Sustainability in Schools: 7 Ideas for Engaging Students, Communities in Green Initiatives

(Family characteristics) As the center of many communities, schools can play an important role in promoting sustainable behavior. Teaching earth-friendly behavior is one aspect, but schools can take steps to facilitate sustainable practices within school systems and communities.

Beyond protecting the climate and environment, sustainable practices provide multiple benefits, including improving student health and improving communities. These green changes can have a meaningful and lasting impact.

Start a recycling club
For communities without a city-wide recycling program, a student-run operation can be highly successful. Engaging students in planning and overseeing a community service project equips them with leadership experience while showing them firsthand the impact a small group can make.

See propane buses
Diesel school buses are not only expensive to run, but they pose a risk to children’s health and the environment. According to the Propane Education and Research Council, with propane school buses, the classic cloud of black smoke coming out of the tailpipe doesn’t exist. Propane school buses also provide a quieter ride than diesel buses, meaning it’s a safer ride. What’s more, propane reduces harmful emissions that cause asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses by up to 94% compared to diesel.

There are two practical energy choices for clean student transportation: propane and electric. However, a propane bus costs one-third that of an electric bus, allowing school districts to replace their aging diesel fleet with electric three times faster. Plus, propane has a range of 400 miles, which means even large vehicles like buses can cover the distance for a reliable ride.

Cleanse with natural products
Especially in the wake of a global pandemic, cleanliness standards in most schools are exceptionally high. However, many heavy-duty disinfectants and other cleaning agents used in schools and other public areas can be filled with chemicals that negatively affect air quality and further damage the environment when they wash into surrounding areas, including rivers and streams.

Plant a school garden
Locally grown produce offers many benefits, from providing an affordable food source for area families to reducing costs associated with food production, including transportation and packaging. Beyond the social and environmental benefits, gardening is a valuable life skill that can be easily woven into academic lessons like science, math, social studies, and even art.

Take advantage of natural light
In many cases, classrooms that are well lit by natural light filtering through windows do not need to run overhead lights all day. Using the warmth of the sun’s rays can help provide natural heat during the colder months.

Light bulb replacement
Where schools rely on energy-based lighting, eco-friendly bulbs make a lot of sense. Eco-friendly bulbs not only align with the school’s commitment to sustainability, but they are generally more cost-effective to run, meaning the district can save money on energy costs.

Celebrating environmental holidays
Engaging students and capturing their interest means having fun with classroom parties and special events that provide a break from the regular school routine. Organizing assemblies or special events in honor of environmental holidays can pique students’ interest and motivate them to take a greater interest in adopting sustainable practices.

A program designed for sustainability

In an effort to provide school districts with more environmentally friendly transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program is providing $5 billion over five years (2022-2026) to replace existing school buses with zero-emission and low-emission models.

The program prioritizes high-need, low-income, rural and tribal school districts. As an affordable, available energy source that provides fleets with up to 400 miles of range on a single fuel, propane autogas is a viable option for each of these priority demographics.

In 2022, the EPA applied for a $1 billion rebate for zero-emission and low-emission school buses as the first funding opportunity. $1 billion paid for 2,350 electric school buses. The fund also provided 109 low-emission propane buses.

However, the same amount of money distributed for electric buses could help fund 29,000 propane buses, assuming each bus received a $30,000 incentive from the program.

The 2,350 diesel buses in the grant replaced with electric ones will reduce CO2 emissions by 665 metric tons and 36,870 metric tons per year. If the funding went toward 29,000 propane buses to replace diesel, it would reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by nearly 10 times and carbon dioxide emissions by three times.

This year, parents can start the conversation with their school transportation officials about clean propane buses so they’ll be ready to apply when the time comes. Learn more about how parents can start the conversation at

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