All posts by Alyssa Weber

Green Schools, Education Programs and the Future of Sustainability

In order to find enduring solutions to global problems, we must always seek the root of the issues we hope to solve. Climate change concerns grow every day, and at the source of the problem are the unhealthy behaviors that start with the children in our society.

Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing the human population. Global warming is amplified by human behavior, which begins to develop at a very young age. One of the ways we can start to address this issue is by educating our children about how to live more sustainably. The good news is that many of our nation’s school systems are one step ahead of us by implementing inspiring programs in our schools. The positive effects of these programs on young people are creating a movement in our country, which will inevitably lead to a positive effect on our climate.

Every year, the USGBC Colorado Green Schools Summit showcases Colorado’s exemplary school leaders and industry experts and provides a forum for professionals to share their passion for sustainability. One of the stories presented at the Summit that resonated the most with me was the Douglas County School District in Colorado case study. In recent years, the Douglas County School District has grown over 400%, making it the fastest growing school district in the nation. Douglas County has not passed a bond since 2006 for the purpose of funding energy saving renovations, yet has still managed to cut energy usage by 30% per square foot, resulting in a total of $3.2 million in energy savings since 2006. All of this has been achieved by a completely student-run sustainability program.

The students involved in the program study energy saving measures, focus on the changes that they believe will make the most impact and implement them on a district-wide basis with minimal interference from administration. When Sustainability Director Lee Smit started this program, he had 11 students, all of which did not expect to graduate high school. Through mentoring and engaging the students in real, sustainable solutions with results they could see almost immediately, all 11 students went on to graduate. Most of those students even went on to attend college, choosing majors related to sustainability. Since the inception of the program in 2006, student participation has risen to 7500 students throughout the district. Smit reports that the vast majority of students involved in the program chose environmental professions or majors after graduating high school.

Besides making their buildings healthier, schools across the country are also adapting healthy food programs to educate students by growing and eating fresh fruits and vegetables on their campuses. The keynote speaker for the 2013 USGBC Green Schools Summit was Stephen Ritz, a school teacher in the Bronx that has enabled inner city students to grow fresh vegetables. The majority of Ritz’s students live below the poverty level and do not receive the proper nutrition they need to thrive. His program, The Green Bronx Machine, was created to teach students how to farm vegetables to improve their own health and sell at famer’s markets to help fund their educations. The food grown in their gardens are used to create balanced meals in the schools cafeterias and at their kitchen tables at home. Ritz has witnessed school attendance rise from 40% to 93% since the inception of his agriculture program.

Stories like these truly display the promise that lies within the young people of our country, and we applaud the teachers and administrators at the forefront of this movement. Teaching passion for healthy buildings and food in the young people of our country is the future of sustainability, and the positive impact on the students and communities is inspiring.


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