agents, poor building
design and maintenance, lead paint contamination, and poor

One-half of our nation's 115,000 schools have problems linked to
indoor air quality. This can result in "sick building syndrome,"
increased absenteeism, and overall negative impacts on a child's
ability to develop and learn.

Of the 48 pesticides most commonly used in schools, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency classifies 22 as possible or probable

Many schools -- especially in poor districts -- are sited on or near
toxic waste dumps, environmentally hazardous facilities, and other
sources of pollution. In many places school districts have no
environmental guidelines for school siting.

There are a growing number of efforts on the local, state and national
levels to address this range of issues and to make our schools
healthier places to attend and work in. Several organizations have
succeeded in winning new funds and implementing new policies that, for
instance, require schools to use "green" cleaning products, or adopt
Integrated Pest Management guidelines.

Pillar 2: Use Resources Sustainably

Schools spend a lot of money to heat and light buildings and to
purchase supplies. They can improve children's health, protect the
environment and strengthen their financial situation by implementing
alternative energy, construction and procurement policies.

Schools' energy use makes them significant contributors to air
pollution, global warming, and U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Our
K-12 schools' electricity consumption alone is equivalent to 42 days
of U.S. imports of Saudi Arabian oil.

Taxpayers spend $6 billion a year on energy for schools but could
reduce that amount by $1.5 billion through energy efficiency measures

Many schools could become independent power producers by investing in
clean renewable technologies such as solar and wind.

A growing number of districts are following "Healthy, High
Performance School Guidelines" when building or renovating. These
criteria recommend environmentally sound building materials, and the
efficient use of energy and water. Benefits include a healthier
learning and working environment for children and teachers, higher
test scores, improved attendance, reduced operating costs, and reduced
environmental impacts.

Schools are far behind many other sectors of society in recycling.
Waste from schools -- primarily food and paper -- represents about 4
percent of the municipal waste stream. Many schools do not recycle and
fewer still purchase recycled or "green" products.

For each ton of non-recycled office paper that a school district
replaces with 30 percent post-consumer content, it uses 2,400 pounds
less wood (about 7 trees), thereby helping save critical forest

As more schools purchase clean energy and recycled supplies, they can
build demand, making these "green" products more economically

Pillar 3: Create A Green and Healthy Space

There is an alarming increase in diet-related disease among school-age
children, connected, at least in part, to the quality of meals eaten
at school.

The overwhelming majority of schools allow soft drinks and junk food
to be sold on campus. The health costs of allowing junk food, fast
food, and soda vending machines at school far outweigh any financial
benefits these commercial entities provide.

Many districts and state governments have moved, or are moving, to ban
junk food, fast food and soda from public schools.

Schools can produce healthy lunches in collaboration with local or
regional small farmers via farm-to-school programs, which are
expanding across the country. These programs also allow children to
learn about nutrition and food systems.

Thousands of school garden and green schoolyard programs are thriving
across the country. Teachers successfully teach to math, science and
social studies standards, while inculcating nutrition and
environmental stewardship concepts in these gardens.

Pillar 4: Teach, Learn, Engage!

Environmental education should be a central element in any child's
education, helping children to understand and appreciate the natural
world around them and to foster critical thinking and environmental

Overall, almost two-thirds of all elementary and secondary teachers
include environment in their curriculum. Yet the subject often remains
isolated, with neither state nor federal government agencies putting
sufficient resources into environmental education or teacher training.

There is a tremendous opportunity -- a grand teachable moment -- for
children to learn about ecological sustainability, environmental
health, nutrition, personal responsibility, and leadership through
their hands-on participation in making their own schools healthier,
more efficient, sustainable, and pleasant centers for learning.

Schools can implement hands-on, place-based curricula that will teach
children how to audit, evaluate, and change their own school
environments for the better.


This report provides a series of policy recommendations and actions
for students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and school
board members, as well as for local, state and federal government

The report illustrates successful examples and points to key
organizations that provide detailed recommendations and specific
avenues for action at all levels.

The report calls for stakeholders to organize to convince local school
boards to pass Healthy and Sustainable Schools Resolutions. Such
resolutions can identify a series of specific goals and objectives for
school districts to pursue through the implementation of a concrete
action plan. (See sample resolution.)

Overall, this vision of building green and healthy schools, while
teaching engaged children rooted in their communities, may be a far
cry from today's reality. But we should not view it as impossible, and
we should not let such reality get in the way of making a better
world. Rather, building "The Little Green Schoolhouse" is a challenge
to be met.

Read the Report.