What is Certification?

Ready, set, certify!

EcoSchools certification represents environmental excellence for elementary through secondary schools in the U.S. Participation in the program allows students, teachers, school administrators, other school staff, and families to get a clear picture of their current environmental practices and take action to reduce their environmental footprint.

The EcoSchools program is built on two foundational tools, the EcoSchools Framework, used globally by over 70 participating countries, and the EcoSchools U.S. themes, wildife and biodiversity, climate, and healthy and resilient communities. Each year, schools apply for certification by undertaking environment and nature-based actions, campaigns, and projects, and then recording them in the online EcoSchools Certification Application (ECA) to earn points. At the end of the year, school applications are assessed and awarded a final certification level.

Check out our 2023-24 Program and Certification Guide for a comprehensive program overview.


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Why Certify?

The EcoSchools program is both a framework and a toolbox for taking action and engaging in environment and nature-based education. For students, the program provides leadership opportunities, connections with classmates in different grade levels, and a way to learn about sustainability while having fun. They also bring their unique perspectives and lived experiences to very real-world problems, like climate change, and creatively and innovatively find solutions to local, community-based issues by taking informed action. 

For teachers, schools, districts, and families, benefits include: 

Improved student performance and success

Improved student performance and success

When implemented using research-proven methodologies, project-based learning improves student learning and performance. EcoSchools is student-led and project-based learning provides students with hands-on opportunities to lead, learn new skills, and engage in solutions to real-world challenges. Just as a cacophony of pollinators brings life to an ecosystem, project-based learning brings life to the classroom, full of students exploring and mapping their way to real solutions.

A growing body of research demonstrates the impacts that both environment-based education and outdoor learning have on students’ academic performance. Using the environment provides authentic, place-based opportunities for students to understand the needs of and take action in support of their community. For some students who find a traditional classroom setting difficult, the outdoor application of academic skills provides alternative pathways to success.


Preparation for STEAM careers

Children have an innate love of nature. By modeling and scaffolding learning in ways that show students their STEAM skills can protect the natural world, students become more engaged learners. Research shows that students are more motivated to learn and do better in school when they feel their learning is connected to a larger purpose. The environment can be compelling content for teaching STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math).

EcoSchools U.S. provides realistic connections to STEAM subjects. Students can plan and take action on important community or global issues, like creating a green roof to mitigate stormwater runoff, advocating for and participating in the care of a healthy watershed, and planting and maintaining a schoolyard habitat to help imperiled wildlife. STEAM instruction can have a diverse range of real-world benefits, such as connecting students with community partners and planet-protecting career opportunities, from tribal elders and community leaders to city planners and water resource field technicians, and wildlife ecologists and wildland firefighters to web designers to social media influencers.

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A stronger sense of community

EcoSchools Action Card Library provides many opportunities for students to collectively take action for the environment, including reducing a school's carbon footprint, improving plant and animal biodiversity, improving air quality within and around a school, building wildlife habitat, reducing food miles, and improving watershed health.

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Reduced consumption and waste

Students across the country have implemented sustainability programs that have made a genuine impact on the environment. These include zero-waste initiatives, recycling and composting to reduce trash in landfills, conserving energy, reducing air pollution put out by cars, and increasing local food production. Some schools even grow food and use it for lunches or donate it to their community soup kitchens.

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Increased energy and water savings

Many schools and districts have benefited from cost reductions through decreased energy and water usage. Some schools have saved more than $1,000 a year on their water bills as a result of program participation.

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Creating and connecting wildlife habitat

Particularly in urban areas, Schoolyard Habitats allow students to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for close connectivity of habitats, providing urban and migratory wildlife a better chance of survival.

Action Teams, assemble!

Every school forms a group of dedicated environmental champions called an Action Team who are responsible for leading EcoSchools’ actions and initiatives. Action teams can range from just a few members to the whole school community, and operate best with a diverse membership base, including students, teachers, principals, school administration, custodians, families, and community members and partners.

Engaging in environmental and nature-based actions

Actions make up the backbone of EcoSchools certification, and consist of a variety of fun and educational projects, campaigns, lessons, and challenges that help schools assess and improve their environmental practices. Actions are designed to be flexible and adaptable to all curricula and school types to ensure that everyone across the United States can pursue certification. EcoSchools actions also connect schools to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the global FEE network.

Schools can select from dozens of engaging actions like waste-free lunches, planting a garden, and recycling. There is also an opportunity for schools to design their own unique actions. 

For more information about actions in the EcoSchools program, visit the Managing your EcoSchools plan and Completing an action sections of the Certification FAQ.

Certification levels

Throughout the school year, schools complete actions in their online application and earn points towards their certification. The depth and extent of these completed environmental and nature-based actions will determine the school’s final certification level.

There are four levels of certification a school can achieve: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Green Flag. Schools that begin an application and reach at least 35 points, but don’t earn enough points to be certified at the Bronze level, are designated as Participants and are welcome to attempt certification again the following year.

When a school becomes a certified Eco-School, they receive a digital certification seal that reflects their certification level. This seal can be displayed on a school’s website and social media accounts, in newsletters, in email signatures, and more.

For more information about how certification levels work, visit the Managing your Eco-Schools plan section of the Certification FAQ.

Any school can certify for free!

The EcoSchools program is open to all schools across the U.S. There is no fee to participate or earn an award.