The Total Child

Green Apple Day of Service – A Local Springboard for Global Impact

(National Awareness) Permanent link

Guest post by Anisa Heming, Director, Green Schools at U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)

If you could do anything for your school or district, with limitless resources, money, and time, what would you do? Would you improve the school playground or building? Cultivate an impressive library of educational resources? Create new programming to enhance student health and wellbeing?  

For five years, Green Apple Day of Service has presented educators, parents, students, and community members with an opportunity to be creative and make measurable, positive change by engaging in service projects that address a school’s environmental impacts, student and faculty health and wellness, and environmental and sustainability literacy.

We’ve seen participation from almost one million volunteers in 73 countries since 2012, and our actions have impacted the learning environments of over seven million students. Providing students with a hands-on experience that both improves their learning environment and engages them with authentic and place-based learning is the best of what green schools offer.

 Healthy Schools: Be Well, Learn Well

We spend 90% of our time indoors, and one out of every six Americans sets foot in a school building every day. Students, teachers, administrators, and community members all interact with learning environments day in and day out. So it is critical that we address how our school buildings and their surrounding environs impact human health and wellbeing.  

Undertaking projects to improve indoor air quality, temperature and humidity, acoustics, access to daylight, and access to nature can have a real impact on how students feel each day, and how well they learn. A healthy indoor and outdoor environment is one place to start; another place to begin is in programming or education to support nutrition and healthy habits. A Green Apple Day of Service project is the perfect way to address health and wellbeing at your local K-12 school, wherever you choose to begin.

Project Profile: School Garden Planting Week  

“May in Minnesota is a bit unpredictable—it could be snowing, it could be 85 degrees, it could be raining for days on end,” says Steph Leonard, project manager with USGBC Minnesota. “After a bit of it all, the weather shifted and delivered mostly sunshine just in time for the second annual Minnesota Schoolyard Garden Planting Week. Nearly 100 people gathered in the newly built outdoor classroom at Washburn Elementary School to help plant their gardens and celebrate those who make outdoor learning possible.

 “The outdoor classroom will serve as a learning and reflection space for the students and as a gathering space for the community, who are welcome to come and learn about sustainable sites that incorporate things like vegetable gardens, native plants, and water management measures,” says Leonard. “As part of planting week, we track each project under the banner of Green Apple Day of Service to better understand need and impact.”

 Sustainability Literacy: Read, Write and Speak Green 

Schools educate and prepare students to be responsible and engaged citizens, and a crucial component of their success hinges on understanding the connections between the environmental, economic, and social structures that influence daily life. Education that uses the environment as a context for learning can help improve test scores in reading and math while teaching systems thinking, STEM subject matter, creative problem solving, resource management, and more, 

Environmental and sustainability education prepares students for the challenges they will inevitably face as adults. One of the most beautiful things about sustainability education is that it can be conducted next to any other subject matter being taught. For loads of ideas on environmental and sustainability lesson plans, check out all of the standards-aligned, bilingual, high-quality lessons on the Learning Lab platform for K-12 sustainability content.

 Project Profile: Sacramento Unified School District’s Green Week

In 2016, the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) used Learning Lab to help shape their Green Week, which used Green Apple Day of Service as a catalyst for a week of sustainability lessons and activities.

“Green Week was a huge success for us,” said Rachel King, sustainability director for SCUSD. “We partnered with community organizations and planned activities all week. Activities included a plug load audit, waste sorts, walk to school day, all green salad bar in cafeterias, and air quality flag program. We had 14 schools participating in various activities throughout the week with their classrooms, and even more participating in International Walk to School Day. We also had our Board approve a proclamation to declare the first full week in October Green Week every year.”

Low-impact Schools: Reducing the Footprint 

Arguably, a complete and effective education includes some measure of conscious character development. What better way to encourage students to take personal responsibility for their actions and decisions than to involve them in the hands-on improvement of their learning environment?  

Making changes that improve the classroom experience, both indoors and outdoors, is a powerful first step toward teaching students about their impact on the environment. By updating classroom lighting fixtures, conducting a water or waste audit, or establishing a recycling or composting program, students can have a hand in real changes for their schools and communities.

 Project Profile: Recycling in Georgia

Each year, Cass High School in Cartersville, GA, kicks off their recycling program as their Green Apple Day of Service project. The students’ project includes creating a video PSA that is used with the school throughout the year as they compete against the other schools in their district to be one of the top recyclers. Their Environmental Science AP students also spend time learning about and monitoring the school’s energy use to look for ways to become more efficient.

Elsewhere in Georgia, in Bartow School District, the Sustainability Programs Coordinator coordinated a successful Recycle Bowl last year that diverted .5 million pounds of waste from the landfill through the efforts of the district’s 26 schools. Green Apple Day of Service helps to kick off the district’s recycling program each year and inspires individual schools to take on other efforts.

 Do It Yourself: Green Apple Day of Service 

We know from experience that passion, dedication, and inspiration can go a long way toward making up for limited resources, money, and time. We also know that financial support, volunteers, and other resources can make Green Apple Day of Service projects go farther. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about this year’s events:  

This year, schools commit to a project at the beginning of the school year and name your own date. The projects themselves can happen at any time from August 2017 through May 2018. However, the projects can only receive official support with funding, volunteers, and other resources if they are registered on the website by the end of October.

Our web site,, provides everything you need to create a successful project, including flyers, planning checklists, and fundraising tips.

Teachers and school leaders know what’s most needed at their school, and they are the ones who will keep sustainability values strong after the day of action is over. We’re making it worthwhile to join in: matching funds are available for supplies through our corporate partners on, volunteer assistance is available through our community teams around the country, and fun downloads and planning resources are given to those who sign up. Check out our FAQ for detailed information. And then join us by registering your project!