Green Local Schools: California

Green local schools have sparked interest in many people, and for good reason. It’s about caring for our planet, and there are schools that have adopted ways to promote green living among their students and staff. Here we will feature 5 distinguished schools in California that were given the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Award.

Green Local Schools: California 

California is the most populous state in the US and the 6th largest economy in the world. People love living here because it sets the trend for many things like popular culture and technology. The state has the most school students and one of the highest projected enrollments in the country – over 6.2 million in the 2005–06 school year.

Green local schools are distinct because they protect the health of its students and staff. The health of people is both a goal and end-result, and school health promotion is a combination of food served in the campus, indoor and outdoor facilities, transport service and education about health and the environment.

Let’s take a closer look at 5 green local schools in this state:


Yosemite High School

Yosemite High School is a leader of the green schools movement in the state’s Central Valley. More than 94% of YHS students are “unduplicated pupils” who are qualified for free or reduced-price meals, foster youth, and English Learners. This is one of the green local schools that serve the whole child with a Coordinated School Health approach.

Why is this school green?

The school has reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 20% (about 207.3 metric tons) since 2014. They did this through power-efficient lighting, HVAC replacement, and vending machine controls.

The students and staff are active about conserving water at school and at home. As the Central Valley suffered severe drought in recent years, the school promoted the idea of saving water through poster campaigns. Students led the movement with a “Go Slow with the H2O” slogan.

In terms of waste management, the school has a composting center where food leftovers and grass clippings are collected. They also have a worm farm where non-acidic fruits, veggies, and bread are brought in and used as feeders. The waxed or non-colored paper is shredded and also fed to the worms. All of these improve the quality of the soil and growth of plants.

How do they promote healthy and green living?

Well, YHS is a smoke-free campus. Thermostats that contain mercury have been removed. They also installed sensors in rooms with gas furnaces to stop carbon monoxide exposure.

The school values good nutrition and fitness. For the past five years, students and staff have planted and maintained a garden. They harvest about 800 pounds of fresh fruits and veggies, and these are sent to their homes.

Students have physical education classes and spend 120 minutes per week in outdoor sports. This includes basketball, kickball, softball, and volleyball. They also do a one-mile run test each Friday.

Address: 1900 G Street, Merced, CA 95340

Phone: 209-325-1600



The Thacher School

The Thacher School is a coeducational boarding high school located in the Topa Topa Mountains of the Los Padres National Forest. It was founded in 1889 and covers 325 majestic acres. Thacher’s mission is to help students build a deep connection to nature and make the campus into a model of sustainability.

Why is this school green?

About 92% of the school’s electrical power is obtained from a 680 KW (AC) solar PV array that went live in 2016. This renewable source of power saves more than $100,000 per year. In terms of water and grounds, 50% of the maintained area on campus has an irrigation system, and 3 wells provide all the irrigation.

Thacher also has a composting program that makes use of horse manure, dining hall food waste, and green waste. This program processes over 1,600 tons per year. The processed waste product provides nutrients in the soil and improves storm water control. The school also raises pigs, and they feed them with dining hall scraps.

Nutrition and fitness are keys to the school’s green programs. The students, faculty, and staff are provided with food products that are 100% organic. This includes milk, eggs, and chicken. All students join in three sports per year, and one per athletic season. Sports teams meet 5-6 days a week for an average of 1.5 hours per day.

Thacher also has a great farm-to-table program in which many fruits and veggies come from Ojai Valley growers. Once a year, they organize a week of healthy and local food awareness where it highlights the impact of food on health and the planet.

Thacher is working on a long-term plan to include sustainability in all aspects of school life. The school conducts workshops to help design and embed “Educating for Sustainability” into their program. Students are exposed to careers in sustainability through environmental science.

Address: 5025 Thacher Road, Ojai, CA 93023

Phone: 805-646-4377



Culver City Unified School District

Culver City Unified School District (CCUSD) is a diverse and vibrant community that has adopted the Three Pillars of sustainability over the past 6 years. CCUSD has 5 elementary schools, one middle school, one high school and one continuation high school. It has over 6,000 students.

Why is this school green?

