Trash audits, composting, seasonal foods and zero-waste lunches were among the topics discussed at the first Greening Your Schools Summit on Tuesday.
About 30 parents, teachers and administrators came together to share ideas, successes and challenges with greening San Ramon Valley schools.
The meeting, held at San Ramon Valley High School, was led by Cindy Egan, AP environmental science instructor at SRVHS and member of Sustainable Danville Area.
Earlier this month, Egan received an award for Individual Leadership in Sustainability at the 3rd Annual Contra Costa Leadership in Sustainability Awards Gala, hosted by Sustainable Contra Costa (SCOCO).
The awards honor those who demonstrate outstanding commitment, leadership and contributions to practicing and promoting sustainability.
The Greening Your Schools Summit was the brainchild of Egan and Cynthia Ruzzi, co-founder of Sustainable Danville Area.
“It’s been my goal for us to work together,” Egan told the participants.
Representatives from several schools in the San Ramon Valley School District attended, including Montevideo Elementary, Neil Armstrong Elementary, Sycamore Valley Elementary, Vista Grande Elementary, John Baldwin Elementary, Bollinger Canyon Elementary, Monte Vista High, Charlotte Wood Middle School, and San Ramon Valley High.
District Community Relations Coordinator Terry Koehne also attended the meeting.
In addition to SRV school reps, members of Sustainable Lafayette and parents and educators from the Lafayette School District attended, as well as representatives from The Athenian School, which is a member of the Green Schools Alliance and the Contra Costa Green Business Program.
Sustainable Lafayette kicked off the meeting, with members sharing some of their successes with schools in their district. They encouraged SRV school representatives to create Green Teams if they haven’t already done so.
A Green Team is typically composed of students, parents and teachers looking for ways to improve sustainability in their school and the greater community.
Sustainable Lafayette Treasurer and School Committee Co-Chair Barbara Williams shared how the organization partnered with school representatives to invite PG&E and Waste Management authorities to conduct energy and waste audits.
Changes that have made the most impact were replacing old boiler parts and switching gym lights to low-voltage fluorescent bulbs – resulting in a $32,000 savings for the Lafayette School District.
Lisa Evaristo, a parent at Burton Valley Elementary who volunteered in the lunch room, started questioning why the school relied so heavily on packaged food. She ended up creating a whole new menu, which includes local, seasonal salad and fruit bars.
Her revamped lunch program earns the school $25,000 a year.
“It’s worth the effort,” Evaristo said. “It makes you money and our kids are healthier for it.”
The concept of a zero-waste lunch was shared by Nanette Heffernan, one of the parent members of the Springhill Elementary Green Team.
Heffernan collected one week’s worth of disposable baggies and chip bags from the school trash cans, washed and dried them, and made a full body trash suit and wore it for students and parents to see.
Her fellow Sustainable Lafayette members refer to it as the “Eco Carmen Miranda Outfit.”
“When I wear my trash suit, kids go home and say, ‘Hey, Mom, there’s a crazy lady at school who wears trash at lunch,’” Heffernan said. “The good news is, it sticks and the kids learn something.”
Heffernan emphasized the importance of refraining from lecturing.
“We’re not the Green Police,” she said. “The key is interaction – to make it fun, energetic and exciting.”
The result of Heffernan’s efforts has been a consistent 50 percent reduction in the number of disposables brought onto the campus.
Andrew Gardner, San Ramon Valley High social studies teacher, talked about the school’s Environmental and Engineering Program (E2), which has established a native plant garden and implemented a district-wide paper recycling program.
E2 has over 100 student members.
Gardner handed out a list of projects that the E2 Program has incorporated, like Annual Waste Audits, Campus Clean Up Day, E-Waste Recycling, Energy Savings Checklists, and a Trash Rally – where all the trash that was not placed in recycling containers was dumped in the middle of the quad at lunch and students sorted and weighed it.
“These are all very simple things that parents, teachers and students can do,” said Gardner, pointing out that all the ideas for the programs came from the students.
“Our role is just to foster their ideas,” he said.
“It’s really got to be part of the curriculum – part of the students’ lives - to be successful,” said Robert Oxenburgh, director of finance and operations at the Athenian School.
He said the school is saving more than $100,000 a year with its sustainable practices, which include solar panels, biointensive gardening, composting and water conservation.
“Every event is waste-free,” said Athenian Environmental Science instructor Ray Engreszer. “The student council banned single use water bottles and students have even asked to mow the lawns with hand mowers.”
Engreszer said the challenge is how to keep the programs going when students graduate.
Koehne was enthusiastic about changes the district is making to foster sustainability in the schools.
“We have made some really good strides,” he said.
“We recently hired a new child nutrition director and are looking to hire a full-time nutritionist,” Koehne said.
He believes this will lead to providing schools with local, organic food and more sustainable products and packaging.
“This is helpful, to be part of a group that meets regularly to discuss these issues,” Koehne said.
At the summit's conclusion, everyone agreed to the need for regular meetings. The next one will be held sometime in early December.
If you are working on – or would like to become involved with - green projects in your school, you can register at GREEN YOUR SCHOOL SUMMIT to receive details on the December meeting.