The Sonoma County Economic Development Board recently hosted an awards ceremony for 21 Sonoma County enterprises with newly earned green business certification. Representing Credo High School, I shared the stage with representatives from the Charles M. Schulz Museum, Francis Coppola Winery, Equinox Landscaping, Straus Family Creamery and Traditional Medicinals.

During the past year, 137 Sonoma County green businesses have reduced carbon dioxide by 2 million pounds, reduced landfill by 243 garbage-truck loads and saved the equivalent of 33 homes' usage of electricity and four bathtubs of water per household in the county. These are commendable local actions, particularly as a billion people in 192 countries celebrate Earth Day today.

Receiving the award at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, I felt proud to be standing among Sonoma County's environmental leaders. I also felt alone since Credo is the sole Sonoma County public school to be certified as a green business.

Environmental challenges are among the most urgent issues that our youth will inherit as they become tomorrow's leaders. While it is promising that businesses as diverse as Tip Top Cleaners and Petaluma Pie Company are modeling green practices, our public schools must become a vector of enlightened environmental values and practices to effect real and lasting change.

All of our public schools must model appropriate environmental leadership by teaching and practicing recycling, waste reduction, pollution prevention and water and energy conservation.

We must include multiple facets of sustainability in our educational programs. We must teach our youth to grow food in order to make well-informed consumer choices and to provide for their own sustenance.

At Credo, all students learn organic farming each year. Their efforts yield spring and fall farmers markets and school lunches. They know the difference between Russian kale and dino kale. They know not to plant tomatoes in the same bed year after year.

They value compost as a resource for next year's crops. Sonoma County's school garden network (schoolgardens.org) gives a farmer's hand-up to any school that aspires to launch an organic gardening program. Every school should be doing this.

Our school gardens — and students — should live in an environment free of toxins. School districts must stop using herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Once students are taught the chemical properties, health risks and geopolitical implications of these toxins, they will campaign for a safer world, such as posting "no spray" signs by our roadsides.

The first course taught to incoming Credo ninth-graders is Economics of Climate Change — 14-year-olds can understand climate change and their innate wisdom assures them that it is a vital subject. Environmental sustainability can be taught in age-appropriate ways in kindergarten through college. It must be taught.

We must educate our children to be informed stewards who will make responsible decisions to protect our future. The Earth Day Network (earthday.org) has many resources for educators.

With California at the bottom of per-pupil spending for public education, how can our schools afford this? Can we afford not to do this when our immediate future is at stake?

We must re-examine our priorities and put the survival of the planet at the top of our list, beginning in Sonoma County. Prosperous individuals and businesses can protect their own futures by supporting the greening of our schools and the environmental education of our children.

According to the Earth Day Network, today nearly one-seventh of humanity will engage in taking actions on behalf of the Earth. Let us seize this momentum in Sonoma County to ensure that our public schools are future oriented and forward-thinking.

<i>Chip Romer is executive director of Credo High School in Rohnert Park.</i>