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Infrastructure and Sustainability Updates from the U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education (ED or the Department) developed this newsletter to provide resources, promote events, and share inspiring stories of school sustainability. The Department also maintains resources on the Green Strides School Sustainability Resource Hub, including upcoming webinars and information on U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools honorees. 

In This Issue:

In the News

The Green Strides Newsletter is Now ED Infrastructure and Sustainability News

ED is committed to promoting equitable access to healthy, safe, and sustainable 21st century learning environments and environmental sustainability learning. ED advances school infrastructure and sustainability through multiple initiatives designed to share best practices and connect schools with partnerships and resources. To better reflect the scope of this vital work, Green Strides is now ED Infrastructure and Sustainability and has a new website. These efforts speak to the needs of school communities and the Administration’s commitment to address climate change, environmental justice, and environmental health. Follow us today on ED Infrastructure and Sustainability Twitter and Facebook. Encourage others to sign up for ED Infrastructure and Sustainability News.

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Deadline for States to Submit Nominations to U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools is Feb. 15

State education authorities can submit school, district, early learning, and postsecondary institution nominations for U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) between now and Feb. 15. This is an extension from the earlier Feb. 1 deadline. ED will announce the 2023 selectees around Earth Day. Honored institutions will be invited to send representatives to a recognition ceremony in Washington, D.C., this July. 

For institutions that have not already been honored (this is a one-time award), now is a great time to begin preparing for the 2023-2024 application cycle by using resources and programs on the Green Strides School Sustainability Resource Hub and contacting your state education authority. For future cycles, interested colleges and universities should contact their state higher education authorities, while schools and districts should contact their state educational agencies. Schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions are only eligible if nominated by state authorities. State education authorities can find award criteria and other state implementation guidance on the ED website and should contact U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools for more information.  

2022 Directors Award Recipient Jon Long and Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten

The 2023 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Director’s Award: Nominations Due March 1

The Director’s Award recognizes state education authorities’ exemplary efforts to administer U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS).  Annually, the Director’s Award goes to the state education official who does the most to advance sustainable education in his or her state. If you wish to nominate a state education official, please send your nomination letter to by March 1. Any state education official who is involved in implementing the ED-GRS award and who has not already won the Director’s Award is eligible for nomination. Read about the work of past ED-GRS Director’s Award recipients

You belong in STEM

Raise the Bar: STEM Excellence for All Students Initiative

On Dec. 7, the Department hosted a YOU Belong in STEM National Coordinating Conference in Washington, D.C., as a key initiative for the Biden-Harris administration. The Raise the Bar: STEM Excellence for All Students initiative is designed to strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education nationwide. The new initiative unites government, nonprofits, professional organizations, industries, philanthropies, and other community stakeholders to take bold action toward breaking down long-standing barriers for student success in the STEM fields. With the support of $120 billion dollars dedicated to K-12 education in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and other federal education funds, the Department is galvanizing the broader education ecosystem to prioritize three goals for STEM education:

  • Ensure all students from PreK to higher education excel in rigorous, relevant, and joyful STEM learning.
  • Develop and support STEM educators to join, grow, and stay in the STEM field.
  • Invest in STEM education strategically and sufficiently, using ARP and other federal, state, and local funds.

Resources and Opportunities

school buses

Spotlight On A Green Strides Resource: How Your School District Can Use Inflation Reduction Act Funds

The Inflation Reduction Act, with $369 billion in climate and energy provisions, is the largest climate investment in U.S. history and has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by approximately 40 percent by 2030, promote environmental justice objectives in communities most impacted by climate change, and create high-paying clean energy jobs. The Inflation Reduction Act can help unlock the education sector’s ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change and provides critical funding to support schools in creating healthy, sustainable learning environments. This resource, developed in partnership between The Aspen Institute’s This Is Planet Ed and the World Resources Institute’s Electric School Bus Initiative, outlines the potential opportunities in the Inflation Reduction Act to support schools. Find this and many other resources for healthy, safe, sustainable 21st century learning environments and environmental sustainability education on the Green Strides School Sustainability Resource Hub.

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Understanding Federal School Sustainability Challenges

There are several, relatively new, federal school sustainability challenges focused on efficiency, decarbonization, and indoor air quality, the first two spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the latter by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

The DOE Efficient and Healthy Schools Campaign aims to advance energy performance, reduce carbon emissions, increase resilience, and promote a healthy learning environment in schools through recognition, training, and technical assistance. In its current round, the Campaign will recognize top participating schools or districts for implementing or planning activities in the following categories: 1) Energy Efficiency Plus Health and 2) Emissions Reduction and Resilience.

Through the Better Climate Challenge, K-12 schools can join a network of leaders who are stepping forward to work with DOE on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sharing replicable pathways to decarbonization. Participating organizations can tap into the Better Buildings network, engage with other market leaders, access peer-to-peer exchange opportunities, and leverage technical assistance.

