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Nov/Dec 2010 -- Web Exclusive

Bringing Energy Efficiency to Your School

Last April, students at the Maret School, a K-12 school in the Woodley Park neighborhood of Washington, DC, were delighted to find that there was a way to flunk your teachers: by finding a trash can contaminated with recyclable items like paper and bottles. At the end of the school’s “Sustainability Week,” the fifth grade trash patrol made their rounds and issued a pass or fail grade to each Maret teacher, based on how well they sorted their recycling. Though the school’s campaign to combat energy and waste reduction lasted only a week, it resulted in long-term changes. By reducing the number of trash cans and increasing the number of recycling bins in the school, Maret drastically reduced its waste output over the past year, including a 50% reduction in cafeteria food waste.


Earth Day last April kicked off Maret’s student-led Sustainability Week, spearheaded by the school’s Students for Environmental Action (SEA) group and Sustainability Coordinator Jen Manderville . The campaign addressed a different environmental issue each day of the week. Students particularly liked paper-free day and alternative-transportation day, say 11th-grade SEA members Emily Fox-Penner and Marty Strauss. On alternative transportation day, SEA challenged the student body with finding a more environmentally friendly way to get to school than driving.


“My parents always drove me to school,” Marty says, “but I tried taking the bus once for Transportation Day and I’ve done that ever since.”

Students Emily Fox-Penner and Marty Strauss stand next to the only waste receptacles at Maret that appear to be overflowing: recycling and compost.


The Maret faculty and staff’s ongoing commitment to environmental and social issues paved the way for SEA’s week-long campaign and year-long efforts to make the school a greener place. For example, eighth-grade dean and mathematics teacher Nigel Cosh says that starting in eighth grade, students learn ways to reduce their carbon footprint through a Service Learning course, after which they apply their lessons to their community. Thanks to eighth-graders’ presentations at local farmer’s markets and public schools, parents and community members are well-versed in green steps like how a compact fluorescent light bulb reduces both one’s global-warming impact and electricity bill.


The school has also taken steps to improve energy efficiency. Maret Facilities Director Jon Young points out the school’s latest energy-saver, an efficient air conditioning system—a huge consumer of energy—that saves the school about $10,000-$12,000 a year—a fact that the administration has shared with the students.


“I guess the biggest thing I’d pass on about the work we’re doing here at school is that going green really saves you money,” says Marty Strauss.


Fox-Penner and Strauss agree that these efforts, along with the school’s intensive new lunch composting program (daily lunch waste was reduced from 135 to 14 pounds) and the use of energy-saving products like compact fluorescent light bulbs, helped the school to win this year’s Day School Green Challenge. The month-long April Challenge was started in 2007 in the DC area with just three schools participating. Last year, Maret placed first out of 13 area schools in areas of waste and electricity reduction and recycling compliance.


Fox-Penner and Strauss agree that their work in environmental sustainability at school may influence their choices after they graduate. “I’d like to major in something like environmental science, and I’m also interested in an area called green chemistry that I was reading about in my AP chem book,” says Strauss.


Fox-Penner adds, “Even if I’m not doing something in this area professionally, there are so many other ways this can reinforce my commitment to what I eat, what I buy, and how I live.”


--Sara-Katherine Coxon




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