USGBC Education Solutions and the Green Schools Conference and Expo


In the five years since USGBC has launched Education USGBC, they have been committed to continuous improvement. Along the way, USGBC has expanded to over 700 courses, diversified the topics and types of education content available, launched curated playlists and created knowledge-based badges to recognize deeper expertise.

USGBC has also begun hosting the annual Green Schools Conference and Expo, taking place April 8-10 2019 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Green Schools Conference & Expo is the only national event to bring together all the players involved in making green schools a reality: people who lead, operate, build and teach in U.S. schools.Two days of programming offer inspiring keynote speakers, informative workshops and breakout sessions and the chance to network with colleagues from across the country. In 2019, GSCE will be hosted in partnership with IMPACT, a regional sustainability conference.

In this episode of Sustainable Nation we chat with three leaders from the education programs at USGBC to speak about their commitment to education, educating and preparing the next generation of sustainability leaders and the upcoming Green Schools Conference and Expo. Our guests include:

  • Anisa Hemming - Director of the Center for Green Schools

  • Jenny Wiedower - K-12 Education Manager

  • Jaime Van Mourik - Vice President of Education Solutions

Anisa Heming

You have an upcoming conference, the Green Schools Conference and Expo coming up April 8th in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Tell us a little bit about that conference and what can attendees expect to learn?

Yeah, we love this conference. This is my favorite time of the year. It is a really nice size and a great group of people who really care about better schools for our kids. We're really excited about the programming this year too. USGBC has worked on the conference since it was first launched back in 2010. We took it over fully a few years ago and work alongside the people who founded the conference, which is the Green Schools National Network. USGBC has a lot of expertise in running high quality events and making sure that the right voices are at the table and we have great content for people to hear from. So, we run the conference and make sure that it runs smoothly, has great keynotes and great content for people to enjoy.

Can you tell us what you're learning or any lessons learned from the work that you're doing with these sustainability change makers in the schools?

We have learned a lot. The US Green Building Council was founded 25 years ago to work mostly with companies, and then in 2007 we released LEED for schools, which was one of our first experiences doing work with elementary and secondary schools. By the time 2010 rolls around we decided to launch the Center for Green Schools because we realized very quickly, in working with LEED for schools, that the K through 12 schools market just makes decisions very differently and the incentives for change are very different. Everything about working with schools is different. So, we have learned quite lot over the last number of years. One of the things we've found in the last eight years or so is that there is a core of staff at school systems who are being assigned work related to sustainability. So, in some cases these are sustainability directors or sustainability coordinators, sometimes they are energy managers, sometimes they're called resource conservation officers. There is this really cool group of change makers that work on a system level at school districts and we have found a lot of success in working with that group, making sure they have the professional development they need to do that work well and best practice sharing among that group.

So, it's a very powerful group of people to make change at the system level within their schools. We're learning a lot about the different ways that change happens at schools and school systems. It can really come from anywhere, which is just constantly surprising. All it takes to make a change at a school or school district is to have a few very passionate voices who have the right information and the right research behind the work and are effective at making the case for sustainability action. That can be students, it can be teachers or it can be parents. So, when someone asks me about the path for change at a school or school system, there's really not one path. There's so many and our job at the Center for Green Schools is to equip those passionate people with what they need, because we know that anyone with the right information and the right passion can actually tip the needle at some of our schools and school systems.

Are you seeing signs of progress overall in the green school movement?

Yeah, absolutely. We've seen a lot of progress in the willingness for school districts to push sustainability further. A lot of your listeners will probably have heard of a school in their area that's thinking about net zero energy. There are dozens of those schools around the country and that is just something that would not have been a conversation even five years ago with most schools. We're actually seeing many schools take chance seriously and the most innovative schools are actually thinking about how to take this even further. They are looking at at zero carbon and water resources - using only what we're able to capture.

There's actually many more schools now that are looking at those goals that we would have seen as maybe stretch goals a couple of years ago, and looking at them much more seriously now. So, that is very exciting for me to see. I'm also seeing a lot of progress because of that group I mentioned earlier of sustainability directors at school systems. We can actually measure the growth of sustainability over the last number of years because we do a lot of work to try to find those people to connect them to this professional development network of sustainability directors at school systems. That network has grown by 20% each of the last two years at least. So, we can also see that more districts and systems are hiring someone or assigning someone to work on sustainability issues. That can be in the facilities department or often they bridge the facilities department and the academic departments at a district.

Jenny Wiedower

We're seeing this huge movement around sustainability in higher education and all these universities that are creating programs and embedding sustainability into their curriculum. So, it's great that we're really working to expose these students to sustainability before that in high school and middle school and even elementary school.

Yeah, a really exciting part of my work is thinking about how we are both impacting the experience of school occupants, learners, teachers, professionals today and how we're inspiring and informing students about the possibilities that await them as they enter into their next phase after they graduate from high school. Every green activity within a school is an opportunity for students to think about how they might get excited and resolve to incorporate sustainability in their life, both at school and beyond.

Any trends you're seeing about students around sustainability careers? Are students interested in high school or middle school? Is there engagement around students pursuing those sustainability careers?

Yeah, absolutely. We like to talk about the concept of sustainability natives. We think that kids understand concepts that we unfortunately sometimes teach out of them. So, not being wasteful and appreciating time outdoors. Even at the youngest age, when thinking about careers is not really something that elementary students are or should be thinking about, there's a real opportunity to help teachers keep that core sustainability thinking present in students' minds. That could be taking advantage of outdoor classrooms, talking about concepts of scarcity and abundance, thinking about how to be more mindful and present and really weaving sustainability as a topic across all subjects.

