Written by Corinne Garcia Thursday, June 17 2010
|Helping our Schools Go Green|
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When Deborah Moore of Berkeley, Calif., volunteered at her kindergartner’s school pizza party in 2000, she was shocked to find that the school didn't recycle. Her career with the Environmental Defense Fund probably made her more sensitive, but at the same time, recycling was pretty mainstream by then.
“I thought, ‘What else are they not doing?’” she says. “As a professional environmental scientist it felt hypocritical to look the other way.” So she started volunteering. Together with fourth grade students, she calculated that this one pizza party per month generated 1,000 pounds of garbage per year. It wasn’t long until the students rallied for recycling.
It also wasn’t long until Moore made this her full-time job, cofounding Green Schools Initiative (GSI) in 2004, where she serves as executive director. Her organization provides training and support, offering tools for people to transform their own school community.
“It wasn’t just my daughter’s school, all schools were in the environmental dark ages,” she says. And there was more to it than just helping the environment.
Greening for Health
Ever think about how much time kids spend in the confines of a school building? On average, it’s 900 hours per year.
The U.S. Government Accounting Office claims that one in five schools in the United States has problems with indoor air quality. And the American Lung Association reports that asthma in children increased nearly 50 percent between 1982 and 1993. “Schools are ecosystems where our children live,” Moore says. “The school environment directly affects their learning capacity and health.”
In old school buildings you may find mold, asbestos, lead in paint and drinking water, and toxic cleaning supplies. Then there are the pesticides in school lunches. One of GSI’s “pillars” is based on helping schools become toxin free, which involves switching to green cleaners among other cleanup efforts.
Another pillar that revolves around health is creating “green healthy space.” This involves healthier, pesticide-free school lunches, incorporating green schoolyards and gardens, and promoting farm-to-school programs.
It takes a great deal of energy to run a school, including heating and pumping water, running lights and equipment, and transportation. According to the Collaborative for High Performance Schools, the average school puts out 2,000 tons of carbon per year. And with 125,000 K-12 schools in the United States, well, you can do the math.
“A typical school is like a miniature city; it’s generating a lot of waste and using a lot of materials,” Moore says. Along with using green building practices in the construction of new schools, in older schools GSI and other similar organizations push for energy and water conservation programs; purchasing environmentally friendly school supplies; reduce/ reuse/ recycling programs; composting; and garbage reduction.
And, all of these techniques can be used as educational tools, teaching the future generation about environmental stewardship.