Berea College Named 2016 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School

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Known for a longstanding commitment to sustainability, Berea College has been named a 2016 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School. The recognition was announced by Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Christy Goldfuss and U.S. Secretary of Education John King.

This award acknowledges Berea College’s commitment to sustainable practices and commended Berea’s leadership in facilities, health, and environmental education, and will be presented during national recognition events on July 20th, 2016.

Berea’s designation as a 2016 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School is in recognition of Berea’s environmental integrity as a key part of its mission and the College’s communitywide commitment. Berea promotes sustainability as part of its mission and as one of the eight Great Commitments codified in 1969, “to encourage in all members of the community a way of life characterized by plain living, pride in labor well done, zest for learning, high personal standards, and concern for the welfare of others.”

At Berea, sustainability refers to the capacity of individuals, communities, and societies to coexist in a manner that maintains social justice, environmental integrity, and economic well-being today and for future generations. Berea College is a leader in reducing ecological footprint, environmental impact, and costs. Berea’s campus boasts the first LEED-certified building (Lincoln Hall) and LEED-certified historic hotel (Boone Tavern) in Kentucky, as well as the first LEED Platinum Residential Building (Deep Green) with Living Building Petal recognition from the Living Futures Institute. 

Berea’s innovative Ecovillage is an ecologically sustainable residential and learning complex designed to provide housing for student families, childcare for campus children, and a living/labor opportunity for students interested in sustainability. The college is well on its way to becoming a net zero waste institution, with a 70 percent diversion rate for academic year 2014-2015. In addition, with the launch of the school’s car and ride share programs in 2014, Berea College was named a top-ranked car share usage school in the nation.

Efforts to reduce environmental impact and costs extend to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, through steps that, in 2006, eliminated the annual use of about 4,000 pounds of coal, and reduced gas use by 39 percent through a new cutting-edge central plant. As signatories with Second Nature, Berea measures and reports publicly on emissions each year. The school draws a percentage of energy use from a mix of solar and hydro power as well as natural gas, and creates carbon offsets through the school’s 8,000 acre Forest Stewardship Council-certified forest, and through composting. The campus also has worked to reduce water consumption by installing water efficient toilets, sinks, drinking fountains, and dormitory showers, and by employing water efficient landscaping and other measures. This commitment extends to regional water quality improvement efforts, through local stream clean-up projects. Berea also has extensive reduce-reuse-recycle strategies in place to manage waste production.

Berea College invested in efforts to improve health and wellness by funding a full-time director to oversee programs and incentives to reduce obesity, smoking, and stress, and improve physical fitness and nutrition. More than 25 percent of the food served in Berea’s dining facilities comes from local and organically sourced purveyors, including much from the school’s own 400-acre organic farm. The college’s Farm Store offers organic produce, meat, and other locally sourced products to the community; provides discounts to students, faculty, and staff; and accepts the Women, Infants, and Children federal food and nutrition program.

Berea’s health and wellness efforts also include counseling and psychological services, a required general education course that helps all students develop healthy habits for a lifetime, and a focus on family and community involvement – including outreach to the area’s kindergarten through 12th grade districts and the nonprofit partner HealthCorps, to teach children, teens, and families to make healthier choices. These efforts are especially important in Kentucky and Central Appalachia that encompass some of the nation’s communities that struggle the most with poor health and related challenges.

When it comes to effective environmental and sustainability education, Berea College offers comprehensive and creative options. For instance, Berea is one of seven “work colleges” in the U.S., which means that in exchange for a tuition promise scholarship, students (who must be economically disadvantaged) are required to work on campus 10-15 hours per week. This provides a unique opportunity to address environmental and sustainability education both through hands-on work experience and academic programs like Sustainability and Environmental Studies and Agriculture and Natural Resources.  Students have the opportunity to work as waste diversion coordinators, sustainable foods coordinators, and alternative transportation coordinators. Berea’s Ecovillage also employs students as gardeners, community outreach coordinators, and childcare workers.

Berea College encourages students to become engaged citizens and good stewards of the land. The Center for Excellence in Learning through Service enables students to volunteer in local nonprofit organizations and schools to solve real-world sustainability problems through actions at the household and community level. Berea also has organized many student protests and marches to raise awareness of the dangerous effects of mountaintop removal—a radical form of strip mining that levels mountains, destroys natural habitats, and pollutes streams—as well as clear-cutting and other unsustainable practices.

Academic opportunities at Berea include programs that integrate sustainability studies with STEM coursework, encourage the development of civic engagement knowledge and skills, and employ interdisciplinary learning, as exemplified by the Sustainability and Environmental Studies (SENS) program. SENS is an interdisciplinary academic program offering both majors and minors that are centered on ecological design – the purposeful integration of human actions with the structures and functions of the natural world. SENS courses emphasize experiential learning and work in close collaboration with other hands-on programs including Agriculture and Natural Resources, Technology and Industrial Arts, Business, and Computer Science. 

Additional academic offerings that provide sustainable interdisciplinary learning include the Agriculture and Natural Resources program and the Technology and Applied Design major – a curriculum that engages students in research, design, and production while emphasizing sustainable practices. Students can select from three concentrations: Technology Management, Artisan Studies, and Engineering and Technology Education.

A dedicated Office of Sustainability helps organize and implement many of the sustainability programs and projects around campus. The Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College blends scholarship, academics, outreach, and action focused on the needs and assets of this unique region.

The story of sustainability at Berea College is one of creativity and commitment, as well as grassroots organizing and institutional innovation.  It is the story of dedicated students, faculty, staff, and administration—literally, the entire campus community—striving to embody sustainability and environmental practices in word, deed, and thought.

Across the country, a total of 47 schools, 15 districts, and 11 postsecondary institutions are being honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education. 

The schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions were confirmed from a pool of candidates voluntarily nominated by 27 state education agencies. The list of 73 total selectees includes 41 public schools and six private schools. The public schools include three charter and eight magnet schools. The schools serve various grade levels, including 27 elementary, 18 middle, and 14 high schools, with several schools having various K-12 configurations. Fifty-one percent of the 2016 honorees serve a disadvantaged student body. The list of all selected schools, districts, colleges, and universities, as well as their nomination packages, can be found here. A report with highlights on all 73 honorees can be found at:

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Categories: News, Programs and Initiatives
Tags: Accolade, Education Green Ribbon School, sustainability

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College only admits academically promising students with limited financial resources—primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia—but welcomes students from 41 states and 76 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly to earn money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.