There’s nothing more important than insuring our children receive the highest quality education. The United States already trails many other countries in a range of educational measures, and while funding on the national and state levels continues to fall, educators work tirelessly to combat the lack of resources with resolve and enthusiasm. For those teachers, principals and superintendents who also consider environmental sustainability a real focal point, the work of our schools can often seem counterproductive. While many other industries continue to streamline processes to conserve natural resources and reduce waste, our school systems continue to operate as they have for decades, with no real thought about their carbon footprint. Money is the primary concern, and many education professionals probably balk at green initiatives due to concern over their price tags. However, there are many things that schools can do that will support the environment and save money at the same time. Here are a few ideas.
The first strategy must come from the principal, so that every teacher takes part. Organize a school-wide energy audit. Basically, that means each teacher would assess their classroom, to better understand how energy is used, and how it is being wasted. There are several online tools that can help teachers do this, but it can also be coordinated with a simple spreadsheet. The teachers would go through the classroom, assessing each power source and how it is used. They would mark down what lights are left on, and for how long, what computers are used and whether they have any sort of energy saving system, as well as how often heating or air conditioning systems are turned on. This will give each teacher a baseline assessment of their energy usage, as well as obvious areas for improvement. Any reduction in energy output will lead to saved money on the school’s utility bill. Over the course of the year that could add up to thousands of dollars in savings.
Another important area to assess is paper usage. Classes at all levels of the education system use a massive amount of paper for all those tests and reports. That doesn’t even take into consideration the inter-office memos and assessments required to run a school district. Working to move some of that output to a digital interface will not only save acres of trees, but thousands of dollars in paper and ink, and hundreds of hours at the copy machine. Many classrooms now have computers for the students’ use, and the majority of those students also have computer access either at home or at the library. There’s no reason why homework can’t be moved to the digital space. And if districts would move their communications online, that would further cut down on the paper usage.
Finally, schools can go green and save money by ramping up their recycling programs. That doesn’t only mean traditional recycling of paper and plastic, but reusing resources as well. All of the expended printer cartridges can be turned in for cash, or for discounts on school supplies. Anything metal or glass can be reused to build murals and mosaics. And all of that leftover food should be composted, to help create a school garden. It will take a bit of work, but a garden on the grounds can actually turn out a great deal of vegetables, further cutting the cafeteria bill. And the work doesn’t have to be done by graduates of masters in education programs, but students themselves. It’s a great way to connect the kids with the natural world, while also filling a specific need.