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Green Schools Conference Notes

I was fortunate enough to attend the Green Schools Conference in Pasadena in early December. (

The sessions I went to were quite good and I wanted to share my take on the presentations with others. These are the sessions I attended.

GSC- Thursday Keynotes

Notes from the Green Schools Conference

Sarah Laimon, works with Environmental Charter Schools and has started a Green Ambassadors program.

She stated that eco-literacy is the single biggest need for students to face the future. She believes that students need to understand the entire picture and that humans are part of the universe. Students need to see the universe, find the trend and then base their future around that trend. The Green Ambassadors program gives students a chance to learn while earning university credits.

Norma Williamson is the solar energy coordinator for La Mirada High School.

The indoor air quality at her high school was so bad that teachers brought their own air filters. However, after an extensive modernization remodel, indoor air quality was significantly improved. She believes that it is the role of high school students to keep teacher honest because they challenge teachers constantly. She shared the process of modernizing her own home which includes dual pane windows, insulation in the ceiling and walls, skylights and solar tubes, dual pump hvac system, Energy Star appliances, solar system which produces 220 watts of power, back up battery system and even an electric car. All of these improvements turned a 1970's track home into a net zero home, producing more energy than it uses. She encouraged all high schools to look for the CDE's grants to implement Green Academies, to produce the next generation of green workers.

GSC - "Student Actions to Reduce Your School's Environmental Footprint- Eco Audits and Hands-on Inquiry-based Projects"

Notes from the Green Schools Conference

Deborah Moore's session introduced the topics quite well. She shared with the group a short video about her organization, Green Schools Initiative. The 4 pillars of a green school are:

  1. Strive to be toxics-free
  2. Use resources sustainably
  3. Create green spaces
  4. Engage students in the process of change

She also went through the 7 steps to create green schools (see  for more information.) She outlined the multiple benefits of hands-on education. David Sobel, Center for Place Based Education has found that schools that have strong environmental education programs out-perform those schools that don't. She outlined the key elements of Inquiry-based learning: active learning, formulating questions and finding answers. Steps include introducing the topic, doing a school audit, collect information, compile data and results and empower students to reach out to education the community. Many schools have put their outreach projects on her website as case studies.

At this point, she had workshop participants go through an audit, using her materials. Each group shared their results. She also encouraged schools to publicize audit results school-wide as events such as Earth Day celebrations, assemblies, Service Learning events, and through clubs and councils. A school year plan can significantly help teachers implement any changes without feeling overwhelmed. Los Angeles Unified School District is giving money back to schools that save energy. Sample school board policies can be found on her website. She also encouraged all participants to visit for excellent resources.

GSC- "Greening Curriculum: From Boardroom to Classroom"

Notes From the Green Schools Conference

Moderated by Duke Graham, featuring:

  • Jay Gonzalez, LA Unified Office of Curriculum and Instruction, who encourages educators to start with the world as your classroom, engaging students and working within your community.
  • John Zinner, CHPS coordinator in LA Unified, believes that the building itself can be the basis for curriculum.
  • Jim Bologna, LEED Coordinator for Windward School, a private school in LA was able to involve students and received Gold rating through LEED.
  • Allison Suffet-Diaz works for Lawndale schools, shared some of the improvements at her site including urbanite amphitheatre, rain barrels and incorporation of a river that runs through the site. She strongly believes in the importance of turning the inside of a school into the outside.

The panel commented on several questions posed by the moderator. "Is teaching Green curriculum mandatory?" EEI is coming soon for k-12 students but it is not Green curriculum is not mandatory. 65% of water used at a school is used for irrigation and can be used to teach rational functions, an algebra standard. Leverage LEED certification data gathering to be completed by students. Work with community partners to see what they can "bring to the table" and connect with history's Industrial Revolution to define progress, developing progress on campus. Most schools don't even know how much they spend on energy and water. Schools can develop a baseline and then find ways to reduce consumption.

