State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais' rejection of participation in the "Green Ribbon Schools" program ignores the fact that green programs are money savers.

Rather than dismissing this initiative as "placating environmental lobbyists," Zais should unplug the politics and do the math.

In the case of energy and natural resource conservation, many schools are already recycling, composting, minimizing waste streams, and reducing lighting and water usage -- all with little or no cost.

In fact, they are saving money.

In Greenville County, facility operators, school staff and students are collaborating to reduce their annual school energy bill by some $1.5 million through efficient and goal-oriented energy system management.

Imagine that windfall for classroom education. Do the math.

Energy analysts say a 10 percent reduction in energy usage is doable. According to the state energy office, the energy bill for all of our schools was over $138 million in 2008. Do the math.

Green Ribbon Schools also focus on nutrition, health, and integrated instruction. Using environmental education tools to improve reading and writing skills has proven successful.

The award criteria are rigorous in some ways, but practices, curricula, projects, and programs should be noteworthy. There is no lack of nominees in South Carolina or lack of interest in the business sector.

The Conservation Voters of South Carolina Education Fund is partnering with the South Carolina Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and Sonoco's Green Steps program to create the Palmetto Green Schools Network.

The network promotes grass-roots energy and natural resource conservation projects in schools, supports energy savings and sustainability plans for school facility managers and administrators, and is launching a clearinghouse website featuring links to success stories, resources, and networking for students, educators, energy managers, community and elected leaders.

The Green Building Council believes that green schools open the doors for green learning for the communities they serve. When schools are built or remodeled to lower utility costs and reduce waste, everyone takes pride in the results.

When buildings have clean air and sunlight and are free of toxic materials, our children benefit and families learn how to reduce energy use at home and are inspired to adopt healthier lifestyles.

What is wrong with South Carolina joining thirty-four other states in a recognition program sponsored by three "federal" entities: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality?

Our schools need champions to open doors so they can be recognized and supported for their energy and environmental work within and beyond our state.

Is our State Department of Education that champion, or merely missing in action? Energy conservation and education make sense, save significant dollars, build awareness, improve attitudes and encourage wise use of our limited natural resources.

Please join our public-private partnership and sign up to support Palmetto Green Schools today at www.palmettogreenschools.com.

Melissa Le Roy is director of the S.C. chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. Ed Falco is program manager of Conservation Voters of South Carolina.