aerial view of a green rooftop. rooftop garden.

With Spring 2021 started, more public schools could soon become hands-on, green workshops on the environment and sustainability through Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez’s (D-NY) bill.

The legislation, titled the "Public School Green Rooftop Program" would allocate federal resources towards implementing green roofs at public elementary and secondary schools. These roofs offer a sustainable, energy-efficient way of bringing green space to urban areas and have myriad educational benefits for students and the community at large. 

“Often, the best learning opportunities come from hands-on experience, and environmental education is no exception,” said Velázquez. “My bill would allow students to gain firsthand knowledge of sustainable practices and witness the impact green initiatives can have on their community. By giving children experience with environmental and agricultural concepts early on, we open the door for a new generation of mindful, ecologically conscientious adults.”

Through this program, the Department of Energy would implement a grant program for the installation and maintenance of green roofing systems. Green roofs are a sustainable, durable means of lessening a building’s carbon footprint, and function as an opportunity for teachers to introduce relevant environmental and agricultural concerns to students who may not have such an opportunity often in an urban community. The roofs, according to the EPA, provide a notable advantage to urban communities, where greenery is often hard to come by. 

This bill follows a legacy of success in other states. According to estimates from the Missouri educational system, green roofs can save a single school up to $41,587 a year in electricity costs alone. These roofs will cut district energy and maintenance costs substantially. A regularly maintained green roof has a longevity of forty years, as opposed to a standard roof’s 10 to 15. Additionally, the bill grants maintenance funding for up to four years after the installation of every roof.

These green roofs have already been installed in numerous NYC public schools to great success. One such example is PS41’s Green Roof Environmental Literacy Laboratory, a program implemented by the Greenwich village school. This 9,000-square-foot green roof serves as fertile ground for environmental education, and reduced the school’s greenhouse gas emissions by a full 32.7 percent.

These roofs may also prove beneficial to students as they return to school following the coronavirus pandemic. For over a year, children have learned from within the confines of their homes. As the city slowly recovers from the pandemic these green roofs confer the additional benefit of a safe outdoor learning space, and provide additional enrichment and mental health benefits for those stuck inside for prolonged periods of time.

This bill has received significant support, with endorsements from such notable groups as NRDC, UPROSE, The Nature Conservancy, New York City Audubon, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, Green Roof Researcher Alliance, Williamsburg Greenpoint Parents for our Public Schools (WAGPOPS), The HOPE Program & Sustainable South Bronx, The New School Urban Systems Labs, Alive Structures, New York Sun Works, Riverkeeper, Red Hook Rise, Voces Ciudadanas de Sunset Park, Red Hook Rise, New York League of Conservation Voters, Resilient Red Hook, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, NYC H20, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Brooklyn Grange, El Puente, Brooklyn Greenroof, New York Environmental Law & Justice Project, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, St. Nicks Alliance, Brooklyn Community Board 6, Environmental Justice Initiative, National Lawyers Guild – Environmental Justice Committee, Newtown Creek Alliance, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, City Growers, 9/11 Environmental Action, Sixth Street Community Center - East Village

The bill, H.R. 1863, has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.