We are working to make New York City Public Schools more sustainable. How?
- Reducing energy use in school buildings to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
- Providing resources and support to reduce and manage waste
- Offering climate leadership programs for educators, students, and facilities staff
- Promoting access to school gardens and outdoor learning
As the largest public school system in the country, we have a unique opportunity to connect to staff members and students.
New York City is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As a part of that, NYC Public Schools are bringing climate action to our classrooms, buildings, and operations. We aim to embed sustainability in all aspects of our organization.
Energy Use in NYC Schools
New York City has a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. To do our part, we have programs to manage our energy use in schools.
Demand Response (DR) Programs
On very hot or very cold days, energy use increases across New York City. To prevent power outages, we reduce energy use in some of our buildings.
- Electricity: over 450 school buildings participate in DR to reduce the risk of power outages during extreme heat (like a hot summer day). We do this by turning off unused lighting, reducing elevator service where possible, or scaling down equipment use.
- Natural Gas: over 70 school buildings participate to protect the gas supply during extreme cold. We do this to help ensure New Yorkers have a reliable heat source.
Clean Energy Programs
To meet New York City’s goal to install 100 megawatts of solar on City-owned buildings by 2025:
- NYC Solar Schools Program: We've completed 68 solar installations on school rooftops. These make up nearly 80% of the City’s total progress towards renewable (“clean”) energy. Over 150 more school buildings are actively in the solar planning process too!
We upgrade lighting, controls, and/or mechanical systems to increase efficiency. “Energy efficiency” means we use less energy to provide the same service.
Energy Benchmarking and Building Energy Efficiency Ratings
To comply with local laws, we use data to identify buildings with poor energy performance. We then use this data to plan upgrade projects, training, and other improvements.
Waste Reduction and Recycling
To reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill, we all have to do our part. With over 1,800 schools, NYC Public Schools’ participation is essential!
- Over 1,200 schools now take part in the DSNY Curbside Compost program. Schools receive specialized training, equipment, and ongoing support to make composting a success.
- Every NYC Public School will take part in Curbside Composting by the end of school year 2023-24. All Bronx schools are complete as of Spring 2023!
- All elementary schools take part in monthly Plastic Free Lunch Days. We partner with Office of Food & Nutrition Services and Cafeteria Culture to serve lunches without plastic packaging!
The Office of Sustainability offers workshops, programs, and resources for all NYC Public School staff. We work with technical and custodial staff, teachers, administrators, and other school staff. Topics range from energy performance monitoring to air quality to recycling.
The Climate Education Leadership Team (CELT) is a group of over 30 teachers and administrators collaborating on climate education. They develop lesson plans and implement professional development. CELT also acts as a peer-to-peer network to support teachers. Their goal is full and equitable integration of climate education across areas of study and school culture.
The Office of Sustainability also supports students with a variety of programs including:
- Climate Action Days - For the first time ever, NYC Public Schools will host four Climate Action Days throughout the 2023–24 school year. Climate Action Days provide entire school communities with fun and creative opportunities to help showcase the importance of climate education and environmentally-sustainable practices. Each of the four days will be based on a particular theme, and every school will choose or create their own activities based on these four themes in ways that best serve their students and broader school communities.
- Youth Leadership Council - our Council of high school students from across each borough. They work to advance sustainability and climate justice in NYC schools and communities.
- NYC Solar Career & Technical Education (CTE) Program - brings clean energy and sustainability content into electrical, construction, and engineering tracks at 14 CTE High Schools. We partner with Solar One to prepare students for the growing green economy.
- Youth Climate Event - an annual student event that supports leadership and problem-solving skills. Students develop networks to expand sustainability in their communities.
- rFUTURE - climate action is the lens for this student-focused music advocacy program. Students write unique songs with mentorship from professional musicians. Videography students from TAPCo High School also produce professional music videos with each artist/group.
Annual Sustainability Project Grant
Each year, the Office of Sustainability offers an opportunity for all schools to apply for a grant. This grant awards up to $5,000 in funding or materials for a school-based sustainability project.
Interest in the grant continues to grow. In the 2022-23 school year, more projects were funded than ever before!
- 146 schools across all boroughs were awarded $611,513
- Gardening & Outdoor Learning: 94 schools
- Green Team Supports: 13 schools
- Hydroponic Tower Garden: 19 schools
- Sustainability & Climate Education Programming: 20 schools
- Average Economic Need Index of awarded schools: 81% (citywide ENI average: 70%)
- 22 District 75 schools were awarded grants
Funding for the grants comes from our Demand Response Program. Over 453 NYC Public School buildings take part in this program. As a result, our buildings generate revenue. The Office of Sustainability reinvests those funds back into our schools. It funds buildings, operations, and school-based sustainability initiatives, including the annual grant program.
Congratulations to the grant winners! A full list of winners for school year 2022-23 is available online.
Gardens and Outdoor Learning
Nearly 70% of our school buildings have access to school gardens. In the 2021-22 school year, over 1,200 schools reported having a garden. These range from indoor windowsill gardens and hydroponic towers to outdoor raised beds. These gardens help to:
- Support instruction on gardening and the local food system
- Promote healthy eating habits
- Increase student consumption of more fresh and locally-grown produce
- Promote wellness and social-emotional learning