Recent Progress: Decrease

In 2021, 14% of public and charter schools in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—597 schools in all—were certified sustainable. This marks a 6% decrease from the number of sustainable schools in the watershed in 2019. Experts believe the decrease is likely due to a decline in reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic. The decrease in the number of sustainable schools in the watershed all occurred in Maryland, which continued to run its certification program during the COVID-19 pandemic. Maryland sustainable schools in the watershed decreased 9% from 516 in 2019 to 470 in 2021. Although some new schools joined Maryland’s program during this time, a larger number of schools dropped out by virtue of not submitting recertification paperwork. In the next reporting cycle, the Chesapeake Bay Program will be able to determine whether the 2019–2021 decrease is an artificial drop or indicative of a true decline in the number of sustainable schools.

Outlook: On Course

The Sustainable Schools Outcome is on course. There is not a specific numerical target or threshold for this outcome, but the Chesapeake Bay Program anticipates an increase from the baseline. Over the long-term, the number of sustainable schools in the Chesapeake Bay watershed has increased 19% from 501 in 2015 to 597 in 2021. Therefore, the outlook for this outcome is on course.

Certified sustainable schools include public and charter schools within the Chesapeake Bay watershed that have been recognized as sustainable by the following programs: U.S. Green Ribbon Schools, National Wildlife Federation Eco-Schools USA (Bronze, Silver and Green Flag status), Maryland Green Schools, Pennsylvania Pathways to Green Schools and Virginia Naturally Schools.

At 79% of the total (or 470 schools), Maryland is home to most of the certified sustainable schools in the watershed. Twenty percent (or 117) of the sustainable schools in the watershed are located in Virginia, with seven additional schools located in the District of Columbia, two additional schools located in Pennsylvania and one located in West Virginia. Delaware and New York still have no certified sustainable schools in the watershed. Because the vigor of school sustainability programs varies among jurisdictions, state participation in these programs can differ. In some states, programs are robust; in others, programs are not well-established; and in others, programs do not yet exist.

While no part of the watershed was excluded from this count, not every jurisdiction has a state-specific sustainable school program. The Chesapeake Bay Program will continue to monitor sustainable school programs in the region, and may expand future reporting to include new programs that meet the sustainable school criteria defined by the U.S. Department of Education. Future reporting may also include sustainable private schools, which are not measured here.

Sustainable schools reduce the environmental impact of their buildings and grounds, work to improve the health and wellness of students and staff, and offer environmental education incorporating civic skills, STEM and green career pathways. Because increasing sustainability in and around schools can directly involve students in environmental protection and restoration, a rise in sustainable schools can indicate a rise in overall environmental literacy.

Learn About Factors Influencing Progress

Management Strategy

To achieve this outcome, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to:

  • Strengthening and coordinating state-level sustainable school recognition and certification programs that are consistent with high-quality, recognized criteria (e.g., those that support the U.S. Green Ribbon Schools program);
  • Engaging non-traditional stakeholders in environmental education to expand awareness, increase support and build partnerships around sustainable schools; and
  • Sharing information about and resources to support sustainability with schools and school districts.

As part of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s partnership-wide implementation of adaptive management, progress toward this outcome was reviewed and discussed by the Management Board in May of 2022. It will be reviewed and discussed by the Management Board again in May 2024.

Download Management Strategy (.pdf)

Logic & Action Plan

Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to taking a series of specific actions that will support the management approaches listed above.


  • In Washington, D.C., the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and Environmental Education Consortium and partners piloted the Capital LEAF (Leaders in Environmental Actions for our Future) program to recognize green, healthy, and sustainable schools in the District. Two schools that participated in the FY20 Capital LEAF pilot received US Green Ribbon Schools recognition in April 2021.
  • Maryland passed the Green Schools Act of 2019 with $1.5M a goal to increase the number of green schools in the State to 50%.

Learn About Logic & Action Plan

Participating Partners

The Fostering Stewardship Goal Implementation Team leads the effort to achieve this outcome.

Participating partners include:

  • State of Delaware
  • State of Maryland
  • Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
  • Commonwealth of Virginia
  • District of Columbia
  • Chesapeake Bay Commission
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • National Park Service
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • Cacapon Institute
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Delaware United
  • Experience Learning
  • Green Building United
  • Stroud Water Research Center