Two New Jersey Schools were named as 2019 “Green Ribbon” schools by the U.S. Department of Education on May 22.

The honored schools are Holland Brook School in Whitehouse Station, part of the Readington Township public schools, and Saint Leo the Great School in Lincroft, a non-public, Catholic school.

The Green Ribbon Schools awards recognize innovative efforts to address the three “Pillars” of the program: reducing environmental impact and utility costs, improving health and wellness, and ensuring effective sustainability education.

The Holland Brook School, which educates children in grades four and five, has reduced energy use by over 30% in four years, in part because of the walk-throughs that student leaders conduct to see whether students and staff are following energy conservation behaviors by turning off lights and electronic devices and closing blinds to help regulate temperature. The school also purchases 21% renewable energy and generates 64%on-site with solar.

Recycling is a focus at the school. Students in the environmental club have initiated voluntary recycling programs for hard-to-recycle items with TerraCycle and Crayola Colorcycle. The cafeteria composts food waste and has reusable trays. All of the school’s paper is Forest Stewardship Council-certified, and students also learn about upcycling and sustainability in classes where they create race cars from 100% recycled materials, and take apart old electronics to learn how they work before upcycling components into new items.

Saint Leo the Great School (SLGS) serves about 600 students from preschool to grade eight.  In 2017, the school established the position of director of operations, who, in collaboration with the New Jersey Building and Grounds Association, has brought expertise to SLGS’ Clean School Initiative, which focuses on grounds improvement, building management, and expanding the school’s environmental practices, programs, policies, and curriculum.

Campus projects are underway that already have produced cost savings and other efficiencies, including programs to  replace rooftop HVAC equipment with high-efficiency -rated units and replace lighting with LED lights.  In addition, the school installed high-efficiency fans in classrooms and has begun replacing windows and insulation. SLGS has installed a half-acre solar field, which produces 85 percent of the school’s fossil fuel power needs.

To reduce water consumption, the school uses strategies such as planting native species, using a rooftop drainage system that feeds into the courtyard for subsurface water, and using underground irrigation in garden beds. The school has installed water-bottle filling stations and has side-by-side trash and recycling bins around campus.  The school has a pilot curriculum-based composting project, managed by students, in the cafeteria.  One hundred percent of purchased paper is Forest Stewardship Council-certified, and all cleaning products are green-certified.

Teaching students about sustainability is a priority at the school. In 2014, the school’s nature courtyard, located in the center of the school building, was designated by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, serving as a living classroom for students.  Older students simulate oil spills and cleanups, studying the domino effect on affected life forms, and they research waste reduction and its effect on the planet.  Students also construct functioning robots and design playground equipment and dams from recycled and upcycled materials.

More details on sustainability initiatives at both schools is available online in the descriptions of the Green Ribbon Award winners here.