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​Pathways to Green Schools

Promoting Green and Sustainable Schools in Pennsylvania

Every school in Pennsylvania can start on the path towards a more green and sustainable future. Whether a school district is considering a renovation or construction project, reviewing operations and maintenance practices, planting a school garden, or updating curriculum, there is an opportunity to make our schools more cost-efficient, environmentally friendly and healthier places of learning. Pennsylvania is a partner with the United States Department of Education (USDE) Green Ribbon Schools program to recognize US Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awards, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awards.

The Pathways to Green Schools Program is intended to provide recognition to schools across the commonwealth as they design, build and implement their school, district, or institution's environmental literacy and sustainability plans (Word) in their quest to achieve USDE's Green Ribbon School recognition.

To achieve the US. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award, schools demonstrate marked progress across all three pillars, or areas of address. These include:

Pennsylvania is permitted to nominate as many as five (5) Pre-K-12 schools or districts to the USDE GRS program. Additionally, Pennsylvania may nominate one institution of higher education for progress in all three Pillars. All schools, school districts, and institutions of higher education, must meet college and career ready standards, be in compliance with federal civil rights laws, and comply with all federal, state, and local health and safety standards and regulations. The USDE selects and announces awardees from the schools, districts, and institutions of higher education, nominated by each state in the spring of each year.

The goal of PDE Pathways to Green Schools is to recognize Pennsylvania's schools as they work at their own pace to develop and implement their three-tiered sustainability plans. To support green and healthy schools' growth, awards will be issued to schools, districts, and institutions of higher education for progressing upwards along one or more of the three pillars defined within the USDE's Green Ribbon School program. These award areas include:

  • US Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) – Schools and institutions that have been recognized by USDE as Green Ribbon Schools
  • PA Pathways to Green State-Level Recognitions:
    • Climbing the Pillars – tiers of award for nominated Schools
      • Success! One Pillar Complete
      • Success! Two Pillars Complete
      • Success! Three Pillars Complete – State Finalist Level – for Schools and institutions that have been recognized for attaining high levels of sustainability for all three pillars at the state level and are under consideration for nomination for the USDE Green Ribbon School award

Additional recognition will be offered for eligible schools, districts, and institutions of higher education that are implementing innovative work within or in recognition of the following initiatives:

  • Agriculture Education
  • Climate Resilience
  • Environmental Justice
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Plan Development
  • Systemic Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Curriculum Integration
  • Litter, Recycling, and Waste Management Efforts
  • Continued Improvement Recognition for Past U.S.DOE GRS awardees (for schools or districts that have already achieved but would like to continue expanding programs and efforts related to environmental literacy and sustainability)

Important Dates

  • Nomination Applications Open: October 30, 2023
  • Nomination Application Submittal Deadline: January 12, 2024
  • Nomination Submittal to U.S. DOE: February 9, 2024
  • State and National Award Announcements: Spring 2024 (on or around Earth Day)
  • National Recognition Ceremony: Tentatively scheduled for Summer 2024
  • State Awards Ceremony: Fall/Winter 2024

Visit the US Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) website to learn more about this program. 


Tamara E. Peffer, Environment & Ecology Content Advisor, PDE: