Search Books:

Join our mailing list:

Recent Articles

The Mystery Murder Case of the Century
by Robert Tanenbaum

by Anna Godbersen

Songs of 1966 That Make Me Wish I Could Sing
by Elizabeth Crook

The Opposite of Loneliness
by Marina Keegan

Remembering Ethel Merman
by Tony Cointreau

The Eleven Nutritional Commandments for Joint Health
by Richard Diana


Green Report Card: Is Your Child's School Flunking the Environment?
By Adria Vasil,
Author of Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products & Services

You'd think schools would be role models for good behavior now wouldn't you? Oh sure they might talk a good game about the importance of recycling paper and protecting polar bears, but are they walking the walk? Not if they're leaving the lights on day and night, spraying the school grounds with toxic pesticides and mopping up with hormone-disrupting chemicals! Here's a subject-by-subject breakdown on how your kid's school might be failing the planet, as well as some pointers for helping them boost those grades.

Grassy school yards see a lot of activity, so no matter how old the students (and teachers) are, toxic pesticides shouldn't be sprayed on school grounds. Many are linked to cancer, neurological damage, and developmental problems. Youngest kids are the most vulnerable because their organs can't easily eliminate toxins from their systems and their nervous systems are still developing. After several incidents of chemical pesticides like Roundup wafting into school vents, kids swallowing insecticide granules, and fumigants making students sick, the federal government was kicking around a bill (the School Environmental Protection Act) that would force schools to notify parents when pesticides were used on school property, but the bill didn't get enough votes to pass.

Room for improvement:

  • Ask your school/school board about their pesticide policy. Demand that students and parents be notified before bug-killing chemicals are used.
  • Press school leaders to establish an integrated pest management policy that looks at switching to safer options. The Environmental Protection Agency recently asked schools to do so by 2015 (google School IPM 2015 for details), but if you want it to happen sooner, you'll have to push for it.
If your child's school says it's too cash-strapped to bring on earth-friendly changes, remind them that going green can actually save them serious coin. One out of every four dollars that schools spend on electricity is needlessly wasted on inefficient boilers and leaving lights on, according to the US Department of Energy. Check if your school has an action plan for cutting back on excess energy use.

Room for improvement:

  • Make sure programmable thermostats are set no lower than 75°F in the summer and no higher than 70°F in the winter.
  • Be light-bright: switch to ultra efficient compact fluorescent, T8 bulbs. Install motion sensors and timers to save even more.
  • Post signs above monitors and switches reminding students to switch off computers and lights at lunch and recess. Consider installing motion sensors or timers on lights.
  • Get schooled on the benefits of upgrading computers: Energy Star models can save up to $55 a year in energy. For more tips, see the US Department of Energy's website:

No doubt, kids are messy, but did you know each student churns out about half a pound of garbage per school day? Multiply that by all the students in America and we've got some serious landfill clogging going on. 

Room for improvement:

  • Are there recycling bins in every class and hallway? The easier they are to find, the more likely they are to be used.
  • Are printers and photocopiers loaded with 100% recycled paper high in post-consumer content? Ask about a paper-saving policy for teachers and students.
  • Is the school composting? Organize food scrap bins in the cafeteria and build a composter outside. Students can spread all the highly nutritious soil it generates on school grounds. Teachers can even work with their classes to build a composter from scratch, as described at
  • Is the cafeteria handing out disposable cutlery and plates? Make sure reusable forks and dishes are promoted and try to ban hard-to-recycle plastics like polystyrene from your cafeteria.

If your older child's school has a cafeteria it's probably serving up a bounty of tantalizingly fresh, local ingredients, right? Fat chance. It probably serves more frozen fries and greasy burgers in a day than you can count. You might have trouble convincing your school to spend more cash on organic goodies, but you may be able to persuade the powers that be to cook with local ingredients (especially in prime harvest season!).

Room for improvement:
  • Encourage the school to set up a farm-to-school program (it's already in 9000 schools!).
  • Look into the possibility of getting students to plant an organic food garden on school property. 
  • More and more schools are already serving up certified organic options. Talk to your school about including organics wherever possible. 

Gone are the days of teachers cleaning mouths out with soap, but kids are still taking in questionable chemicals every time their school gets cleaned. Petrochemicals, bleaches, and caustic solvents found in industrial cleaning products have been linked to asthma, hormone disruption, and allergies. Back in the 80s, one school janitor collapsed and later died after cleaning a bathroom floor with a product that contained butyl cellosolve (an ingredient still used in professional cleaners today) without any ventilation.

Room for improvement:

  • We've got to be realistic here: your school's not about to switch to baking soda and vinegar. Instead, give school officials a list of eco-friendly institutional cleaning products approved by trusted third-party certifiers like Green Seal (

Getting your school to go fully green can be about as easy as getting a class full of 5-year-olds to sit still. It's even harder when you're just one person, so join forces with a group of like-principled people. Some school boards already have parent environmental networks -- be sure to ask.

Room for improvement:
  • Junior and senior high schoolers can form an environmental club (e-club) with the help of a geography or earth sciences teacher. They can do stuff like assess their school's impact on the earth by measuring its ecological footprint (learn how at
  • Start a Green PTA. If the local PTA isn't keen on going green, concerned parents can start their own coalitions with other conscious moms and dads who want "idling-free" zones outside, Energy Star computers in classrooms and organic milk in the cafeteria.

©2009 Adria Vasil, author of Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products & Services

Author Bio

Adria Vasil, author of Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products & Services, is a best-selling author and journalist for Canada's NOW, where she has been writing the "Ecoholic" column for five years. She lives in Toronto.

For more information please visit