Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice

U.S. Department of Education Environmental Justice Strategy

I.The U.S. Department of Education’s Mission and Role in Environmental Justice.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED or the Department) promotes student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.  Congress established the Department in the Department of Education Organization Act (Public Law 96-88 of October 1979).  Under this law, the Department’s mission is to: 

  • Strengthen the Federal commitment to assuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual;
  • Supplement and complement the efforts of States, the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States, the private sector, public and private nonprofit educational research institutions, community-based organizations, parents, and students to improve the quality of education;
  • Encourage the increased involvement of the public, parents, and students in Federal education programs;
  • Promote improvements in the quality and usefulness of education through Federally supported research, evaluation, and sharing of information;
  • Improve the coordination of Federal education programs;
  • Improve the management of Federal education activities; and
  • Increase the accountability of Federal education programs to the President, the Congress, and the public.

Given its mission with regard to equal educational access, ED will fulfill its responsibilities under the 2011 Memorandum of Understanding Reaffirming Executive Order 12898 (MOU) by, among other things, taking actions to help address high and adverse human health and environmental effects that negatively affect student achievement among minority and low-income student populations.  ED’s Environmental Justice Strategy proposes a set of goals, strategies, and actions to fulfill ED’s responsibilities under the MOU.


A. 1994 Executive Order Addressed Environmental Justice.

On February 11, 1994, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations” (Executive Order).  The Executive Order required each Federal agency to “make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.” 

The Executive Order created an interagency working group (IWG) on Environmental Justice and required each agency that participated in the IWG to develop an agency-wide Environmental Justice Strategy specific to that agency’s mission.  The Executive Order did not include ED as a participating member of the IWG and, therefore, ED did not develop an agency-wide Environmental Justice Strategy at that time.

B. 2011 Memorandum of Understanding Reaffirming Executive Order 12898.

In light of the Obama Administration’s commitment to healthy environments for all Americans, the IWG reconvened on September 22, 2010, to reinvigorate the directives of Executive Order 12898.  In August 2011, 16 Federal agencies – this time including ED – signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Environmental Justice.  Like Executive Order 12898, the MOU requires each participating agency, including ED, to develop an Environmental Justice Strategy and prepare an annual progress report.

III.2012 Environmental Justice Strategy.

A. Overview of ED’s Environmental Justice Strategy.

Having not participated in the original 1994 IWG on Environmental Justice, ED proposes this strategy as an initial step in integrating environmental justice into the Department’s internal and external activities.  The strategy proposed here is a starting point that will be advanced to reflect the Department’s objectives.

ED’s Environmental Justice Strategy provides for the integration of the requirements of EO 12898 and the MOU into ED’s internal and external operations, policies, and programs.  ED’s Environmental Justice Strategy will focus on the following areas: 

  • Healthy learning environments for students;
  • Energy-efficient school facilities;
  • Sustainability education and environmental literacy; and
  • Energy efficiency in Department facilities.

B.  How ED’s Environmental Justice Strategy Was Developed.

Representatives from numerous offices within the Department participated in developing ED’s Environmental Justice Strategy, including the Office of the Secretary, the Office of the Under Secretary, the Office of Communications and Outreach, the Office of Postsecondary Education, and the Office of Management.  Those internal representatives conducted an inventory of ED programs to identify commitments already underway, and explore potential opportunities for augmenting the Department’s mission, goals, and programs in order to meet its obligations under the Executive Order and the MOU.  ED also hosted meetings with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to seek guidance and input on drafting this document and participated in a teleconference sponsored by EPA with stakeholders regarding the development of environmental justice strategies across agencies.

In addition, the Department hosted a number of outreach events with external stakeholder groups to gather feedback on issues related to environmental justice issues, and established an e-mail mailbox ( to receive stakeholder input.  In September 2010, ED hosted the “Sustainability Education Summit,” which brought together over 300 leaders from higher education, business and industry, labor, and government and non-governmental organizations to build a shared vision for ED’s role in developing a more sustainable society, and subsequently published a summary of findings.  Finally, ED also consulted with the public in developing the criteria for the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Award competition. 

C. Environmental Justice Strategy and Performance Measures.

ED proposes the following three goals for its Environmental Justice Strategy:

  • Goal 1:  Through enhanced communication and outreach on the importance of the environment and its impact on health and education, ED will work to identify environmental resources for States, districts, and school communities to help them give proper consideration to these matters in their programs, operations, and infrastructures.
  • Goal 2:  ED will collaborate with other Federal agencies and private sector organizations to highlight the importance of the environment and its impact on health and education for all students, especially those attending schools in underserved communities.
  • Goal 3:  ED will provide incentives for focusing on the importance of the environment and its impact on health and education by recognizing schools that are high achieving in these areas as part of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Award competition.