The Clean Air in Buildings Challenge highlights a range of recommendations and resources available for improving ventilation and indoor air quality, which can help to better protect the health of building occupants and reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread. You can learn more and pledge to improved indoor air quality.


2023 NOAA B-WET competitions are open

The NOAA Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program has grant competitions open now. The B-WET program is an environmental education grant program that promotes place-based experiential learning for K-12 students and related professional development for teachers. This year’s competitions feature an emphasis on climate change education. Competitions are currently open in California, Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, New England, and Pacific Northwest regions. 

zero waste competition

Register for the 2023 Campus Race to Zero Waste 

The Campus Race to Zero Waste helps campuses advance waste minimization and recycling efforts, while engaging students in friendly competition. For eight weeks each spring (February-March), hundreds of higher education institutions across the country rally their campuses to “up their game” by reducing waste and increasing their recycling, reuse, and composting in an effort to beat rival campuses. The deadline to register is Jan. 31.

Postsecondary Pollution Challenge Infographic

A Pollution Prevention Storytelling Challenge for Secondary and Postsecondary Students

EPA's Pollution Prevention Works: A Storytelling Challenge for Students is aimed at high school and college students. The challenge invites students to use reported pollution prevention information to identify a facility or set of facilities that have made noteworthy achievements. Students may make a video, write an article, develop an infographic, or create a story map illustrating how implemented pollution source reduction practices have led to reductions in chemical releases to air, water, or land. The challenge is intended to showcase achievements in environmental stewardship. EPA will award a total of $50,000 in prize money across two categories: high school and college/university. The deadline to apply is Feb. 17, 2023.

Department of Energy school grant funds newsletter image

Concept Papers Due for $80 Million Grant Program Funding Energy Improvements in K-12 Schools

The Department of Energy (DOE) is now accepting applications for the Renew America’s Schools Grant Program. This first-of-its-kind investment opportunity is open to K-12 school districts implementing critical energy upgrades that will lower facilities’ costs and foster healthier learning environments for students. Only applicants who have submitted an eligible concept paper will be eligible to submit a full application. Follow the steps below to apply for the $80 million funding opportunity: 1) visit EERE Exchange and create an account; 2) submit concept papers by 5 p.m. ET on Jan. 26; 3) submit the full application by 5 p.m. ET on April 21. DOE is compiling a list of frequently asked questions that will be answered in a publicly available spreadsheet updated weekly. To submit a question, please email

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World of 8 Billion Student Video Contest

Through the World of 8 Billion student video contest, middle and high school students are given a platform to think critically about global challenges related to population and to share solutions. Students explain how population growth impacts one of the following global topics and offer an idea for a sustainable solution. The global topics are: climate change, gender equality, and waste. More than 80 students will be awarded cash prizes of up to $1,200. The deadline to submit is Feb. 22.

Meet the 2022 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

Below, we spotlight three of the 2022 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School Honorees (ED-GRS). Get to know the 2022 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) in our annual highlights report and website.

J.G. Whittier Elementary tree planting

J.G. Whittier Elementary School; Washington, District of Columbia 

Whittier Elementary School (Whittier) shifted its academic programming to center on STEM, with a focus on urban sustainability. The school STEM coordinator has successfully led the effort to leverage partnerships to develop sustainable systems and practices at Whittier and in the community. Energy-efficient upgrades were made to Whittier’s HVAC systems to increase fresh air filtration throughout the building through an existing dedicated outside air system and the installation of high efficiency filters. Whittier uses Green Seal and EcoLogo cleaning products. Whittier’s garden projects have ranged from a small pollinator garden and eight garden beds to outdoor classrooms and tree planting. Whittier partners with FRESHFARM to embed comprehensive food education in the curriculum. Green Team members assist in separating waste, recycling, and composting. In physical education, students learn bike safety through a program with the D.C. Department of Transportation. In February 2021, Whittier held its first Sustainability STEM Fair. The school participates in the National Energy Education Development Energizing Student Potential program, which partners with schools to provide fun interactive energy lessons. A restorative practices coordinator provides rewards for good behavior, such as field trips, special events, and extra recess.

