The fight against climate change is a steep, uphill one. So much needs to change- industries, building design, sources of power generation. It’s all very daunting. However, the lowest hanging fruit of all has not even been properly used yet – human behavior. Stores, offices, houses, keep all the lights on all day, the air conditioning too cold, stuffed with furniture and goods that is made with who knows what from who knows where. If we all collectively made small changes we could make a huge impact on our greenhouse gas emissions. If we all made big changes, then even better. But we don’t. It is too hard. It requires more time and effort. However, for one group, it could be all they know.
Some children live in houses with solar panels, are used to mom and dad plugging in their electric vehicle when they come home from work, have a barrel outside where rain water is collected for their slip n’ slides, and food waste is composted for the vegetable garden in their backyard from which dinner is made. It is all they know. It is normal for them. Some children go to school every day in their eco-efficient buildings. To them, it is normal that they compost food waste, tilt the window shutters depending on the natural lighting outside, and hallways light up as they walk through them, rather than all the time.
The Montgomery Public County Schools in Maryland has a mandatory program where all of the schools in their district participate in Saving Energy and Recycling Teams (SERT). These teams collect points and win awards. This model engages the children and puts them on par with their other team members, including teachers, parents and administrators. While benefitting the environment, the SERT program instills teamwork, fosters innovative ideas, and provides students with a sneak peek into grown up world success- creating a mission statement, working towards self defined goals, being held accountable, and recognizing individual and team efforts.
Furthermore, the district has an Environmental Sustainability Management Plan that reads like a Corporate Social Responsibility Report from a Fortune 100 company. This is a public school district that has prioritized environmental conservation for decades and is only getting more sophisticated at it as the problems become more acute. Sure, implementing geo-exchange systems for heating and cooling systems, installing windows or clerestory for day time harvesting, and incorporating infiltration trenches and bio-retention ponds may be feasible for one of the richest districts in the country. But here are some other facts about the MCPS system:
- Recycling efforts saved the system around $214,000 in 2012 by reducing “tipping” fees (the fees MCPS pays for the disposal of solid waste).
- MCPS avoided more than $2.7 million in energy costs and reduced GHG emissions by nearly 10,000 MTCO2e
- Energy consumption reductions exceed 10 percent per year (FY 2008–FY 2012 over FY 2003 baseline)
- Water consumption is 20 percent lower (FY2011– 2012 over FY 2008 baseline)
Proactive, forward-looking public school districts lower energy, resource and water use. But most important of all, for their most important constituents- the kids- they make it seem as if all this is normal.
What is your school system doing to promote sustainability and teach sustainability to its students.