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E4 Program

The Encouraging Environmental Excellence in Education (E4) program recognizes any K – 12 public or private school for their achievements in environmental stewardship and their efforts to educate students on environmental topics. Ohio EPA's former director Laurie Stevenson introduced the Encouraging Environmental Excellence in Education program on Earth Day 2019 by recognizing four different schools for their efforts in environmental stewardship. 

Interested school representatives should submit a completed application which includes a description of the school’s activities related to the three guiding principles: reduce, reuse and recycle. Emphasis will be given to activities that provide students with the opportunity to become environmental leaders through learning and encouraging others around them to participate. 

Award Criteria

Schools may qualify for an E4 award based upon the information they provide about their sustainability measures, how the three "R"s are incorporated at the school, and the level of student involvement in environmental stewardship. Examples of activities under each category are listed below, however activities not specifically listed may also qualify for an award.


  • Energy conservation and reduction efforts.
  • Efforts to reduce water consumption.
  • Efforts to reduce solid waste.
  • Avoiding single-use items in the cafeteria (plastic straws, polystyrene trays/containers).
  • Reducing paper waste by sending emails and printing double-sided. 


  • Providing refillable water stations.
  • Using products made from recycled or bio-based materials.
  • Facilitating reuse opportunities for school supplies, sporting equipment, clothing, etc.
  • Encouraging students and staff to pack their lunch in reusable containers. 


  • Any type of recycling program in school buildings.
  • Recycling efforts with the local community during school events.
  • Efforts to encourage recycling at home.
  • Establishing a food waste composting program.
  • Establishing a student recycling team for the building or community


Organizations may receive one of three award classes based on their commitment to Environmental Excellence: Root, Branch, or Leaf. Ohio EPA may request additional information from an applicant if we feel their school is close to achieving a higher tier award. The criteria for each award and the benefits for receiving each one are listed below. 

Organizations can reapply for the same award, or a or higher level of recognition one year after receiving an E4 award.  Applicants need to demonstrate significant improvement if applying for a higher class (for example, E4 Root to Branch) or complete different or unique activities in their new application (for example, reapplying for E4 Branch in a following year). We recommend reaching out to E4 program staff if you are interested in reapplying to discuss progress and improvements which may qualify for a new award. Applicants interested in receiving additional recognition may only need to submit updated or partial information.

In recognition of their efforts and accomplishments, recipients of any E4 award class receive a certificate of recognition signed by the Director, recognition on Ohio EPA’s website, an E4 flag, and a window decal.


To obtain a Root Class E4 award, schools must demonstrate activities in one of the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle); include environmental education and stewardship in their curriculum, and students must have opportunities to participate in environmental activities.


To obtain a Branch Class E4 award, schools must demonstrate activities in at least two of the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle), environmental education and stewardship must be interdisciplinary through all grade levels, and students must have opportunities to participate in STEM programs or green clubs.


To obtain a Leaf Class E4 award, schools must demonstrate activities in all 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) , environmental education and stewardship must be interdisciplinary and curriculum be progressive, there must be student-led environmental initiatives;, and the community beyond the school should be encouraged to participate in environmental activities.

Submitting Your Application and Questions

The annual cutoff date for E4 application submissions is April 30th. Applications may still be submitted after this date, but will not receive recognition until the following year. All submissions must be filled out online at our Customer Support Center.  Applications are only accepted for a single school per submission. If a district wishes to submit applications for multiple schools, they will need to create a separate application for each.

Compliance Requirements

To qualify for an E4 award, applicant organizations must be in compliance with environmental laws and regulations for at least one year prior to submittal of their application, and for the duration of the application review process. Ohio EPA will perform a compliance evaluation to ensure the organization is eligible to receive an E4 award.

Site Visit

Organizations with particularly impressive applications may be asked to host a site visit. The purpose of this site visit is to provide reviewers with a better understanding of the organization's environmental stewardship, to view the activities described in the application in operation, and to clarify information provided in the application. A team of two or more Ohio EPA reviewers will conduct the site visit and collect information to determine the award class earned. Evaluation criteria for the site visit are the same as those for the written application.

