Wisconsin schools recognized for green practices

The U.S. Department of Education is recognizing Wisconsin education systems for minimizing environmental impact, teaching sustainability, and prioritizing health and wellness.

Green Ribbon Schools from the state include Houlton Elementary School, Middleton’s Kromrey Middle School, Washburn School District and UW-Stevens Point — one of only nine post-secondary institutions in the country being recognized for sticking to the tenets.

Nationwide, nine school districts, 45 schools, and one state education official were also recognized by the federal agency.

“I commend each school, district, and institution of higher education for their efforts to create a healthy learning environment for students, faculty and staff,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “These schools have done exemplary work to help prepare the rising generation for the careers and challenges of the 21st Century.”

Candidates for the awards were nominated by 28 states and the Department of Defense Department of Education Activity. Fourteen percent of 2017 awardees are located in rural areas, and 44 percent serve a “disadvantaged student body.”

UW-Stevens Point was the top Wisconsin higher ed institution, and has been advanced for consideration at the national level.

“Sustainability is a thread in all UW-Stevens Point activities and operations, from those related to facilities and grounds to curriculum and instruction to health and wellness in and around campus,” the Department of Education said in its comprehensive Green Ribbon Schools report.

The school was recognized for its many efforts to push for sustainability, including being the first university in Wisconsin to draw 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. It’s also on the EPA’s list of top schools for green power use.

DOE’s report also commends UW-Stevens Point’s efforts to minimize water waste. The school has a computer-controlled irrigation system, a green roof and rain gardens, as well as new stormwater systems in its parking lots. It also has dual-flush toilets.

“Sustainability is a hallmark of our strategic plan and our way of life at UW-Stevens Point,” said UWSP Chancellor Bernie Patterson. “Our faculty, staff and students have not wavered in their efforts to weave sustainability through campus.”

The university has joined others in making a pledge to have a carbon neutral campus by 2050, and provides multiple ways to learn more about sustainability. It’s developing a new doctoral program in educational sustainability which should start in fall 2017, as well as a master’s degree, sustainable and resilient food systems. It also provides natural resource management, and environmental education degree programs.

UWSP has a campus-wide ban on tobacco products, and links up with local groups to educate students on sustainable, healthy eating.

“We work closely with a couple groups in local foods market, the farmers market near campus,” said Nick Schultz, media relations director for UWSP. “We are working with Farmshed; students are learning about resilient food systems.”

It also has a composting program and recycling center. It uses organic materials in groundskeeping, and is Greenguard certified for its cleaning products. This certification means its products used in indoor spaces must meet certain chemical emissions limits.

The Green Ribbon Schools report says UWSP leadership “not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk” in emphasizing sustainability as a key part of the school’s “goals and success.”

“You will see in it coursework, in facilities and operations, in community initiatives and in a comprehensive commitment to lead sustainable lifestyles,” Patterson said.

–By Alex Moe