The New Jersey School Boards Association has been in the forefront of advancing environmentally friendly practices in New Jersey’s schools for several years. 

We have been passionate about this because we know districts can save money by instituting sustainable measures; those financial resources can then be redirected back into the classroom. We also know that enacting “green” practices produces healthier learning environments, and that when students learn about sustainability, they strengthen their knowledge of science and technology. Simply stated, there isn’t a downside to sustainability in schools.

NJSBA hasn’t just given lip service to the importance of sustainability. We believe we are the only state school boards association in the nation with staff dedicated to training and consultation on sustainability practices.

With the help of those staff members, we have administered the New Jersey Sustainable Schools Project, and published the New Jersey Sustainable Schools Guidebook that serves as a resource to districts interested in “greening” their schools. We helped develop, and we also administered, the New Jersey Green Program of Study, a statewide technical education program for emerging “green careers.” 

NJSBA was one of the founding partners in the creation of Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification initiative, and we helped fund its startup. I have been privileged to be a member of their Board of Trustees since the organization’s founding; I sit on that board with NJSBA Immediate Past President Don Webster.

Sustainable Jersey for Schools (SJS), officially launched in 2014, is an innovative program where schools earn certification levels by undertaking various sustainability actions. NJSBA regularly holds “Sustainability Working Sessions,” training programs for schools enrolled in SJS; last year, 120 districts were represented at these sessions.

I am pleased to report that Sustainable Jersey for Schools has been more successful than we ever thought possible.  When we began, we were hoping to have 25 schools enroll. As of September, 686 schools in 277 districts were members and actively engaged in instituting sustainability measures. At this year’s Workshop conference, we are looking forward to honoring 91 schools that have recently earned certification.

Our sustainability outreach has also included co-hosting a sustainability symposium at Rider University for high school students; serving on the New Jersey Department of Education’s “Green Ribbon Schools” panel; and a host of other training initiatives. In fact, in recognition of these and other efforts, NJSBA was honored by the U.S. Green Building Council-New Jersey with a “Special Impact Award for Education.”

But we understand that the process of integrating sustainable practices into the everyday lives of our schools, our students, and our communities is not quick and easy. It demands a sustained effort. That’s why we are committed to sustainability for the long term.

That commitment is also reflected in this issue of School Leader, which features a special section on sustainability, including an update on SJS, a look at the state’s 2017 award-winning Green Ribbon Schools and an article on the top ten sustainability questions your school’s green team should consider. The special section begins on page 18. Thank you and think sustainability!