Sustainability Certification: Reduce Your Course's Environmental Footprint

This page provides criteria faculty can use to assess the environmental impact of their course and reduce their classroom footprint. The criteria is based upon two assumptions:

  1. Most people would like to be a part of the solution to environmental problems, but few people know what actions they can take.
  2. Some actions make more of a difference than others, so it makes sense to prioritize one's efforts.

For information about self-certifying your class as sustainable, see Sustainable Teaching Certification Process.

Our Decision-Making Process

To develop criteria for reducing classroom footprints, members of the Sustainability Work Group, the CCE, and interested students reviewed similar efforts, such as those at American University. We then reviewed recommendations by the Union of Concerned Scientists and agreed upon initial criteria we felt would be useful to faculty interested in reducing their class's environmental impact.

Sustainable Teaching Certification Process

To self-certify your class as having a low impact on the environment, faculty members, student assistants, and teaching assistants may enroll in a Moodle class called "Certify Your Class as Sustainable." The class is available to all SSU faculty at no cost.

Self-certification involves answering questions such as those that follow. Upon answering the questions you will receive a score. If your score is sufficiently high, you will be able to self-certify your class as one that is being taught in a sustainable fashion. You may then use the certified as sustainable logo in Moodle on your course syllabus and on related materials.

Criteria Used in the Certification Process

Criteria was grouped according to the following categories:

  1. Environment
  2. Health
  3. Social Equity


This category was broken into the following subcategories:

  1. Transportation
  2. Energy Use in Class
  3. Paper Use
  4. Ink
  5. Purchases


  1. Are your office hours scheduled before or after class so that students do not need to make an additional trip to campus to meet with you? (2 points)
  2. Do you encourage students to walk, bicycle, take public transportation, or carpool to off-site field trips or meetings whenever feasible? (3 points)
  3. If your students carpool on a field trip do you select the most fuel-efficient and appropriate vehicles to make the trip? (5 points)
  4. Do you use stairs instead of an elevator when you are en route to second-story classes? (1 point)
  5. Do you arrive to class by: biking, walking, or using public transportation, rather than by driving? (10 points)

Energy Use in Class

  1. Do you turn the lights off when you leave the room (or dim them during class)? (3 points)
  2. Do you turn off and/or unplug electronic equipment when it is not in use (not including computers)? (3 points)
  3. Do you turn your computer off or put it on standby or sleep mode when you are finished using it? (2 points)
  4. Is your classroom temperature less than 68 degrees in the winter? (3 points)
  5. Do you keep the thermostat at the same temperature on hot days? (3 points)
  6. Does your classroom rely on renewable sources of energy? (5 points)

Paper Use

  1. Do you give students electronic copies of assignments, course syllabi, and school policies rather than printing class copies? (1 point)
  2. Do you post assigned articles or book chapters on e-Reserves or in Moodle (observing copyright laws), rather than handing out hard copies? (2 points)
  3. Do you encourage students to hand in electronic versions of all papers, tests, and assignments? (1 point)
  4. Do you post all class notes on Moodle for students to annotate online? (1 point)
  5. Do you try to print on double-sided, recycled paper as much as possible? (3 points)
  6. Do you encourage your class to circulate a sign-up sheet so that they can sell incoming students their books? (4 points)
  7. Do you require students to hand in assignments composed with a single-spaced type on both sides of the paper (and possibly with narrowed margins)? (2 points)
  8. Do you try to use recycled or scrap paper as much as possible for classroom activities? (1 point)
  9. Is there a recycling bin inside or near the classroom? (1 point)
  10. Do you require students to assemble PowerPoint presentations that may be projected (rather than creating posters that require printing)? (3 points)
  11. Do you encourage students to work in groups in class and permit them to compile answers on only one sheet of paper for their graded work? (1 point)


  1. Do you recycle used ink cartridges? (4 points)
  2. Do you encourage students to use pens with refillable ink, rather than disposable pens? (1 point)
  3. When printing drafts, do you select "draft" to save ink? (2 points)
  4. Do you choose fonts that use less ink? (1 point)


  1. Do you use texts and resources bought from B Corporations? (B Corporations practice being environmentally conscious, as measured by their use of energy, how they treat their employees, and other variables. (5 points)
  2. Do you encourage students to buy office supplies, textbooks, and other consumer items from locally-owned businesses? (5 points)


This category was broken into the following subcategories:

  1. Ergonomics
  2. Stress
  3. Air Quality


  1. Do you allow students to stand in the back of the class or sit on the floor (including during exams) if they are uncomfortable in their seats ? (5 points)
  2. Do you vary classroom activities so that students don’t spend the whole class time in one position? (5 points)
  3. Do the chairs in your classroom provide lumbar support? (10 points)


  1. Do you give students more time on assignments if they have an acceptable excuse? (3 points)
  2. Do you schedule exams, quizzes and presentations in intervals to give students optimal study time? (7 points)
  3. Do you schedule exams with an awareness of exam schedules in other classes so students will have time to prepare? (5 points)
  4. Do you require five-minute breaks for every fifty minutes students are in class so students can stretch, walk, have a snack, or get a drink of water? (2 points)

Air Quality

  1. Do you open classroom windows when appropriate? (2 points)
  2. Do you require sick students to stay home (and offer them a way to make up missed work?) (5 points)

Social Equity

This category was divided into the following subcategories:

  1. Textbook availability and affordability
  2. Students' access to technology

Textbook Availability and Affordability

  1. Do you limit purchasing hard copies of books to texts in which the majority of chapters have been assigned as required reading? (4 points)
  2. If possible, do you recommend an earlier version of the main text and provide materials (on Moodle or through some other medium) to bring content up to date? (3 points)
  3. Do you direct students to buy used books as early in the year as possible? (4 points)
  4. Do you keep reference books available on reserve at the library or in some other accessible location? (2 points)

Students' Access to Technology

  1. Do you make sure students know about SSU's 24-hour and other computer labs? (2 points)
  2. Do you schedule a computer workshop early in the semester to familiarize students with the lab’s resources and with relevant software? (3 points)
  3. When students are completing projects, do you put students in groups based upon their familiarity with tools and technologies so that the more skilled students can help the less skilled students? (3 points)

Get Involved

If you would like to be involved in continuing to develop this certification process, please contact Zeno Swijtink or another member of the Sustainability Work Group.

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