"What organizations and/or resources have been helpful for you?" Recommended resources include:

GSC- "Tomorrow's Energy Leaders: The Role of Education in Solving the Climate Crisis",

Notes From the Green Schools Conference

Ethan Burke, Lead Educator, Alliance for Climate Education (ACE)

This was an outstanding presentation using animation, which constantly bring the message of climate change back to high school students. Concepts such as why it is important to act now and what they can do to change the future are covered in depth. He can deliver the presentation to high schools. He asked if 90% of scientists believe that climate change is man-made why only 52% of the American public would pass a climate change class, if there was one. ACE's mission to educate students to inspire change. ACE offers DOT, or Do One Thing, a pledge for students attending presentations, to make one change. So far, 35,000 pledges have been collected. He encouraged teachers to contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Katie Landeros, Program Associate, Alliance to Save Energy

She stated that the mission of her organization is to increase energy efficiency as it is the quickest way to improve the environment. Schools participating in her program save between 5 to 15% of energy costs. Improvement starts with behavior changes, many very small but thoughtful. Leadership is fostered by training students in audit procedures. They use a team approach, student driven, school based, project based using hands on learning techniques. Her organization provides tools to measure watts, load, temperature and other energy use factors. At this point, she presented a case study, Sultana High School in Hesperia. Six students presented a PowerPoint presentation. Through their efforts, the high school saved $27,477 from a $379,701 electrical bill. These efforts were so impressive, the district office implemented the program and saved $110,000.

Matt Willard, teacher, Vista Murietta High School

He started and leads a Green Academy for low performing students. The students perform environmental audits at their school site. They engage in vertical training with elementary and middle school students. They also work with the community to help organize audits, making connections with the organizations outside school. Students develop critical thinking skills to solve problems such as "Why is the electrical bill so high?" Students serve as fresh eyes to find and solve problems. Students have a righteousness that is hard to ignore when presenting data to School Boards. Students also present information and audit results to the businesses. Outreach effects can be exponential. The focus of the Green Academy is to get students to move towards a career in energy. Matt is working with the USGBC to develop a training program for students to become a certified Associate.

GSC- Friday Keynotes

Notes from the Green Schools Conference

Wendy Rogers LPA LEED professional for Integrated Sustainable Design. 

She believes that the weak economy may be the way for the foreseeable future.  Integrated Sustainable Design works with schools and districts to develop site specific, informed design processes that save money and revolve around the student.  She believes it is important to show the tax payers that they are getting their money's worth in any new school building. 

She presented a case study: Lake Tahoe school.  The buildings she designed were a Green Academy, media/performance arts, community center and a series of classrooms.  A big goal was to get students out of portables.  Building considerations were snow melt, extreme weather conditions.  They designed buildings that sent water into bio-swales.  An auto lab was designed with 12 bays to fix green vehicles and is designed to work in connection with the hands-on learning lab next door.  Students can design something in one room and build it in the next room. 

Ms. Rogers chairs the Orange County USGBC chapter and has done considerable work with Irvine School District.  Students run green teams at Irvine schools. So far, 7 schools have become Green schools within the district.  She believes that schools must balance being frugal and being green in order to insure the future.

Eric Corey Freed, green architect from Bay Area who works with schools. 

He has also written books and teaches.  In the past, architects were asked to design a traditional building and then add green stuff to make it more efficient.  Done this way, green buildings do cost more than traditional ones.  By starting to green the building from the beginning, there exists an opportunity to something new and innovative.  Schools don't typically just meet building codes.  Codes don't address indoor air quality.  Maintenance is the main consideration in any school design in the past.  Prevailing wage is the second biggest consideration in school building design. 

Mr. Freed presented what he believes are the 3 challenges to the environment are: Spills, Sins and Starbucks.  It has been 8 months since the Deep Water Horizon spill.  Spill is too small of a word to describe the environmental catastrophe that happened in the Gulf.  BP had received 760 citations for safety problems in 3 years.  During that time, the remainder of the industry as a whole, received 97.  The entire amount of oil spilled would only satisfy 6 hours of our current usage level.  Highways and cars destroy communities, paving over 50 to 70% of city land.  Public transportation has suffered as well. 

The 7 deadly sins can be used to describe the entire event.  Greed: BP executives.  Lust: American public with its love of the car, regardless of the environmental impact.  Gluttony: Lobbyists as there are 4 climate lobbyists per legislator, costing $3.5 billion a year, which could go a long way to paying for environmental clean-up.  Sloth: the Media, not investigating oil companies and alerting the public to BP's environmental track record.  Envy: Regulators who are often former lobbyists and oil company executives.  Pride: Politicians like Senator Vitter who said that stopping drilling in the gulf coast would devastate the economy.  The result is that nothing is getting done and politicians remain in power.  Wrath: the American Public who is angry about the spill.  The United States imports 71% of oil needed for current consumption levels.  Offshore drilling makes up 1% of all US oil needs.  71% of all oil used goes to transportation.  All presidents back to Lyndon Johnson have stated that the US needs an energy policy but one has still not been developed.  Starbucks is the 3rd place, between home and work.  They have developed the "coffee culture".  They use 2.3 billion cups per year.  Beans come from 13 different companies, sugar from 2 companies and paper from 4 countries.  They are truly an multinational corporation.  Since 2006, American's belief in the reality of global warming has decreased and the new American past time is Blissful Ignorance.