D. Agency-Wide Efforts that Advance Environmental Justice.

The examples listed below highlight some of the efforts that are currently under way at the Department to advance environmental justice.  The Department plans to improve its Environmental Justice Strategy continuously through its experiences in implementing the Strategy and learning from the feedback it receives from the public and ED employees.

1. Internal, Department-Wide Efforts that Advance Environmental Justice.

As part of ED’s Environmental Justice Strategy, the Department’s Office of Management is working to ensure that the Department’s facilities meet high standards of energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality by: 

  • Partnering with the General Services Administration (GSA) to pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification of the Department’s Headquarters location at the Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) building.  GSA is projecting that the LBJ building will be one of the first GSA-owned buildings in the National Capital Region to be LEED Certified for Operations and Maintenance.
  • Continuing to work closely with GSA on energy efficiency efforts in the Mary E. Switzer Federal Building, a planned future site of Department offices.  GSA projects that the Switzer Building will achieve LEED Gold certification.  
  • Supporting the goals of Executive Order 13514, “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance,” signed by President Obama on October 5, 2009.   The Department has completed Greenhouse Gas Inventories for Fiscal Years 2008 (baseline), 2010, and 2011. 
  • Supporting efforts to make more energy efficient the Department’s cafeteria through the installation of Energy Star-rated equipment, introduction of compostable tableware, and sale of reusable beverage containers with the Department logo. 
  • Collaborating with GSA to identify improved waste management and recycling methods in buildings leased by the Department and to develop metrics and collect baseline data to monitor progress.

2. ED Initiatives that Advance Environmental Justice.

ED administers several programs/initiatives that encourage its stakeholders to pursue improved environmental health with a view toward equity.  These programs will serve as the cornerstone for ED’s Environmental Justice Strategy.  Some of these programs are in their pilot year or are proposals for future consideration within ED.

  • U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Award – In 2011, the Department launched this national recognition award, which will recognize schools that save energy, reduce costs, feature environmentally sustainable learning spaces, protect health, foster wellness, and offer environmental education to boost academic achievement and community engagement.  The recognition award is part of a larger Department effort to identify and disseminate knowledge about practices proven to result in improved student engagement, academic achievement, graduation rates, and workforce preparedness, as well as a government-wide aim to increase energy independence and economic security.  In its initial year of implementation (school year 2011-2012 year), 33 States, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education, and Department of Defense Education Activity schools will nominate schools for this award.  Notably, even before the award completed its pilot year, it garnered the Department accolades from the U.S. Green Building Council and the Center for Environmental Innovation and Leadership.
  • Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education – This proposed grant program under the Department’s proposal for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 would consolidate eight currently authorized programs that provide funding for subjects important to a complete education.  Examples of these subjects include history, the arts, foreign languages, economic and financial literacy, and environmental education.  Providing a complete education ensures that our students graduate from college and are career ready, and that they are also good citizens.  In particular, support for environmental education may help to focus on the development of civic engagement skills and the relationship among complex social, economic, and environmental systems that could set the stage for a generation of citizens who will be prepared to grapple with new environmental and equity challenges.
  • Promise Neighborhoods – This grant program aims to improve the educational and developmental outcomes of children and youth in distressed neighborhoods.  The program seeks to improve the social well-being of large numbers of citizens through efforts to engage entire communities in activities that include creating safe and healthy spaces for children.  By focusing on local infrastructures and resources, educational programs, family and community supports, and effective solutions for communities, this grant program is designed to assist children and youth in succeeding in early childhood and K-12 education and successfully transitioning to college and careers.   

IV.Interagency Collaborations.

ED has collaborated with numerous Federal agencies in its environmental justice initiatives.  ED took input from more than a half dozen agencies, including the EPA, CEQ, Department of the Interior, and Department of Energy, in the development of its U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Award competition.  ED used the tenets of that competition to assist the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in developing an environmental literacy strategy for the Chesapeake Bay watershed area.  ED also partnered with the Departments of Labor and State to host a stakeholder consultation in preparation for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. 

ED was a signatory to the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, an 11-agency effort to revitalize communities and waters across the nation.  This effort will reconnect urban communities, particularly those that are overburdened or economically distressed, with their waterways by improving coordination among federal agencies and collaborating with community-led revitalization efforts to improve our Nation’s water systems and promote their economic, environmental and social benefits.

Finally, ED is a member of the National Prevention, Health Promotion, and Public Health Council and participated in the drafting of the 2011 National Prevention Strategy. 

V.Reporting and Accountability.

ED is committed to transparency and accessibility of information about its internal and external policies and practices that affect student health and education, and the environment.  ED will post its draft and final Environmental Justice Strategy on its website and the IWG’s website, along with its annual progress reports on implementing its strategy.  ED welcomes input from all stakeholders.

Based on recommendations from the Environmental Justice IWG, and other feedback, ED will announce other opportunities for stakeholder input and discussions related to ED’s Environmental Justice Strategy and activities.