The day after Earth Day 2012, the U.S. Department of Education named the first-ever round of Green Ribbon School award winners. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who first announced the competition in September 2011, announced the 78 winning schools on April 24 at Stoddert Elementary School, one of Washington, D.C.’s two honorees.

Modeled after the National Blue Ribbon Schools program, which recognizes schools for academic excellence or for closing achievement gaps, the Green Ribbon title is awarded to schools across the country that promote environmental and health-focused curricula to improve ecological and human health, and to schools that reduce their environmental impact and costs.

Secretary Duncan emphasized to the students at Stoddert Elementary the importance of learning about science and the environment. Those subjects, he said, will help students to prepare for the jobs of the future.

“U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools demonstrate compelling examples of the ways schools can help children build real-world skillsets, cut school costs, and provide healthy learning environments,” Secretary Duncan said at Stoddert. 

Secretary Duncan blogged about some of the methods that Green Ribbon Schools are using, including building green roofs, tending rain gardens, and fueling buses with compressed natural or discarded cooking oils from local restaurants. 

Radnor Middle School in Pennsylvania is one of the winners that took the prize for its green, cost-cutting initiatives. By installing waterless urinals and low-flow faucets, the school was able to save thousands of gallons of water over the course of the school year, according to the school district’s website.

Other winners focused on improving green-transportation methods, such as providing safe walking routes to schools; encouraging more environmental resources in the classroom, such as hands-on projects to engage students; and promoting healthy living and school environments.

"These Green Ribbon Schools are giving students and educators what they need to maximize learning and minimize risks like asthma and other respiratory illnesses, ensuring that no child is burdened by pollution in or around their school," EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson said at the awards announcement. "Today's winners are protecting our children's health and opening up environmental education opportunities for students.”

Officials from the 78 winning schools will attend a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in June. The full list of Green Ribbon Schools is available here.