Fifteenth Way for Dads to Change the World: Green Your School

By Jeremy Adam Smith

Deborah Moore is the founder and director of the Green Schools Initiative, and she helps schools around California to become more sustainable.

She mostly ends up working with moms on forming committees and organizing events, “but it’s not only moms,” says Deborah. “Dads are involved with facility projects, bike-to-school day, planting school gardens.”

In other words, dads seem to like to do stuff— to get their hands dirty, nail wood together, ride their bikes. That’s pretty consistent with everyone’s comfortable gender stereotypes, but it’s also an important point: Fathers (and people generally) have to do what they like to do, if they are going to be involved and going to make an impact. Their involvement might not look exactly like mother involvement, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing–and the examples they provide to boys and other dads can help create more involvement.

But of course, paternal environmental activism needn’t be limited to digging in the dirt and riding bikes. In 1997, Rodney Taylor directed the food and nutrition services for the San Monica-Malibu Unified School District (no California jokes, please; the public schools serve Malibu’s working-class kids at least as much as the crunchy affluent ones, probably more). As described in the book Smart by Nature, parent Bob Gottlieb approached Taylor (he’s the tall guy on the left, courtesy of UEPI) about buying vegetables form local farmers.


“He pitched the idea of supporting local farmers, and I can tell you, that was the furthest thing from my mind,” said Taylor. About Gottlieb, Taylor thought “he was just another affluent parent with a little too much time on his hands.” But Gottlieb kept coming back, “politely but persistently presenting the case for farm-fresh food and asking, ‘What can I do to help?'”

That question, “What can I do to help?” is the one dads need to keep asking if they want to make a difference. The barriers to involvement can be formidable. Aside from issues of your personal time and energy, administrators like Taylor can initially resist parental input; if moms lead volunteering at your school, they might not welcome a father’s involvement. (Does that sound like paranoid nonsense? I’ve heard lots of anecdotes about “mommy mafias” taking over school volunteering, sometimes divided along race as well as gender. In any event, it doesn’t hurt to try to make school organizations welcoming to as many people as possible.)

The important thing is to keep smiling and keep trying. In the end, Taylor did agree to a pilot program, an experience that turned him into an evangelist for getting farm-fresh food into the San Monica-Malibu schools–experience he took with him to the much more working-class Riverside school district. Today, 65 percent of Riverside students are eating food from farms in the region, thanks in part to the persistence of one father.

Deborah Moore’s organization breaks the path to green schools into seven steps. Here they are:

1. Establish A Green Team or Eco-Committee

The Green Team is the heart of the Green Schools process, both organizing and directing activities at the school. Consisting of the stakeholders of the school environment – students, teachers, custodians, facilities managers, parents and school board members – the Green Team is democratic and can be run by the students themselves. Whatever the type of school or age group, student involvement in the committee is essential. This group can be charged with coordinating many of the greening activities, making recommendations to relevant school decision-makers, and facilitating communication among — and actions by — the whole school community.

2. Adopt An Environmental Vision Statement or Planet Pledge

Each school produces its own vision statement, setting out what the students and/or school community are striving to achieve. The Environmental Vision Statement or Planet Pledge is displayed in various places within the school and is recognized by the students and other school community members as a statement of beliefs and intents. This statement is often in the words of students, and can be an inspiring classroom, art, or school-wide assembly project. Such statements can also be accompanied by a resolution from the school board, Parent Teacher Association, the Green Team, or other school bodies (see the sample school board resolution and sample policies on our Take Action page). Use our Four Pillars Graphic to help you understand and define the key components of a Green School.

3. Conduct A School Environmental Survey or Audit

To identify priorities for action, begin with conducting a review of your school’s environmental impact. Students are involved in this work at every step, from assessing the level of waste from school lunch, to checking the building for inefficiencies such as leaky taps, or electrical equipment left on overnight. The school and the Green Team can work with local organizations, businesses, or other resource people or experts during the review. Find examples of environmental surveys and audit tools on our Resources page, under Curricula. We’ve also got lots of ideas and resources on our Curriculum Ideas for Hands-On Audits page. These audits can be fun and really help educate the school community about the health and environmental impacts of the school.

4. Create A Green School Action Plan

Use the results of your environmental survey or audit to identify priorities of the key areas where you want to make change and create an action plan. It is important to set realistic and achievable targets to improve environmental performance at the school so kids and adults can take pride in tangible accomplishments in the short term. And it is important to set long-term, inspiring and challenging targets to move beyond the status quo and foster greater environmental improvements. The action plan could involve and promote, for example, a school recycling program; eco-friendly, non-toxic cleaning materials; carpooling; energy conservation like turning off lights, computer monitors and printers; or a school garden. See the “sample school board resolution” and “Steps Forward” on our Take Action page for examples of policy resolutions, and specific action items under a range of environmental and health topics.

5. Monitor and Evaluate Progress

The Green Team, students, or other school community members can assist with monitoring and evaluating progress on the priorities in the action plan. This could involve conducting an annual environmental audit to monitor levels of waste, recycling, energy use, purchases of environmentally-preferable products, and financial savings and/or costs. Use these ecological footprint tools combined with our resources on school audits. The information from the monitoring is needed to ensure that progress towards the goals and targets is made and that the action plan is modified, if necessary. It also ensures that environmental education is an on-going process in the school, since students can be responsible for the annual audits. The basic data collected over time can show the waste, pollution, and energy avoided – big motivators for people to continue the efforts.

6. Integrate Greening into the Curriculum

Greening activities can be integrated into existing curricula in science, art, humanities, math, language arts, or electives. Using the school as a hands-on laboratory offers opportunities for real-world problem-solving. Students can undertake study of themes such as energy, water, forests, toxic pollution, and waste. The whole school should be involved in practical initiatives – for example, saving water, recycling materials and saving energy. Outdoor education, and time spent in nature locally – whether the schoolyard, a park, or a field trip – is a critical component of a hands-on, place-based, experiential education. Where environmental education is not part of the regular curriculum, recommendations can be made by the Green Team as to how these themes can be incorporated. See our Teach Stewardship and Resources pages for a Sustainable Curricula Directory, examples of environmental curricula, on-line quizzes, and other teaching and learning resources, including reviews of books and other media with environmental themes.

7. Inform, Involve, and Celebrate!

Recognizing, communicating, reflecting on, and celebrating achievements are critical components of a Green School! Greening programs can often unify the whole school and strengthen community relations. Your school might consider partnering with external organizations from the community to benefit from their experience and expertise. In some schools, environmental consultants have offered to take part in the environmental review process. Many local government agencies and utilities offer free advice on energy, recycling, and hazardous waste management. Schools should also consider the wider community when preparing action plans – for example, schools could offer to be the local recycling point or to be a drop-off for Community Supported Agriculture boxes. Some schools get involved with clean-up or habitat restoration at nearby parks or share their experiences in other ways. A communication and publicity program keeps the school and the community informed of progress through classroom displays, school assemblies, newsletters, or other press coverage. Annual Earth Day celebrations – organized around April 20 – can offer an opportunity to showcase actions taken by the school and bring together the school and wider community.

The Green Schools Initiative website is chock full of great tools.

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