We tend to think of sustainability as being aligned with science, especially as we get into the upper grades, but for our youngest learners sustainability can show up in art projects or writing assignments. It's a great way to take, for instance, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and try to apply those in learning across all subjects. As these younger learners move into middle school, that's where career topics begin to show up. Many of the STEM skills, science, technology, engineering and math, are introduced around middle school and that's also where we see science and thinking about what scientists and engineers do. The practices that they incorporate into their jobs show up in the next generation science standards. So, as they're learning the skills and practices of professionals, it's a great opportunity to make them aware of the green aspects of so many of the professions out there. It's also a really wonderful time to show them careers and positions that are held by people who look like them or sound like them or come from places that are familiar to students. I recently saw a new book that was published about women in STEM careers.

That middle school time frame also is when many students have the opportunity to opt into career technical education programs. When they're in sixth or seventh grade, they might be choosing which high school they will move into in ninth grade and making sure that guidance counselors are equipped with information about green jobs and how sustainability can be incorporated across a number of professions is really important and something that we at the US Green Building Council are focusing on. And then of course, as we move into the high school, students have a lot of opportunities to explore green jobs. Beginning in middle school and all up through high school is a really great time for teachers and schools to be connecting with local professionals. Bringing them into the classroom, having them work with students on projects, or maybe just coming in for a career day are all great ideas.

Jaime Van Mourik

In general, why is education so important for the overall movement of sustainability and green building?

So one of the most fundamental drivers of transformation, both on a personal level and on a market scale, is education. No matter who you are or how you learn best, longterm success is built on continuous learning and growth. So, we know that it's critical to build the pipeline of future green building professionals and citizens of this world who understand that the built environment affects their daily lives. An organization like USGBC needs to advance the knowledge of our current professionals in the marketplace so that we start to see changes happen in the way that we design, construct and operate buildings and infrastructure. So again, education, I really see as that catalyst for change and it's such a critical component to the work we're doing to drive this green building movement.

How do you work to getting your resources into the curriculum in middle schools, high schools or even higher education. What does that process look like of incorporating your educational resources into curriculum?

So our vision at USGBC is to support all stages of a learner's life. It really begins with very young children, all the way through the college preparatory years and postsecondary education, and then of course, being able to provide advanced education for professionals. We work in a variety of modes. We first need to understand the audience that we're trying to serve and what the goals of the audience is, and then of course the best style of learning, whether that be in-person or through online platforms. So, each day as we're working across all these different ages and education levels to provide the different solutions, what we want to be able to do is connect the knowledge on sustainable topics to real action, because it's through this action that the change is in fact going to take place. For our youngest learners, the K12 audience, our goal is to build a foundation of knowledge and skills and behaviors that are going to set up these young people for decades of success, contributing to building sustainable communities, developing relevant careers and having fulfilling futures. To be able to support learners in this stage, we offer an online learning platform called Learning Lab and we have a green classroom professional certificate, which helps to train K12 teachers on the concepts of green building and sustainability. These all together help these educators bring sustainability into the classroom in ways that have a real lasting impact on the students.

When we shift to our postsecondary learners, students in college, our goal is to help prepare them for 21st century careers. So, at this stage of learning, we offer programs and products that help them better define their personal vision and their aspirations and show them a realistic path toward the achievement of their goals. What we've done is really tried to help enhance the curriculum that's being developed and to push innovation in educational practice. We offer high quality education content, curricular toolkits for instructors, professional credential exam resources and an experiential learning course. All that help equip faculty who are looking to bring sustainability concepts to life in the classroom. So again, it's really trying to push on innovation in academia and different methods of teaching and learning and being able to take advantage of the built environment as that laboratory.

What are some of the key skills that USGBC finds important for the 21st century marketplace? What's USGBC's role in developing these skills?

We continue to hear from industry that young professionals and recent graduates lack the core professional skills, or as I like to say, professional competencies. These are highly needed in the workplace. This is across the board, regardless of whether the organization has a focus on sustainability. When we look at the 21st century workplace, the competencies that employers are looking for are skills and communication, the ability to work with a multidisciplinary team, the ability to manage projects and to understand decision making processes, to be able to apply your knowledge and demonstrate your competency and of course problem solve and critically think about solutions needed to drive change in the marketplace. All of that is what needs to happen within creating a sustainable built environment. It's interesting, there's been a lot of articles about this idea of entering the fourth industrial revolution, meaning now we're finding technology taking over the work and really profound ways that we never imagined. The reality is that the majority of jobs that children and young people hold over the course of their lifetime don't currently exist. So, when we look at how to educate and train the next generation, we need to cultivate the skills and abilities that are human and what artificial intelligence won't be able to replace. Much of this is housed in our right brain. So what does that mean for education? Well, we need to be introducing more innovative teaching practices such as experiential learning and project based work that allows students to have hands on experience and thus cultivate those professional competencies I mentioned. The built environment is such a rich laboratory for learning and when you consider the challenges we face on this planet, this becomes a really ripe playground for education. Quite frankly, we need to start thinking and working in a completely different manner to solve the problems of climate change and to create communities that are both healthy and resilient for all residents of this planet.

Learn more about the Green Schools Conference and Expo: