Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Green Schooling

by Alexandra Zissu
Green Guide
February 11, 2009

Oh the myriad ways the Obamas have already been, are going to be and can be role models. On the green front, much remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: the Obama girls are enrolled in a school, Sidwell Friends, truly devoted to environmental stewardship on just about every level. (Full disclosure: I also went to an urban Friends school, many moons ago, though the extent of environmental education back in the day involved dragging us out of the city and sticking us, lost, in the woods.)

To begin with, Sidwell Friends' buildings are varying levels of green. The Middle School became Washington D.C.'s first LEED platinum building in March 2007 (the highest level in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design program). An addition to their Lower School and a gym, completed in September 2007, was awarded LEED gold status in January 2009. They green-o-vated their administration building in the summer of 2004—it has a geothermal heat pump, low-emitting materials and efficient lighting. And they're planning on seeking LEED ratings for their most recent construction projects (a new underground athletics facility and a renovation of an arts facility/Quaker meetinghouse).

These measures are backed up in the school's curriculum: Student projects have explored how the school treats drinking water as well as storm water run-off and trash disposal. AP Environmental Science students compare water quality in the on-campus biology pond to water in a nearby tributary, and study the invertebrate biodiversity in the soil on the green roof.

When these budding environmentalists get hungry, their food service provider tries to use local and organic vendors as much as they can to fill their bellies. Lunch is served on recyclable, renewable, biodegradable and compostable products when possible, including napkins with 100 percent recycled content. Faculty stay awake thanks to Fair Trade Certified coffee, while an Upper School student group composts food waste. The resulting fertilizer is used on campus. Lower Schoolers bring a vegetable from home each week to prepare soup for an organization that feeds homeless people.

Cleaning products and toilet paper are Green Seal Certified—a strict third-party certification applied to products with very minimal environmental and health impacts. Cleaning equipment is energy efficient. Recycling bins abound. There's even a 100 percent solar-powered trash compactor, which holds five times more than a conventional one, reducing collection trips.

It all sounds very utopian, but if your children don't have access to such an educational eco-paradise, there are ways to incorporate some of these features into their schools. Head straight to the administration and start grabbing at low-hanging fruit: green cleaning products (they may already be required by law), healthier snacks and a little eco-focus to the curriculum. Do your research and don't be bashful. There's so much at stake.

Green cleaning resources and state laws:
Institutional green cleaners:
North American Association for Environmental Education:
Sidwell Friends School:

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