We are working to make New York City Public Schools more sustainable. How?

  • Reducing energy use in school buildings to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
  • Providing resources and support to reduce and manage waste
  • Offering climate leadership programs for educators, students, and facilities staff
  • Promoting access to school gardens and outdoor learning

Climate Action

As the largest public school system in the country, we have a unique opportunity to connect to staff members and students.

New York City is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As a part of that, NYC Public Schools are bringing climate action to our classrooms, buildings, and operations. We aim to embed sustainability in all aspects of our organization.

Energy Use in NYC Schools

New York City has a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. To do our part, we have programs to manage our energy use in schools.

Demand Response (DR) Programs

On very hot or very cold days, energy use increases across New York City. To prevent power outages, we reduce energy use in some of our buildings.

  • Electricity: over 450 school buildings participate in DR to reduce the risk of power outages during extreme heat (like a hot summer day). We do this by turning off unused lighting, reducing elevator service where possible, or scaling down equipment use.
  • Natural Gas: over 70 school buildings participate to protect the gas supply during extreme cold. We do this to help ensure New Yorkers have a reliable heat source. 

Clean Energy Programs

To meet New York City’s goal to install 100 megawatts of solar on City-owned buildings by 2025:

  • NYC Solar Schools Program: We've completed 90 solar installations on school rooftops. These make up nearly 80% of the City’s total progress towards renewable (“clean”) energy. Over 150 more school buildings are actively in the solar planning process too!

Energy Projects

We upgrade lighting, controls, and/or mechanical systems to increase efficiency. “Energy efficiency” means we use less energy to provide the same service.

Energy Benchmarking and Building Energy Efficiency Ratings

To comply with local laws, we use data to identify buildings with poor energy performance. We then use this data to plan upgrade projects, training, and other improvements.

Waste Reduction and Recycling

To reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill, we all have to do our part. With over 1,800 schools, NYC Public Schools’ participation is essential! 

NYC Public Schools works with NYC Department of Sanitation and GrowNYC to support recycling and composting. All schools are required to recycle paper and cardboard, and metal, glass, plastic, and cartons.

Curbside Composting

All K-12 schools now take part in the DSNY Curbside Composting program. Schools receive training, equipment, and ongoing support to make composting a success.

Composting provides many benefits to our school communities: 

  • Food scraps and food-soiled paper are kept in separate containers for pickup, which reduces pests and vermin and keeps our sidewalks clean.
  • Reducing the food scraps we send to landfill reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.
  • Food scraps and food-soiled paper are turned into compost, a natural soil amendment, or into biofuel, a form of renewable energy.
  • Recycling and composting provide an opportunity for hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Plastic Free Lunch Day

All elementary schools with on-site kitchens take part in Plastic Free Lunch Days (PFLD) every three weeks. We partner with Office of Food & Nutrition Services and Cafeteria Culture to serve lunches without plastic packaging.

The PFLD menu consists of foods that do not require the use of utensils. Utensils are available upon request. Plastic cups are still available for drinks, but students are encouraged to bring their own cup or reusable bottle. 

All schools, regardless of grade level, are encouraged to reduce plastic via staff and student engagement: 

  • Inform students and families ahead of PFLD and encourage families to reduce single-use plastics while packing home lunches.
  • Encourage students & staff to bring their own bottles & safe reusable cutlery.
  • Lead a "Take Only What You Need" campaign – dispense single-use items like utensils by request.


The Office of Energy & Sustainability offers workshops, programs, and resources for all NYC Public School staff. We work with technical and custodial staff, teachers, administrators, and other school staff. Topics range from energy performance monitoring to air quality to recycling.

The Climate Education Leadership Team (CELT) is a group of over 30 teachers and administrators collaborating on climate education. They develop lesson plans and implement professional development. CELT also acts as a peer-to-peer network to support teachers. Their goal is full and equitable integration of climate education across areas of study and school culture.

The Office of Energy & Sustainability also supports students with a variety of programs including:

  • Climate Action Days - For the first time ever, NYC Public Schools will host four Climate Action Days throughout the 2023–24 school year. Climate Action Days provide entire school communities with fun and creative opportunities to help showcase the importance of climate education and environmentally-sustainable practices. Each of the four days will be based on a particular theme, and every school will choose or create their own activities based on these four themes in ways that best serve their students and broader school communities.
  • Youth Leadership Council - our Council of high school students from across each borough. They work to advance sustainability and climate justice in NYC schools and communities.
  • NYC Solar Career & Technical Education (CTE) Program - brings clean energy and sustainability content into electrical, construction, and engineering tracks at 14 CTE High Schools. We partner with Solar One to prepare students for the growing green economy.
  • Youth Climate Event - an annual student event that supports leadership and problem-solving skills. Students develop networks to expand sustainability in their communities. In 2024, the Youth Climate Summit will take place on Governors Island. Student teams will meet with local climate-focused organizations, learn about environmental justice, and attend workshops. At the end of the Summit, each team will develop a climate action plan for their school or community.
  • rFUTURE - climate action is the lens for this student-focused music advocacy program. Students write unique songs with mentorship from professional musicians. Videography students from TAPCo High School also produce professional music videos with each artist/group.

Annual Sustainability Project Grant

Each year, the Office of Energy & Sustainability offers an opportunity for all schools to apply for a grant. This grant awards up to $5,000 in funding or materials for a school-based sustainability project.

Interest in the grant continues to grow. In the 2023-24 school year, more projects were funded than ever before!

  • 182 schools across all boroughs were awarded over $800,000
    • Gardening and Outdoor Learning: 89 schools
    • Climate Action and Advocacy: 17 schools
    • Hydroponic Tower Garden and Training: 30 schools
    • Sustainability and Climate Education Programming: 24 schools
    • Water Refill Stations: 22 schools

Funding for the grants comes from our Demand Response Program. Over 453 NYC Public School buildings take part in this program. As a result, our buildings generate revenue. The Office of Energy & Sustainability reinvests those funds back into our schools. It funds buildings, operations, and school-based sustainability initiatives, including the annual grant program.

Congratulations to the grant winners! A full list of winners for school year 2023-24 is available online.

Gardens and Outdoor Learning

Nearly 70% of our school buildings have access to school gardens. In the 2021-22 school year, over 1,200 schools reported having a garden. These range from indoor windowsill gardens and hydroponic towers to outdoor raised beds. These gardens help to:

  • Support instruction on gardening and the local food system
  • Promote healthy eating habits
  • Increase student consumption of more fresh and locally-grown produce
  • Promote wellness and social-emotional learning