Five years after the start of a successful program for municipalities, Sustainable Jersey launched a sustainability certification program for New Jersey’s 2,500 public schools. New Jersey School Boards Association Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, and key leadership from eight partner organizations, first unveiled Sustainable Jersey for Schools at Workshop 2014.

Sustainable Jersey for Schools provides tools, training and financial incentives to support and reward schools and districts as they pursue sustainability programs. The certification program offers a roadmap for achieving a comprehensive sustainability program.

A school’s certification application is based on a selection of 87 actions in 17 categories that, quite simply, eliminates the time-consuming process of trying to tackle sustainability initiatives without direction. Participating schools earn points for certain actions, such as performing energy audits, integrating sustainability into student learning and boosting recycling efforts. The program helps schools improve efficiency, cut waste and contribute to students’ education in the key areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

One-Third of New Jersey School Districts Participating In 2015, Sustainable Jersey for Schools had an exceptional first year, culminating with the recognition of the inaugural group of 59 certified schools at Workshop 2015. Five school districts emerged as sustainability leaders by successfully supporting the efforts of multiple schools in their districts to achieve program certification. The five standout school districts are: Cherry Hill, Egg Harbor Township, Medford, Readington and Wayne.

More than one-third of New Jersey school districts and more than 500 schools are now participating. “Sustainable Jersey for Schools allowed us all to start rowing in the same direction, use a common language and work toward a shared mission of certification,” said Lori Braunstein, founder of Sustainable Cherry Hill, one of the leading districts. “The program brought the school district together and kept us driving forward.”

In 2016, 86 schools applied for certification. Once again, the approved schools will be announced at a recognition ceremony at Workshop 2016.

The Sustainable Jersey for Schools partners bring extensive expertise with the public school community. Partners include: NJSBA, the New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials, the New Jersey Parent Teacher Association, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, the New Jersey School Buildings and Grounds Association and The Sustainability Institute at The College of New Jersey.

Energy-Efficient School Communities Save School Districts Millions Sustainable practices are not only good for students; they can result in efficiencies and cost savings in energy, water and garbage bills. In Egg Harbor Township School District, all eight schools in the district participated and achieved certification. This district has one of the first and largest school solar programs in New Jersey and a successful energy management program that has provided the district over $8 million in savings to redirect to school programs and save taxpayer resources.

“Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand my colleagues that are tentative about doing sustainability initiatives,” said Dr. Scott McCartney, former superintendent of the Egg Harbor Township School District. “For Egg Harbor Township School District, the rewards were so positive versus the risks. We had to look at our fixed costs, and energy was a perfect area to find savings. We had about $8 million in cost avoidance and savings due to changes in the energy portfolio and a lot of these changes are based on behavioral strategies. These savings help keep resources in the schools.”  McCartney is now superintendent of the Moorestown Township School District.

Grants Available to Support Schools and Districts To support the efforts of schools and districts, Sustainable Jersey for Schools offers grants and technical support. Since 2015, $706,000 in grants has been provided to districts and schools to make progress. The 2016 funded projects include a wide range of initiatives; for example, Bergenfield High School is implementing a school food composting program; Chairville School in Medford is creating an outdoor classroom; and Zane North Elementary School in Camden is constructing a storm water collection area to reduce runoff and flooding. To see current grants available and the list of projects funded, visit the Sustainable Jersey for Schools website (

Getting Started To get started in the program, a school board must adopt a resolution of participation and register at the Sustainable Jersey for Schools website. Then each school in that district may register on the website. The website provides the list of sustainability actions, each with guidance and resources for implementation.

Workshop 2016 On October 25, 2016, the second group of certified schools and school districts will be celebrated at a reception held during Workshop 2016 in Atlantic City. Workshop 2016 will feature Sustainable Jersey for Schools sessions along with NJSBA sustainability support programs for schools. Attendees can visit the Sustainable Jersey for Schools’ booths in the Green Command Center and in the NJSBA member services area.

Donna Drewes is co-director of Sustainable Jersey, Heather McCall is program director of Sustainable Jersey for Schools.