GSC - "School Recycling Challenge",

Notes from the Green Schools Conference

Christine Lenches-Hinkel, mind WasteLess Living consultants. 

The goal of her work is to heighten the awareness of solid waste and disposal issues and their environmental effects.  There is a need to increase the production and use of compost to replace top soil which is being lost at a staggering rate.  Her company also sells a line of petroleum free utensils and plates for special events as well as providing collection bins.  Materials collected at these events are recycled or composted.  She sees her program as providing services at schools as a back of house problem solver.  She pointed out that 80% of what is purchased every day is thrown away in 6 months.  She wants schools to take advantage of existing collection and recycling infrastructure and increase use of commercial composting programs. 

Case study: High Point Academy, stuff private school in Pasadena/Altarena area.  She was hired to work with the school to implement a comprehensive recycling program.  She sought to enhance existing curriculum through hands-on practices, clinic create a closed loop recycling program, get student participation, minimize staff retraining and maximize landfill diversion.  The school population was 450 total including 350 k-8 students.  She launched the program in May 2009 as a pilot during which 77% waste was diverted from the landfill, of which 65% was organics.  Students were involved collecting waste data every day.  She found that the factors that worked were: a 3 bins system with regular collection with a specific hauler, providing constant training with students, conversion to biodegradable tableware, student engagement and management of program by 6th graders and regular oversight and monitoring on her part. 

The challenges faced by the program included: perceived complexity, teaming up with food service provider to change lunchroom products, resistance and buy in from students and staff, identifying the most appropriate program for the school, contamination and re-education of students and teachers.  The school was paying for too much garbage service and by right-sizing collection containers and increased recycling, the school saved significantly, $235 a week.

Christine Flowers, Executive Director, Keep California Beautiful

The School Recycling Challenge was run in November 2010 with 88 schools participating.  The project was funded by Keep America Beautiful.  The program was designed as a friendly competition and benchmarking tool for school recycling programs.  The point of contact for each school could be anyone involved with the school be it a teacher, administrator, parent or waste hauler.  Waste haulers were helpful in the project reporting because the AB 32 and AB939 reporting requirements.  The project goals were developing an identifiable brand, development of on-line reporting methodology and the development of categories that reflected the variety of schools.  Local governments and waste professionals were involved in developing the rules, instructions and other materials.  The results were self reported and still coming in from schools. 

The website went live on October 8 and competition began November 1.  Schools from 23 counties participated.  Five school districts applied.  92,223 students and 4,356 students participated.  Case study: Wasco Unified School District enrolled all 5 schools.  Each school had 4 dumpsters and no recycling in school year 2007/08.  In 2010/11, each school site has 1 dumpster for waste and 1 dumpster for recycling.  Waste hauling charges have been reduced from $95, 000 to $44,000.  Ms. Flowers introduced Ray Scott, waste and recycling service provider for Wasco Unified School District.  He stated that it is vital to put a blue recycling container in each classroom. This single action resulted in a 40% savings in the trash bill.  Custodians no longer handle as much material.  Students take classroom bins to a 96 gallon Toter which the custodians wheel to the curb for collection. 

The schools also participate in an art contest which is one portion of the larger Great American Clean-up in Bakersfield.  Mr. Scott want to install compactors at all school sites to further reduce volume of waste generated at schools.  Ms. Flowers noted that the contest results will be finalized by the end of December 2010.

GSC- "Greens Hands-on Learning- Case Studies"

Notes from the Green Schools Conference

Will Rogers Middle School, Fair Oaks ~ Naomi Harper 

The school has a large amount of their boundary facing the American River Parkway.  Some of the schools existing environmental efforts include a  recycling program and a solar powered car race, organized in partnership with American River Community College.  They have also installed rain catchment systems.  The school also partners with Facing Our Future organization to address issues of climate change and environmental concern.  The Facing Our Future materials are fully aligned with the California State Content Standards.  She seeks to engage students through exploration of global issues.  The first activity she does with students is "How Big is a Billion?"   She has students count the number of grains of wheat there are in a teaspoon (150 to 175 grains.)  Then she has students multiply that number to reach a billion grains.  Then figure out how many gallons of wheat is a billion.  The second activity is "Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming", using an Earth beach ball, layer of plastic film and a yellow ball to represent the sun.  She puts green strips on post it notes on the plastic film to simulate things students can do to reduce climate change.  A big component of Facing the Future curriculum is the Service Learning components.