Contact Us

Contact Mathias Wagner in the Division of Environmental and Financial Assistance at (614) 644-3498, (Mathias.Wagner@epa.ohio.gov) or our hotline at (800) 329-7518 if you have any questions.

Award Winners

Leaf Class


  • Hathaway Brown School (Cuyahoga County)  Hathaway Brown School’s science curriculum engages students in environmental thinking at every grade level. The school has outdoor gardens and a greenhouse that they use as a teaching aid for students in kindergarten to fourth grade. They also use other subjects such as Spanish and Art to learn about the environment and use recycled or repurposed materials. Students participate in activities with all three Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and take initiative to make environmentally friendly changes within their school. A Green Team was created at the school by two third graders who recruited their classmates to join them. The Green Team participated in activities such as a litter cleanup, stream sampling, creating a “how-to” video on sorting compostable material in the cafeteria and creating environmental education posters.
  • Magnificat High School (cuyahoga County) Magnificat High School has had a student driven; student led recycling/sustainability club for over 20 years. The club has progressed from the Earth Club to Student Sustainability which, in the last 10 years, has chosen one area in which to advance the sustainability of the school each year while educating, supporting, and encouraging the changes in behavior so that it becomes a habit for students and staff over the school year. This school goal for 2019-2020 was to decrease the contamination in the school’s compost. The student idea to help this outcome occur is to have a “Race to Zero” competition with another school that uses the same compost facility. The school has been able to incorporate environmental education throughout the curriculum which gives students numerous opportunities to get involved. Examples include: Student Sustainability, Theology, Marine Science Club, Environmental Science, Summer Science enrichment, Chemistry, Visual Arts, AP History, Geography, US Government, Chinese, Spanish, French, Economics, and STEM. Students learn about all three Rs through lessons in these classes and can apply their knowledge through projects and other environmental activities.


  • Newark High School, Heritage Middle School, Carson Elementary (Licking County) Together We Grow, Inc. (City of Newark’s community garden non-profit) applied for an OEEF General Grant for $35,473 in 2018. They partnered with Newark City Schools and created the in-vessel composting program. This program is a large-scale composting program using their equipment and labor; Newark City School teachers align it with their science content standards. They purchased three Earth Cube In-Vessel Composting Systems (from Green Mountain Technologies). One is in place at the Newark High School and the second one is at Heritage Middle School. The plan is to install the third in-vessel composter at the Boys & Girls Club after it’s renovated. The Earth Cube will break down hundreds of pounds of cafeteria food waste at both the Newark High School and Heritage Middle School, and then the rest of the 11 schools in the district. This will affect almost 7,000 students as they learn why and how to sort their food waste and the impact it will have on the environment. On Earth Day, students from each of the three schools presented topics that they had learned about the environment to Director Stevenson. These topics included the in-vessel composting system, organic gardens, and STEM projects.

  • Graham Local Schools (Champaign County)  Graham Local Schools is a member of the League of Innovative Schools and have been named one of the nation’s most innovative schools by the AASA School Superintendents Association. Graham has a student-centered culture focusing on innovative ways to include students in leadership and having voice and choice in learning.

Graham began their “Green” journey more than 15 years ago with the implementation of multiple energy savings projects. They were one of the first districts in the region to install light sensors in restrooms and implement district wide HVAC policies for energy efficiency and financial stability. Over the past 15 years Graham has partnered with Energy Optimizers USA and Waibel Energy Systems to implement projects that have gained actual savings of more than $550,000 in energy costs. Some of the projects have included lamp replacement, variable speed drives for HVAC motors and for well pumps, standardized HVAC controls across the district and skylights. They have continued this quest for “Green Excellence” with the implementation of green teams lead by students across the district.

