How Sustainable is Your District? Use the GreenPrint from Green Schools National Network

“No more blah, blah blah.”

The youth at COP26, the world’s most important annual climate conference, have been protesting with this chant through the duration of the convening. Young people are ready for action on climate and are tired of meetings that culminate with few actionable steps.

These young people have been educated in sustainability mindset, a way of taking into account impact, accountability, global citizenship and more. And they, rightfully, are disheartened with the current state of politics. This applies to education as well. Over and over again schools are built not according to sustainability measures, and students graduate without having the faintest idea of the impending dangers and opportunities of a world on fire.

The Green Schools National Network has been working against these oversights for years, trying to bridge the gap between the climate unaware and actionable steps. To continue their efforts and leadership they have recently released an updated version of their flagship GreenPrint, a road map for driving purposeful and productive innovation. These updates help broaden the scope of the GreenPrint to comprehensively address three separate but related spheres of influence: health, equity, and sustainability.

“Green Schools National Network recognizes that the systems change work to create the future we desire needs to be faster and more efficient than ever before,” said GSNN Executive Director Jennifer Seydel, Ph.D. “We are proud of the updated GreenPrint, which underscores that we cannot have a sustainable future without an equitable and healthy space for everyone who works, learns, and plays in our schools.”

Green Schools National Network recognizes that the systems change work to create the future we desire needs to be faster and more efficient than ever before.

Executive Director Jennifer Seydel, Ph.D

After years of conducting research and talking with educators and school leaders who are deeply engaged in the work of implementing green school practices, the updated GreenPrint is grounded in three core beliefs:

  • Systemic change endures. GSNN believes healthy, equitable, and sustainable schools can only be achieved through whole-district/whole-school transformation that engages four interdependent systems that define a school: Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction, Culture and Climate, and Facilities and Operations.
  • Equity matters. GSNN believes students from all backgrounds and zip codes and
    regardless of social identities, including gender, sexual orientation, ability, race/ethnicity, and religion/spiritual beliefs, should have an equitable opportunity for academic success and equitable access to healthy environments.
  • Everyone is a leader and a learner. While leadership is key to creating healthy, equitable, and sustainable schools, every member of the school community – staff, students, parents, and community members – has a voice and a hand in creating systems and opportunities that increase engagement, deepen learning, and build the confidence and competence needed to become agents of change for a just and sustainable future.

Additionally, the framework identifies and defines four impact systems that power the levers of change. In any school or district, interaction of these systems – Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction, Culture and Climate, and Facilities and Operations – is necessary to optimize the health of the whole district and its schools and accelerate progress toward strategic goals.

The GreenPrint is organized by these four impact systems and for each system provides core practices to further action.

At Getting Smart, we strongly believe in the importance of a sustainability mindset and that leaders of the future will lead with sustainability in ways that not only pertain to our relationship with the environment but with each other and with time itself. We also believe that wellness and equity are key to building sustainable systems. It’s time to make a difference both locally and globally.  

Download the GreenPrint today and join the sustainability movement. For more information visit greenschoolsnationalnetwork.org.

This post is a part of Green Schools campaign. The climate crisis is the most complex challenge mankind has ever faced. It will require collaboration, shared truth and innovation at a scale that has yet to be realized. Through blogs, conversations and events we will focus on what to teach, how to teach it and how to create a climate positive school community so that our upcoming generations know what they are up against and have a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead. You can engage with this ongoing campaign using #GreenSchools. 


How Generation Z is Using Sustainability and Entrepreneurship Education to Save the Planet

 By: Laura Boyd Smidt

Just as they were born into a world with easily accessible technology (and cannot conceive otherwise), members of Generation Z have only known a climate in crisis. From day one, these young people have had to consider the future of a planet threatened by the actions and inactions of humans. For them, the question isn’t if they will see the effects of climate change, but when, and whether they can take steps today that will lessen the impact of this environmental upheaval tomorrow.

