Saturday, September 22, 2007

Greening Our Schools

I have the pleasure of serving as a mentor to one of our high school seniors this year. She is a bright, articulate student who clearly has a lot of drive and initiative behind her. As part of this program, she has to produce a “product” as the culmination of her experience. Her focus? The environment, of course.

In thinking through possible projects for her to take on, we talked about trying to calculate the high school's environmental footprint – basically, the total negative impact the school has on the environment – then implementing some initiative to lessen that. During our conversation I learned that the high school just isn't getting it done even with the little it tries to do to be “green”. Granted, I can't confirm this, but paper recycling (the only recycling they do) is being called into question because it is thought that the janitors simply threw it all in the trash at the end of the day.

In researching this project idea further, I came upon this article at Green Options about calculating your school’s carbon footprint (the amount of carbon dioxide emissions it generates). Great timing! But it got me thinking bigger, way beyond the high school, and how the town should be leading by example here.

Greening our schools would have positive impacts at many levels: From financial, to the health of our students and teachers, to the trickle-down effect that an environmental education curricula could have on all these kids' families and their lifestyles.

We can't do anything about it now, but the town missed the boat with the new Ranger Elementary School. This building should have been designed to be LEED Certified from the get-go. But it is possible to LEED certify an existing building through the remodel process (my employer did it with our building). What are the odds that the rest of our elementary schools will be updated to such a high standard of performance? You don't have to look far for resources on how to make this happen.

Beyond the structure itself, we should be looking at how much energy these all our school buildings are consuming. I'm certain that schools comprise the biggest slice of the pie when it comes to yearly energy costs. Again, some proactive steps could make huge strides in helping to curb the school budget. Just look at what Portsmouth is trying to do with placing new wind turbines at several school locations. Granted, not all our schools will have favorable wind conditions, but they could be taking other steps: Updating heating/cooling systems and insulation, using all CFL light bulbs, heck, even trying to install a solar array or two as part of a science project.

Then there's recycling. Why only paper? Plastic and aluminum should be recycled too. Doesn’t the town know that they once our landfill is maxed and we have to pay to have our trash hauled and dumped at the Central Landfill, that the more we recycle the less our tipping fees will be. Start now and make recycling part of the normal day-to-day routine. It makes me wonder what they are doing with their electronic waste, not to mention the hazardous waste like paints, cleaners, etc. And how about composting all the food waste coming out of the kitchens? (That compost could be used in the school gardens, of course.)

Alas, the list could go on. You get the point. As citizens of this community, we should be raising our voice on this issue. Some proactive steps now can have positive impacts for years to come. Do it for the kids, do it for the positive financial return, do it for the earth… just do it.

2 comments:

Marie Rys said...

Bill,
I'm sorry it took me this long to read this article, it's wonderful to know that our children do care about the environment. I have a middle school child who comes home constantly telling me how much recyclable material is going into the dumpsters at the middle school. My husband is on the recycling committee in town and has tried to make our children aware of their impact on our environment it's a shame that the schools will not embrace this teaching moment to make better citizens of the children within their building. The Recycling Committee has approached the school committee about how recycling is being handled in town I'm not sure that he ever got a clear answer from them. The school trash was going into our landfill but now it is being taken away somewhere else, I believe. But whether or not the recyclable items end up in our landfill or someone else's landfill is not the solution to the problem. Thank you for making people aware of this problem and perhaps talking about it is the first step to finding a way of solving the problem.

Marie Rys

BILL GERLACH said...

Thanks, Marie. Unfortunately, I think the reality with our School Committee is that their problems go way deeper than just getting recylcing right.

I've heard this next generation refered to as Generation G (for Green) because of their interest in and optimism for bettering our planet. But doing something positive in our own back yard is a great first step.

Do you have a sense of how other parents feel about connecting their kids with the environment -- whether through school or home?