Rod Shroufe, founder of Clackamas High
School's sustainable-systems class, says making
your school more eco-friendly is just a matter
of taking the initiative. He offers these tips:
Assess your current facility. First off, ask the right
questions, says Shroufe: "What is our capacity here? What do
we have control of? What don't we have control of? Make a
checklist -- this might include recycling, energy use, pesticide
and chemical use, indoor air quality, food waste, water efficiency, and so on.
Ask yourself: 'Do I have any control over the
immediate building site and its energy use? If so, what can I do
about it? Does my school recycle? How much? Do I have any
control over school grounds?' Start by figuring out what is there,
what is not there, and what is in your capacity to change."
Make sure everyone understands the goal. No schoolwide movement is possible without schoolwide buy-in. All students and staff need to acknowledge and comprehend
the problem, the solution, and its importance. Clackamas's
recycling program began with students educating other students
and staff about the value of recycling and their goals for the program through ten-minute presentations in each classroom.
They also created bulletin boards illustrating the process of, and
reasons for, recycling and put them in all the common areas,
and continually displayed student-created PowerPoint presentations on television screens stationed around the school. "That
educational piece has got to come first," Shroufe says.
Promote the idea with schoolwide events. You can further the educational component by initiating
schoolwide challenges, such as "No-Waste Lunch Day," during
which students and staff attempt to throw as little as possible
into the trash at the end of the lunch period. (Often, two-thirds
of the contents of a bag of garbage could have been reused or
recycled.) Try initiating a schoolwide reuse
competition, too, with prizes for the student
or classroom that brings in the most refillable
ink cartridges or recyclable cans (a recent success at Clackamas).
Get funding. "Start out soliciting money
that is local," Shroufe suggests, "because those
people can get to know you and your program.
Once you get that initial funding, it becomes
easier and easier to get more." Grants for
Shroufe's projects come from nearby organizations such as the Clackamas County Recycling
Partnership, Portland's Metro (a government
body that offers environmental protection-related grants), and the Meyer Memorial Trust.
Also, attend green conferences, such as the
Earth Club conference, hosted by the
Northwest Earth Institute. The people who are
trying to educate the general public about the
environment are often willing to fund environmental education and other environmentally
conscious initiatives, and these gatherings are
great networking devices.
You can also raise a
good deal of money by simply being eco-friendly: Recycling ink cartridges, bottles, cans, and consumer electronics, for instance, can earn plenty of cash
for your projects (check out EcoPhones or TonerInx, companies dedicated to collecting electronic waste -- and handing out
Form partnerships with nonprofits and
community service clubs.SOLV, an environmental
nonprofit organization in Hillsboro, Oregon, turned out to be
a perfect fit for Shroufe and his students. Organizations such as
SOLV have projects already up and running and resources at
their disposal (for example, saplings, shovels, and other equipment). Through connecting with these kinds of organizations,
you can extend the reach of your own program, and both
groups can benefit from each others' resources.
nationally recognized clubs that require community-service
hours for membership, such as Key Club International or the
National Honors Society, encourages involvement of a larger
and more diverse group of students. Also, good relations with
local companies in general can help you acquire materials -- the
first recycling bins at Clackamas, for instance, were discarded
syrup barrels from a nearby Coca-Cola distribution center.
Take it one step at a time. The most valuable piece
of advice Rod Shroufe has for those who are interested in growing more environmentally conscious: Don't try to save the
world all at once. "One year, when I was trying to clean up my
daily behaviors, I decided to start using cloth napkins in the
house," he says. "Now, that's part of the routine."
"What next?" Shroufe adds. "You can do the same thing at the school level. Say you wanted to reduce the number of aluminum cans that go into the trash
at your school by 50 percent. How would you do that? What
would it entail? Figure out the details, do it for a year, and then move on to the next project."
Sara Bernard is a former staff writer and multimedia producer for Edutopia.