Getting Schooled in Sustainability

Screen Shot 2013-04-04 at 1.20.32 PMBy Merry Cherney

The lessons we learn in school extend far beyond basic arithmetic and reading comprehension.  Recently, there has been a push towards teaching students how to be healthy, involved, and sustainable citizens.  Due to the growing international focus on the environment, more and more schools have integrated environmental and sustainability studies into school curriculums.


Screen Shot 2013-04-04 at 1.27.10 PMPrograms range from edible schoolyards to waste reduction programs that seek to educate students about human effects on the earth and how we can alter our practices to be more benign.
One of the most widespread programs in the US is The Edible Schoolyard Project.  Schools often have gardens for students to tend, however, this project takes simple gardens a step further by creating “interactive classrooms” and working to ensure that every student has a “free, nutritious, organic lunch.”


Screen Shot 2013-04-04 at 1.54.46 PMThrough hands-on experiences and traditional academics, the project seeks to empower students with the “knowledge and values to make food choices that are healthy for them, their communities, and the environment.” Learn more about Edible Schoolyard New Orleans at


Screen Shot 2013-04-04 at 1.45.43 PMIn addition, many schools are focusing on reducing waste.  In California, a law was passed requiring schools to recycle.  The purpose of this new law is to, “reduce greenhouse gas emissions by diverting commercial solid waste to recycling efforts and expand opportunities for additional recycling services and recycling manufacturing facilities in California.”
Why target California schools?  It is estimated that California school districts dispose of large amounts of waste (approximately 763,817 tons per year)!  This is not only a waste of natural resources, but also of school funds that could be better used elsewhere in the school.  According to the website, they encourage schools to look at this law as an opportunity to transform schools into laboratories for learning about the environment and sustainability.


One of the keys aspects for forming engaged and environmentally informed citizens is environmental literacy.  Too often are we able to identify a McDonalds sign from a mile away, but not know the name of the tree growing in our backyard.
To address this gap in knowledge, the Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation (CELF) works with schools and their faculty to develop academic programs centered on sustainability.  Their programs seek to foster a holistic view of the interconnections between the environment and people.  This includes an understanding of the natural and physical environments as well as the social constructs of society, economics and governance.CELF’s hope is to “weave environmental literacy throughout the fabric of the institution, making it part of the infrastructure and school culture.”

Meredith Cherney is a student at Tulane University in New Orleans studying Environmental Studies and Communications.  She is currently working for Alliance for Affordable Energy to advocate for fair, affordable, environmentally responsible, community based energy.  Check out Alliance’s website for more information: