Green Cleaning: Little Eco-Monsters

Are students giving you the evil "green" eye?

Many schools have begun their green journey by carrying out a host of green initiatives: green cleaning, energy and water conservation, recycling, local foods, composting and more. One of the outcomes beyond the environmental benefits is the positive response from students and staff. Perhaps even more important is the growing awareness and heightened expectations from students, who expect their schools to address these issues. Green cleaning is the right thing to do (and it makes good economic sense), and the youngest of our “supervisors” are demanding it.

Children are bombarded with eco-friendly messages, and they soaked them up like the sponges they are. “WALL-E” and “earth” brought eco-friendly messages to the movie screen and warned about the perils that await the planet if more care is not given to everyday matters. The Natural Resources Defense Council recently worked with Nickelodeon on public-service announcements and other programming called “Big Green Help.” The Girl Scouts have added badges including “Environmental Health,” “Get With the Land,” “Earth Pact” and “Water Drop.” Save the Planet, an online message forum for school children, logged 3 million page views over the past calendar year.

Young students also are learning the importance of environmental sustainability within the walls of the classroom. Many schools have incorporated green messages within lessons. The educational publishing giant Scholastic announced that it is joining with the Rainforest Alliance to strengthen the company's sustainable paper-procurement practices.

It also has teamed with the American Museum of Natural History to create websites and magazines about climate change and other environmental issues. It also plans to publish The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming, a book about protecting the environment.

So we have a generation of what the New York Times dubbed “a growing army of ‘eco-kids’” — who peek in trash cans for potential recycling violations, pop in rooms to turn off unneeded lights and appliances, and turn their noses down at the SUVs in the neighborhood. They take any affront to environmentalism personally.

As summer comes to a close and those little feet fill school hallways and classrooms, remember that they most likely will give you a leery eye or two. Do your part to assure these students with well-placed signage to explain what you have been doing to make your buildings green. Create fun, age-targeted, colorful cards and posters for youngsters to read, or create handouts for the teaching staff. And look to suppliers for help; many of them offer free programs. If you took any special or newsworthy steps toward sustainability over the summer, let students know.

Stephen Ashkin is executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit educational organization. He can be reached at [email protected].

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