SUWANEE -- While many districts around the nation celebrate Earth Day every year on April 22, it's more a way of life for Gwinnett County Public Schools.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Education, in fact, feel that GCPS is among the 14 most enivironmentally-minded districts in the whole country.
This week, the federal department announced GCPS as winner of the inaugural District Sustainability Award, an honor that recognizes those school systems which show exemplary efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, promote better health and ensure effective environmental education, including civics and green career pathways.
As a reward, the district will split a $10,000 prize with Ford Elementary in Cobb County (which won a similar award for practices at the school level).
Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said local officials are "very proud of the work our school district has accomplished in terms of its green initiatives. Through our actions in the area of energy conservation and environmental education, we are better serving our community and teaching valuable lessons to our students."
Among the attributes that set the district apart: more than 700,000 pounds of paper recycled; 52 schools having implemented a Clean Air School and No Idling program; participation in an EPA Waste Wise program; the use of compactors to replace dumpsters, which reduces the cost and number of hauls to the landfill; the use of waterless urinals and low-volume flush toilets in all schools; and more than 23 million square feet of ENERGY STAR-certified areas.
The district's ENERGY STAR certified buildings use 35-percent less energy, generate 35-percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and cost up to 40 cents less per square foot to operate than similar buildings across the country.
Leesa Carter, executive director of the Captain Planet Foundation said Gwinnett County Public Schools "has made such an outstanding commitment and investment to reducing their energy consumption."
According to its website, the Captain Planet Foundation aims to "give the next generation of environmental stewards an active understanding and love for the natural world in which they live."
Georgia's School Superintendent John Barge said that officials at the state level are "proud" of the accomplishment by GCPS.
"This goes to show that schools and districts in Georgia are striving to be more energy efficient, developing healthy living habits and providing environmental education," Barge said.
Last month, GCPS received a similar honor at the state level before being named as one of 14 winning districts across the country.
"This is a fantastic opportunity for Gwinnett County Public Schools," said Jonathon Wetherington, director of science with GCPS. "It really recognizes the work of lots of people from across the district, both inside and outside the classroom."
Wetherington said the achievement "is not just about recycling. It's about deliberately planning and effectively implementing strategies that conserve financial and natural resources."