I’m one of those people who has trouble saying no, which is why over the years I’ve been a Girl Scout troop leader, a member of various boards, a classroom parent, and a book-fair organizer, to name a few.
I’ve just taken on yet another volunteer obligation — but this one I’m pretty excited about. I’ll be the chair of the sustainability committee at my daughters’ school. In my role, I’ll be trying to help the school become more environmentally responsible by conserving resources and reducing waste, among other things. Our school has joined the many schools across the country that are striving to reduce their waste and operate more effectively, and has already earned a Green Ribbon Award for its efforts, which range from maintaining an on-site garden that supplies the cafeteria, to installing solar panels on the roof.
I’ve already started planning and researching some of the programs I’d like to propose. It turns out schools are in a great position, both to go green, and to teach kids about the values of sustainability. If you’d like to help the schools in your community become more sustainable, take a look at the list I’ve put together, and see if any of these initiatives might work for your school. If so, then propose them to your schools administrators!
1. Hold zero-waste lunch challenges: When I eat lunch in the cafeteria with my kids, I’m disheartened by the amount of stuff that gets thrown into the trash — not just half-eaten lunches, but paper napkins, plastic utensils, wrappers, aluminum foil, and yogurt cups. Once a month I’d like to challenge students (or rather, their parents!) to pack a zero-waste lunch. On these days, maybe the cafeteria can even serve foods that can be eaten without utensils, and pour milk into reusable cups rather than serving it in cartons. We’ll weigh the trash after a typical day’s lunch and on zero-waste lunch days, to see how well we’ve done in reducing waste and to encourage more waste-reducing action.
2. Host recycling drives: For the many things that can’t be recycled in curbside bins, a school makes a good location for collecting items for recycling, such as textiles, electronics, or used school supplies. Some programs even offer rewards or prizes to organizations for participating, such as Pepsi’s Recycling Rally for plastic and aluminum drink containers. These drives can help the school, as well as members of the community, to recycle materials more easily.
3. Teach kids about the environment: Many times, kids know the importance of turning out the lights, saving water, and recycling, but they won’t understand why. Offering easy-to-comprehend information about how recycling works, or explaining the benefits of saving energy, can help kids be more motivated to help with sustainability efforts, and will hopefully shape them to be responsible adults.
4. Encourage eco-friendlier fundraisers: Our school doesn’t do a lot of fundraising programs, but for the ones that we do, we probably could make them a little more environmentally responsible. I’m thinking in particular of the bake sales we have during certain festivals, which definitely could be tweaked to reduce the amount of disposable materials, such as plastic wrap and paper plates that are used to package and display baked goods.
5. Organize walk-to-school days: Most of the families at our school live within a mile or so of the school, but still, on a frantic morning, driving is easier and faster — for us included! Turning walking to, or from, school into a fun event can encourage families to take the time to walk, which has many benefits beyond simply saving gas, reducing emissions, and minimizing congestion on our roads. If walking to school proves too difficult because of timing, perhaps walking home is a better option, when kids can take a more leisurely pace and burn off some energy from sitting all day. If all else fails, organize a car-pooling program for your neighborhood, to reduce car use.
6. Help staff reduce resource use: Paper is probably the most used material at most schools, and thankfully it is recyclable, but that doesn’t mean we should be frivolous with it, especially with the costs involved in buying and printing on it. It’s better to use less paper when possible. At a school, this might mean that teachers use email, phone calls, or an online communication app like Bloomz to communicate with parents, rather than with printed notes. They could print homework on both sides of a sheet of paper, or in some cases, even assign it to be done on the computer. Scrap paper or dry-erase boards can be used for working out math problems. In general, you can encourage teachers and administrators to develop a culture of treating paper as the valuable resource that it is. Think twice before you print!
Creating change requires getting involved. Helping your school transition to being more sustainable is an important task and deserves thought and effort. You may meet some resistance at first (change can be hard), but if everyone involved can see and learn about the positive effects of greener actions (both environmentally and economically) for students, then support should grow quickly.