This story originally appeared in the fall 2013 Harker Quarterly. Harker’s ongoing commitment to improving its environmental standards has led to the formation of the Green Committee, a group of faculty and staff working to formulate and execute a strategy toward making Harker a greener school both practically and culturally.
“The committee’s a way to … get people together to share ideas in terms of projects we want to do and how to carry out those projects,” said Jeff Sutton, the upper school science teacher who leads the committee along with fellow science teacher Kate Schafer.
The people who would eventually form the committee, which is made up of people from all of Harker’s divisions, first met in late 2012 to discuss a long-term plan for furthering Harker’s green efforts. The committee came up with seven areas in which Harker could improve: energy conservation, waste reduction, reducing the use of toxic chemicals, instituting more shuttles and encouraging carpooling to reduce pollution, improving water quality, creating greener schoolyards and improving student food choices in order to offer more healthy foods.
Prior to the forming of the committee, there were initiatives in place across Harker’s three campuses. “We wanted to bring all those initiatives together and really collect and collate our ideas and our efforts and make them unified across pre-K through 12,” said Chris Nikoloff, head of school. “It was really more of a way of honoring a lot of good work and just trying to bring it all together to take it to the next level.”
The committee is currently working to establish a baseline that will offer them a better picture of what needs to be done going forward, with a focus on energy usage and waste reduction. “One of the things that we have realized that we need to do is get more details than we did in our initial research,” said Schafer. “One of things that we’re going to be working on, with the help of other Green Committee members, is conducting some of those audits.”
In the coming year, the committee hopes to conduct an audit of all the waste that is created on the three K-12 campuses over a period of 24 hours and determine 1) how much of it could have avoided being sent to a landfill; 2) how much could have been recycled or composted; and 3) what portion did not need to be created at all. One future goal is to purchase an industrial composter and start a pilot composting program at the upper school. This would allow the campus to reduce all biodegradable food waste, including all paper cups and paper products, and quickly break them down into compost instead of discarding them as landfill fodder. At a meeting in January, the committee decided to launch an energy reduction campaign in the spring of 2013 to encourage stu- dents, faculty and staff to turn off lights and close laptops in order to reduce energy usage across all campuses. According to Sutton, the campaign yielded “mixed results,” as the energy bills from those months were roughly the same as previous months. “From our little experiment, it’s not people having their laptops plugged in so much,” said Sutton. “I’m sure that makes a difference, but there’s something bigger, like an air conditioner or a refrigerant or a heater that’s causing the draw.” The committee is looking into software that will assist in discovering where Harker has opportunities to become more energy efficient. Some progress has already been made in the form of lighting upgrades at the upper school and preschool campuses. “Over the course of the summer and into the coming year, all four of our campuses will have gone through a lighting energy efficiency audit by an independent PG&E vendor,” said Mike Bassoni, the school’s facility manager. “Through grant monies made available by PG&E, we have to date received more than $40,000 in energy-efficient lighting upgrades.”
Similar upgrades are also in store for the middle and lower school campuses, pending review. The upgrades to the upper school and preschool campuses alone are expected to save the school more than $33,000 a year in energy costs. Another crucial part of the Green Committee’s plans is to get student buy-in and involvement for the initiatives. “Once we figure out as a committee what our goals are, then I’m going to be the one that goes to the kids and says, ‘OK, we want to realize some goals, would you like to join us?’” said Diana Moss, upper school Spanish teacher and dean of the Class of 2015. Moss is being joined by upper school math teacher and Class of 2014 dean Victor Adler in this effort. Representatives from other campuses, including middle school math teacher Margaret Huntley, middle school history teacher Andy Keller, lower school math and science teacher Enni Chen and lower school art teacher Gerry-louise Robinson, all plan to get students on their respective campuses involved. During the spring 2013 semester, new water fountains were installed at the upper school that dispense filtered water and have replaced traditional bottled water dispensers. These are also part of an ongoing effort to reduce paper waste by encouraging students and staff to bring water bottles to use instead of paper cups, which will supplement other waste reduction efforts such as paper recycling and cell phone and battery drop-off stations. Faculty and staff are also being encouraged to get into the habit of bringing coffee mugs to work. In addition, a new student group called Brilliant Organizers of Students Sustainability (BOSS) has been formed and will be working with the Green Committee on student-led sustainability projects.
Over the summer, Moss had the opportunity to research how students at other schools participated in their schools’ green efforts. “They’re doing some amazing things. Kids are fired up and they’re actually leading these initiatives,” she said. Part of her plan to increase student involvement is to have them network and share ideas with students at other schools. “Eventually I see the Green Committee as being a mixed group of student leaders and faculty and staff who are also interested in sustainability,” she said. The committee hopes that one day Harker can be certified as both a California Green Business and a Green Ribbon school. To do so will require fulfilling requirements set by both programs. “Schools are particularly challenging because they do so many different things,” Schafer said. “We have pools, we have food service, we have all of these different components. We’re almost a like a little mini-city in and of ourselves.” Even though their goals may be lofty, Sutton said that having “big goals” can offer a point of inspiration necessary to motivate the Harker community into making a big push to make the school more environmentally responsible. “That’s one of our major goals going forward, too: to make this Green Committee not a committee but an ideology, where it lives beyond the life of the people who are here now.”