The "Greening" of Campuses in Higher Education and K-12 Schools: The Value of Experiential Learning for Sustainability




Blanchard, Denise
Cmiel, Brian

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The Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education


Institutions of higher education have been involved in campus sustainability programs and activities since the 1970s; however, increasingly, schools in K-12 education have become involved in aspects of the green movement, such as energy efficiency and high performance building design, to facilitate sustainability on their campuses, as well. This interest at the elementary and secondary levels of education is mainly promoted by two relatively recent comprehensive programs: the United States Department of Education's Green Schools Initiative (GS]), and the nationwide, online Green Ribbon Schools (GRS) program (USDOE, 2012). The goals of this research were twofold: 1) to assess how students and administrators at campuses in higher education engaged in sustainable programs and practices; and, 2) to observe the creative activities of teachers and students in K-12 education toward campus sustainability. To achieve our first goal, we created a list of 10 criteria that defined a sustainable campus and applied them to a sample of 23 universities having approximately equal enrollment. Two-thirds engaged in half or more of our ten criteria. The two most frequent were: evidence of student organizations dedicated toward environmental causes; and, whether the universities included sustainable policies in their Master Plans. Alternative energy programs and a commitment to reduce emissions on campus were also important. The second goal of observing campus sustainability for K-12 schools called for examining the website of the GRS program, the original award and recognition program for K-12 schools. Of730 registered schools, 68, or about 10% were green ribbon award winners in 2011, the majority emanating from Texas, with California schools, second. Though the GRS program is comprised of four cornerstones, we only observed the "EcoCampus" cornerstone to remain consistent with the aims of the research. The majority of projects focused on recycling/waste," and "energy." A case study of an elementary school that developed curriculum using the "building as a teaching tool" is presented and illustrates how this school incorporated STEM concepts and lifelong learning. Overall, this research concluded that no matter the scale, size, enrollment of an institution of education, nor level of education, that a growing number of educators, students, and administrators are participating in sustainability activities on campus to achieve short-term efficiencies and savings, as well as, long-term benefits toward educating the next generation of environmentally-aware, and conservation-minded citizens.



geography, higher education, campus sustainability, K-12 schools, green campuses, Green Ribbon Schools program, Green School Initiative, green school resources, school conservation programs


Blanchard, D. & Cmeil, B. (2012). The "greening" of campuses in higher education and K-12 schools: The value of experiential learning for sustainability. Research in Geographic Education, 14(1), pp. 55-76.


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