Ashley Scott-Cooper, Biology teacher, Thousand Oaks High School

She organizes a Sustainability Summit for high school students.  She invites experts from the community to speak for one class period about environmental issues for the country and world.  Last year's summit featured 9 speakers and 2 school district officials.  Students gained an understanding of larger issues, current events and emerging technologies.  Featured speakers were an EPA staff member, school district energy manager, water conservation expert, economic development leader, vocational training options for green jobs at the Community College level, solar schools initiatives representative, California Fisheries researcher, and teen environmental leader Alec Loorz.  Students found the experience very beneficial.  Students prepared a press release to inform the community about the event and many organizations and businesses offered resources and donations of time.  A local elected official nominated the school for an environmental award.  The Summit was followed up with classroom discussions and activities that reinforced the concept of sustainability. After the Summit, the school started a paper recycling program.  Bottles and cans are collected as a school fundraiser.  However, the principal is not very supportive of green activities in general.  Ms. Scott-Cooper hopes to see a district Green position that will comprehensively examine district activities, water and energy use.

Make a Reuse Notebook

It seems like I always have a list of some sort in progress. Whether it is the weekend tasks or shopping, search my pocket have lists in them at all times. I recently found a FedEx envelope and a stack of paper that had been used on one side. These would make a good list pad if I could only figure out how to bind them. Then I saw the binding machine in my office. So, sales here is what I did.

Materials List:

  • 25 or more sheets of paper
  • 1 FedEx envelope
  • 1 binding
  • Binding machine


1. Cut the paper in half. Then stack the half sheets so that the blank sides all face the same direction.

Cut PaperCut Paper

2. Trim the edges of the FedEx envelope and cut 2 pieces to 8 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches.

Trim EdgesTrim Edges

3. Place edges in the binding machine to punch holes.

Binding MachineBinding Machine

4. Bind the cover and paper together with a plastic binding.  These plastic bindings are reusable until they become brittle. The pad on the left has a decoupage cover, using a floral catalog which makes the cover more sturdy. I use a rubber band or hair elastic to keep the notebook closed.

Decorate CoverDecorate Cover

The Gift

It is the season of giving.  Again.  This is the time of year I experience a struggle.  Do I purchase the new, best, fastest, shiny, cool, gotta-have-it thing?  Or do I show how much I value the people in my life with something made just for them?  I don't think it has to always be one way or the other.  Granted, I am something of a Luddite, in that I don't always embrace the newest gadgets.  Don't get me wrong, I love my smart phone as much as the next person, especially now that I know how to use the navigation feature.  But, in the middle of all the rampant consumerism that strikes us all this time of year, give the environment a bit of a break.  Perhaps you can consider some of these  ways to cut down on waste during the season of excess.
  1. Use a reusable bag when purchasing anything!  Paper or Plastic?  NEITHER!  I have my own reusable shopping bag.
  2. Think about durability when purchasing anything.  It isn't a real value if you have to buy a new one to replace the old one because the old one gets broken.  Can the new thing be repaired?  This is a hard one as many things produced in the recent past can't be repaired.  While I have many pairs of shoes, more than one person needs, they all can be re-soled and repaired.  Sounds like a rationalization... but it IS true.
  3. Would the intended recipient like an experience instead of a thing as a gift?  If yes, take them to a movie, out to dinner, offer to fix their bike, take them to a museum or out for a walk.  It can also be a great way to reconnect with someone you care about without breaking the bank.
  4. Use a reusable gift bag.  You can find instructions for this project in an earlier posting.
  5. Donate money to a charity in the name of a gift recipient.  We tried this last year for a friend's children, with some trepidation on my part.  But, much to our relief and pleasure, the kids loved having a donation made in their names to save animals.  We have the hand drawn thank you letters as proof (I was guaranteed that the letters were not produced under parental pressure.)
  6. Look for products that aren't over packaged.  Do you have to use a blow torch to open the package?  If so, maybe this isn't the best purchase.  Look for products that feature recyclable packaging.
  7. Buy recycled.  There are so many wonderful sources of recycled products that it can be fairly easy to find just the right thing for that special someone.  Etsy features some great stuff as does Eco-Artware, World of Good, GoGreenItems and many, many more.

What suggestions can you add to this?  I would love to hear what the creative and thrifty might have to add.  Please let me know about what you do to reduce waste and still have fun during the holidays!