Sustainable Jersey, in collaboration with the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), launched a voluntary certification-recognition program for schools in New Jersey in October. The certification is a prestigious designation and registered schools are eligible to apply for the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Small Grants program.

The registration process is critically important because it establishes the partnership between the district, the superintendent and the individual schools participating in the program. Registration begins at the school district level with a resolution of participation. Once a district is registered, the superintendent invites the district’s principals to participate. At this point, each school principal is able to proceed by registering his or her individual school online.

Best Practices for Creating a Green Team

Creation of the green team is the only mandatory action in the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program. The green team is created at the district or school level depending upon how activities will be coordinated. It can go by any name, but the role is the same: to lead and coordinate the sustainability activities of the school.

Membership is important. The most effective green teams are those that have diverse members to incorporate a wide range of perspectives, expertise and interests. Ideally, team members have both the influence to move the program forward, and have the time, skills and motivation to serve on the team.

There is no perfect recipe for forming a green team, but the strongest teams are those that represent a cross section of the school and community. Consider including representatives from relevant departments and areas such as facilities, maintenance, purchasing, strategic planning, curricula, physical education, health and social services, as well as parents and students. By directly including young people in green team work, the team will hear fresh voices, tap into new energy and enthusiasm, train the next generation in sustainability practices and involve the people who will be the major beneficiaries, over time, of a green team’s successes.

Green team members can also be recruited from the skilled residents, citizens and businesses, civic, nonprofit and faith-based organizations in the community. Many towns already have a municipal-based green team or environmental commission that can be a resource and partner to the school-based teams.

After a letter of participation has been submitted by an individual school and a green team established, it is time to start working on actions that gain points toward certification. The group’s leader can then hold a kick-off organizational meeting of the green team. The team can develop a plan with long- and short-term goals to help keep the green team focused and moving forward. The online application that schools use to track actions and upload certification materials is expected to go live for use in December 2014.

The Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification actions cover a wide range of topic areas. Nearly 75 percent of New Jersey municipalities are already working in these areas by participating in the Sustainable Jersey municipal certification program. We look forward to reporting on the progress of the first schools that register to participate and those that become certified in 2015 during the inaugural year of the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program.