One of their greatest accomplishments to date has been the implementation and sustainability of their Graham Middle School all-female “Energy Team”. This team was created due to the overwhelming vocational need of females in STEM careers. This energy team has won multiple awards for their leadership and project implementations of green energy practices across the state and region. They have received grants from the Ohio Energy Project to attend a week-long conference and built an energy bike to be used for education. This team of sixth, seventh and eighth grade girls took their learning and developed lessons for their peers and for elementary students. They travel to the elementary and teach on energy conservation, green practices, and STEM careers to Kindergarten through 5th grade. This team also plans and leads an energy education fair for their peers and the community yearly to demonstrate and educate about green practices. This past year the team participated in the Dayton Area “Bring Your Green” Challenge. A yearlong challenge to earn points by participating in “Green” challenges, energy monitoring and education. Graham Middle School won this competition for 2017 and collected more points than any other school or business in the region beating out more than 600 other facilities. The Students won a prize of $3000.00 and have used this money to purchase recycling containers, a television and presentation materials to be used in promoting “Green” culture, and other items to continue educating peers about “Green” practices. This team is led by teacher Tracy Merica.

In 2018 Graham Middle School and Elementary earned designations as STEM schools by the Ohio Department of Education. This rigorous process requires that schools demonstrate a culture of STEM education and results. In earning this designation Graham joined a group of 33 public school buildings in the state of Ohio to earn such a designation. STEM education is part of their culture K-12. With the implementation of Project Lead the Way curriculum at the Middle School, they’ve been able to develop unique opportunities for their students such as their active Jr. Bee Keepers who manage and care for hives as part of their curriculum, and a working poultry learning space for students to learn about care and support of poultry for sustainability.

The A.B. Graham Ohio Hi-Point FFA lead by instructor Dawn Wallace manages 30 acres of farm ground owned by the district and has a working greenhouse that often will grow produce to be used in their school cafeterias. Graham Local Schools utilizes partnerships across the region for the betterment of their students learning, from strategic partnerships with Colleges and Universities, to partnerships with local businesses. Across the district Graham has aligned their curriculum and actions with their strategic plan. Through this plan, “Career Gears” was developed and implemented across the district. Focusing on what they call the three “E’s” - Enlistment, Enrollment and Employment. From Kindergarten through the 12th grade their students are exposed to career pathways giving them opportunities to explore careers throughout their educational experience. Through these strategic partnerships, their students have on campus and off campus connections to local business and partners, giving them a leg up on identifying their pathway after they leave Graham.

District-wide, Graham participates in a yearly “United Service Day” which is student planned, student led, and student organized. This united service day is a K-12 initiative where all students and staff are engaged in community service across the district for an entire school day. Students design projects in the district from mulching around flower beds and on paths in their land labs, to visiting local cemeteries and assisting with cleanup. A first-grade group of students planned and oversaw a project to make dog chew toys out of used t-shirts for the local animal shelter, some middle school students secured funding and materials to build picnic benches to be used for outdoor learning, and a group of high school students worked to clean out the pond in the high school land lab.

The most recent initiative has been the development by their students of a solar array to power the middle school and elementary. This solar array will be installed later in 2019 after a yearlong study with their partners at Energy Optimizers USA and the work of their students, most notably the energy team at the Middle School. The students worked with their partners to design and develop this solar plan that will provide 75% of their electrical needs at both buildings through a Power Purchase Agreement giving Graham the very first solar powered schools in Champaign County.

Graham Local Schools is also a 2019 U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon School.

Branch Class


  • Greenon High School (Clark County)

  • Clay High School ( Lucas County)

  • St. Francis DeSales High School (Franklin County)


  • St. Dominic School (Cuyahoga County)


  • Manchester High School (Summit County)

  • Urban Community School – (Cuyahoga County)

  • Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School (Cuyahoga County)

  • Boardman Glenwood Junior High (Mahoning County)

  • Put-In-Bay School (Ottawa County

Root Class


  • Timmons Elementary School (Cuyahoga County

  • Bluffton High School (Bluffton County)