Northwestern University Campus

Northwestern University; Evanston, Illinois 

Northwestern University (Northwestern), ranked AASHE STARS Gold, is guided by a Strategic Sustainability Plan. In 2020 and 2021, Northwestern became the first university to receive the EPA’s ENERGY STAR Sustained Excellence Award. Partnerships with Clearway Energy and Ameresco offer solar projects and infrastructure upgrades for efficiency, while facilitating student learning. All new campus construction is required to meet or exceed LEED Gold certification, and the university already is home to 23 LEED-certified buildings. Northwestern’s facilities and grounds include solar panels, electric vehicle charging stations, bioswales and retention basins, and reflective and green roofing. Northwestern is certified as a Tree Campus Higher Education and Bike Friendly University. Waste reduction efforts include composting. The Outdoors Club organizes kayaking, hiking, and climbing trips, and Norris Outdoors rents camping equipment to students at affordable rates. Northwestern hosts two campus beaches, one of which includes a sailing center that offers sailing, windsurfing, and paddle boarding. The Wild Roots Student Garden, the Plant-it-Purple Graduate Garden, and wildlife habitat gardens provide opportunities for students to spend time outdoors and nourish needy community members. Across all departments, over 100 courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels focus directly on sustainability, with an additional 140+ courses featuring sustainability-related content. Northwestern’s Institute for Sustainability and Energy offers interdisciplinary graduate and undergraduate courses in the fields of sustainability and energy. Other departments offer environment- and sustainability-related degrees and certificates, ranging from environmental engineering to environmental policy and culture. Programs such as the Global Engineering Trek in Sustainability and Chicago Field Studies give students opportunities to study abroad and/or work in the local community to gain experience in the sustainability field. A Green Office Certification program empowers community members to evaluate and improve their office sustainability practices.  

La Center High School Ropes Course

La Center High School; La Center, Washington 

At La Center High School, the environmental studies class (ESC), which is a multidisciplinary integrated CTE-natural resources class, and the Environmental Action Team (EAT) have been leading efforts since 2008 on environmental sustainability and stewardship. Students have worked with community organizations to study macroinvertebrates, raise and release trout, and monitor water quality in their local watershed. Student-led projects, facilitated by staff and outside partners, continue to be a cornerstone of the effort. For example, ECS built a school garden in 2009 and completed drip irrigation installation in 2011, and each year’s class has taken care of composting, maintenance, planting, cultivation, and harvesting. The garden began as a 1,050-square-foot mixed-used garden and grew to more than 4,000 square feet. It is a source of fresh produce for the school’s cafeteria and local food banks. Food, coffee, and landscape waste fuel compost for the garden. Building on past successes, ESC collaborated with a civil engineering firm to plan additional outdoor learning space, featuring a solar shed and Tesla battery wall. The high school already features a rooftop solar array and rain barrel station. Industrial arts classes have practiced refining biodiesel with local restaurants’ used cooking oil. La Center features a campus challenge course with climbing and ropes, used for building confidence and teamwork. In addition to P.E. and health classes, the ecology, careers in science, environmental studies, and survival of literature classes regularly learn and work together outdoors. 


Green Strides Design

Take Advantage of the Ongoing Green Strides Webinar Series 

The Green Strides Webinar Series has promoted over 3,000 sessions that provide free tools to reduce schools’ environmental impact and costs, improve health and wellness, and teach effective environmental education. Consult the webinar calendar, and submit suggestions for listing additional free, publicly-available webinars related to school, district, and postsecondary sustainability to (Note: All times listed are ET.)

Jan. 4, 12–1 p.m. Portfolio Manager – Ask the Expert (EPA)

Jan. 10, 1–2:15 p.m. Portfolio Manager 101 (EPA)

Jan. 10, 5–6 p.m. Fire and Ice Geoscience:  Modeling and Analyzing Volcanoes (NASA)

Jan. 12, 1–2:15 p.m. Portfolio Manager 201 (EPA)

Jan. 17, 1–2:15 p.m. Portfolio Manager 301 (EPA)

Jan. 17, 5–6 p.m. Human Exploration Telerobotics (NASA)

Jan. 18, 12–1 p.m. Portfolio Manager – Ask the Expert (EPA)

Jan. 26, 5–6 p.m. Navigation and Communication with Spacecraft (NASA)


Green Schools Conference 2023

Attend the Green Schools Conference

The Green Schools Conference will be held Feb. 27-March 1, 2023, at the Sheraton New Orleans. This event brings together all the players involved in making green schools a reality: people who lead, operate, build, and teach in schools. Designed to educate, connect, and inspire, attendees of the three-day, in-person conference will explore interdisciplinary content during general sessions, while also having dedicated time with peers to work through specific challenges, share best practices, and generate momentum to further green school actions across the country. The 2023 program will address topics including environmental impact, health and well-being, sustainability literacy, equity, and whole school sustainability. The conference will also be an opportunity to connect with representatives of ED-GRS! Early bird rates end Jan. 13, 2023.

K-12 Facilities Forum Panel Federal Funding for School Facilities

ED's Special Advisor for Infrastructure and Sustainability Andrea Falken moderated a panel at the K-12 Facilities Forum in Palm Springs on Nov. 14 with Mike Pickens, executive director of the National Council on School Facilities; Anisa Heming, director of the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council; Andrea Swiatocha of the U.S. Department of Energy; and Becky Cook-Shyovitz of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The panel discussed federal funding for K-12 school facilities.