This attitude has become the hallmark of Gen Z, those born between 1997-2012, and includes the current high school-age population. Gen Z ranks climate change as their number one concern, according to a 2021 survey by Deloitte. Another study found that members of this generation are more likely than any others to let their concerns for the planet guide their purchasing decisions. With 18-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg as their role model, these young people are considering the impact that their actions, along with the actions of all humans collectively, have on the planet.

When future historians review the accomplishments of Gen Z, they’ll likely note how they transformed this concern for the environment into action. I know this because as an entrepreneurship educator, I spent my days with Gen Z students who are developing solutions to problems in their community with the environment in mind.

Students enrolled in entrepreneurship education programs in high schools, like the one I taught at the Academies of Loudoun, are asked not only to create a solution to a problem but to try to find a way to make that solution sustainable. For them, sustainability means much more than traditional, business-school notions of financial viability: establishing that a problem exists that a solution addresses, that there is a customer for that solution and that the solution can be delivered cost-effectively at scale. It means ensuring that their solution has a net positive impact on the environment, their community, and society and is financially sustainable to boot.

Every day, students in entrepreneurship programs, such as Uncharted Learning’s IncubatorEDU program are creating products and developing ideas for services that offer solutions to the problems they identify. And, they’re also showing adults that these solutions can be both “profitable” and good for the planet.

To see this in action, one needs to look no further than the winner of this year’s Uncharted Learning’s INCubatoredu National Pitch competition in July: FYDER Filament. The company, founded in 2020 by four high school students in Alamo Height, Texas, near San Antonio, operates under the decidedly Gen Z principle that “technological innovation and environmental consciousness should go hand in hand.” FYDER includes on its website a quote from Ernest Hemingway: “The Earth is a fine place and worth fighting for.”

Like all of INCubatoredu’s students, the Alamo Heights team looked for an innovative solution to a problem in their community. Jamie Mayes, a team member, and now FYDER’s CEO was working at her father’s factory, which makes oat-based breakfast foods when she learned how he struggled to dispose of the industrial-size plastic bags – imagine plastic bags the size of your house – used to transport ingredients in economically and ecologically friendly ways. Mayes and her teammates decided to solve the problem by turning the bulk plastic packing sacks into 3D printing filament for industrial, educational, and personal uses. Manufacturers, which lack the time and resources to recycle them, willingly hand over the plastic bags to FYDER, which keeps a material that doesn’t degrade out of landfills. FYDER then turns the free materials into spools of filament, which they sell for a profit.

When future historians review the accomplishments of Gen Z, they’ll likely note how they transformed this concern for the environment into action.

Laura Boyd Smidt

FYDER’s business model is a textbook example of the marriage between environmental and financial sustainability. And that has been a trend among INCubatoredu teams that have received seed money through the pitch competition. Green Dirt, an Illinois-based team that won the 2017 competition, converted food waste from local restaurants into compost that was bagged and sold at local nurseries and garden centers. A finalist in 2020, the LEAF team – also from Alamo Heights – created the first fully biodegradable shooting pigeon. The Eco Pigeon has the same qualities as traditional clay pigeon targets when they’re in the air, but is safer for animals and the environment because they’re made of natural materials that dissolve into the ground.

And in 2018, a team that I coached in my former role with Loudoun County Public Schools won $10,000 in the national pitch competition for Grow Greenly, a self-fertilizing pot for plants that also was biodegradable. The four young women who created Grow Greenly, all students in my INCubatoredu course at the Academy of Engineering and Technology, researched and tested containers made from biosolid materials — leaf-based compost, water, cornstarch and locally sourced water pellets that act as a natural fertilizer.

HS team for Sustainability with check
INCubatoredu program national pitch competition winners

The startup faced numerous setbacks, including an early version where the containers broke apart during transportation tests. Rather than let these failures derail their plans, the members of Grow Greenly became even more determined to find the right balance between organic materials and overall stability. There was too much at stake — both for the team and for the planet — for them to settle for anything less.

The desire to help the planet extends beyond those teams that are developing solutions specifically designed to address environmental challenges. Indeed, the question “how do we ensure our solution has a net positive impact on the planet?” is one that most of the teams in these programs – upwards of 75% of the teams I worked with –  try to answer through their design process. For them sustainable design isn’t a “nice to have feature,” and that’s a good thing and it’s why entrepreneurship programs that empower students to develop sustainable solutions should be applauded and encouraged.