The school engages with a number of states and utility-based programs to reduce its energy usage. It installed a 750 kW solar PV array that provides 82% of the energy for the main campus and 50% of the energy for the District. This way, the school saves over $500,000 a year. The solar arrays can be found in the parking lots of the high school and middle school and on the playground of Farragut Elementary.

The school saves water and nurtures the ground through drought tolerant gardens.

These gardens are installed across the District and use drip irrigation. The school also installed rain barrels to capture water to be used in these gardens.

In terms of waste management, the school has green compost bins, blue recycling bins, and black landfill bins in their indoor and outdoor eating spaces. The middle school, high school, and Culver Park continuation high school have sorting stations. The school also put their food waste, coffee grounds, plant trimmings, soiled paper products in their composting facility.

CCUSD provides food for garden classes. All students have garden class and tend to their gardens for one hour each week. High school students have a Green Thumbs Club and they tend to their garden on a regular basis. The food they harvest is sold at seasonal farmers markets at all schools and included in the school’s lunch program.

Address: 4034 Irving Place, Culver City, CA 90232

Phone: 310-842-4220



Montecito Union School District

Montecito Union School (MUS) sees its students as the future stewards and advocates of Mother Earth. Students are engaged in green living every day, from school-wide assemblies that encourage management of resources, lunchtime waste diversion to recycling waste. The school’s PTA supplements the environmental education program.

Why is this school green?

The school conserves energy in many ways. Computers are programmed to go into sleep mode and shut down completely when not in use. Students and staff are committed to turning off lights when rooms are not used. And 13% of classrooms have automatic light sensors.

To save water, rainwater from the roofs is redirected off the pavement and into landscaping areas. These areas also have sprinkler heads according to the type of plant or area and the amount of water dispersion needed.

About 66.66% of solid waste is diverted from landfilling or burning. Instead, it is recycled or put into composting areas. Students and staff divert food scraps from the trash to reduce their impact on waste.

Since August 2013, there has been an active effort to remove pesticides from campus.

Natural oils, such as eucalyptus, lemon, and peppermint are used as substitutes. Monthly inspections are done to monitor the success of the program.

The school promotes healthy eating by engaging students in organic gardens. Students, along with volunteers, take part in maintaining the garden on a weekly basis. The organic gardens produce veggies, flowers, milkweed and compost tea.

MUS integrates sustainability and STEM content in its classes. For example, the K–6 Life Science program includes relevant lessons like the evolution of plants and animals, growth and change in living things, and factors that affect living things. Students are also taught about how the Earth is changing, conserving resources and the impact of humans on the planet.

Address: 385 San Ysidro Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93108

Phone: 805-969-3249



Redondo Beach Unified School District

The Redondo Beach Unified School District (RBUSD) consists of 8 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, one high school, one continuation school, and one adult school. The District has about 10,000 students of diverse backgrounds. RBUSD is focused on teaching students about green living, sustainability, and health.

Why is this school green?

One of the best and least expensive water-saving measures in RBUSD is installing 300+ waterless urinals across the campus. This saves about 10,000 gallons of water per school year. All of the landscape areas of the District have an irrigation system.

RBUSD has trash sorting stations located next to lunch tables on campus. The students are taught what items must go in which bin and are taught to reduce waste by having trash-free lunches. About 21% of solid waste is diverted, recycled and included in composting areas.

As part of caring for Mother Earth, the school does not have mercury, asbestos, or radon gas on their campus. Playground equipment is composed of pressure-treated plastic play structures. Classrooms are well-lit with natural light and have views of lawns, gardens, trees. The school also ensures good indoor air quality by maintaining adequate ventilation. Efforts are made to reduce dust, mold, mildew, and other indoor air pollutants.

RBUSD promotes healthy eating with its Farm to Table program. It encourages the entire student body to eat veggies and fruits, and engage them in the school’s garden to learn about planting, harvesting, and maintenance. Students also have PE classes as part of their fitness program.

The students also engage in civic and community projects to learn more about green living and sustainability. AP Environmental Science students help restore the Ballona Wetlands at least twice per year. They help remove invasive species and write school paper articles about the use of fossil fuels. They also help design and install rain gardens.

Address: 1401 Inglewood Avenue, Redondo Beach, CA 90278

Phone: 310-937-1272