There are countless other examples of student INCubatoredu teams coming up with similarly innovative solutions that blend entrepreneurship with environmental sustainability. It points to a rising generation of entrepreneurs motivated to make the world a better place — and who want to show the rest of us that good business can also be good for the planet.

Laura Boyd Smidt is a recently retired entrepreneurship teacher at the Academies of Loudoun in Loudoun, Virginia, and currently is a Program Specialist at the entrepreneurship education non-profit, Uncharted Learning.


Climate Collapse: Is AI the Antidote?

“It is worse, much worse, than you think,” said David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth, about the climate crisis.

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history—and the rate of species extinction is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, warns a landmark new UN report.

The climate crisis is biological, ecological and political. It’s at least catastrophic, if not existential (more likely a contributing factor to existential risk) according to scientists at the University of Cambridge’s Center for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), and it will take a portfolio of efforts to begin mitigating the impending disasters.

In this five-part series on trends in learning, we’ve covered 12 trends at various stages of maturity, but none of them compare to the climate crisis—nothing is more important or more imminent. This post considers four impacts of the climate crisis on education.

1. Climate becomes an education priority. The climate crisis will be the most dominant issue in the lives of young people. It will monopolize the weather, the science, and—after it becomes painfully obvious to even the climate deniers—the politics of the next 30 years.

Category Mega Trends Emerging Trends Adjacent Trends Next Trends
Global crisis Climate collapse Populism v activism AI capabilities Adaptation
Aims New goals Contribution Inclusion/equity Responsive
Strategies Active learning Immersive learning Lifelong learning Lean
Measures Competency Success skills Quantified life Social economy
Supports Integrated services Guidance Mindfulness Growth communities

Teachers in the U.S. have shied away from exposing the crisis to students for fear of political condemnation. An NPR/Ipsos poll found that 55% of teachers don’t teach or talk about climate change. However, four in five parents wish they did.

Given the widespread implications, the climate collapse will become central to learning in science, math and social studies. Consider holding a community conversation and making climate a priority in your school sooner rather than later.

2. Populism vs. activism. The global tilt toward populism and nationalism is short-sighted; it is instead a political sugar rush, right at the inflection period during which we have a (continually diminishing) chance to stave off complete climate disaster, but only with a rapid, coordinated comprehensive response.

Education can help young people figure out who they are, what they are good at, what the world needs, and what they care about—and help them make their initial contribution. Greta is the model: the planet is on fire, the time for action is now.

3. Can AI save the planet? The rise of artificial intelligence—code that learns—is the most important technical capability ever developed. It is driving what the World Economic Forum calls the Fourth Industrial Revolution: the disruption of every sector of human society with a good news, bad news story. It holds the promise of extraordinary benefits, from curing diseases to unlocking clean energy. But like climate collapse, it is a catastrophic risk that needs to be thoughtfully managed, starting now.

Will AI help reverse the climate crisis? Simon Beard and Haydn Belfield at CSER warn against tech optimism as an excuse for anything but a full portfolio response. With that in mind, AI is:

AI will help combat the climate crisis, but it won’t save us. In fact, the combination of AI-accelerated income inequality and flood, famine and fire caused by climate collapse is likely to be catastrophic (and, as a result, we should let young people in on the fact that we’ve made a mess of the place).

4. Adaptation. In The Archipelago of Hope, Gleb Raygorodetsky reveals the links between indigenous cultures and their lands and how it can form the foundation for climate change resilience around the world. Perhaps indigenous people are a model for how we can start planning for life on a hotter planet with chaotic weather.

The education answer is to teach young people the design skills to mitigate and adapt to the damage we’ve created.

But we don’t have much time—perhaps a decade—for comprehensive coordinated action. “We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet,” General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés.

“Our future is in your hands; do not let the hope of the world be in vain,” concluded Sheddona Richardson, the youth representative to the U.S. for Grenada.

For more, see:


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This post was originally published on Forbes.