Archive for August, 2011

August 22, 2011

Smart Schools are Engaging Students With Sustainability

Rita Habermanby Rita Haberman

Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

Summer days are getting shorter and that “back to school” feeling is in the air. That feeling might be disappointment or dread for some students, but there are innovative environmental programs creating a wave of excitement this fall too. The new Zilowatt program is bringing creative energy-related lessons and classroom signage to San Francisco Bay area schools. After our collaboration with the Hillsboro School District helped Jackson Elementary become the nation’s first Gold certified school under LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance, the Jackson students wrapped up their spring by celebrating with an enthusiasm we hope carries into this next academic year.

Why is integrating sustainability into school curricula so exciting to students, teachers, school administrators and parents? Sustainability can make what students learn in school more relevant. Students are more interested when they can work on “real-world” problems that affect them, and come up with solutions using the skills they learn in class.

A shining example of this is the impressive turnaround of Al Kennedy Alternative High School in Cottage Grove, Oregon after its principal Tom Horn and staff very deliberately made Education for Sustainability the foundation of their curriculum. When students engaged in hands-on activities using sustainability concepts and practices to successfully design and build affordable homes, keep bees, plant trees and reduce their school’s operational costs through easy, no-cost behavioral changes, they wanted to do more. Students gained an unforgettable experience in eco-literacy.

An eco-literate citizenry is essential. Without it, the prospects are slim for solving our planet’s complex and interrelated ecological, economic and social challenges. Inspiring examples of schools embracing sustainability abound, but they are still the exception – not the norm. It’s time to engage our students in integrated sustainability education, so they can become the essential players—and leaders—of the sustainability movement.

August 11, 2011

Moving the Market for Electronics Recycling

Recycling can get a bad rap in sustainability circles for being too fundamental.  As in, “They say they’re doing sustainability, but they just have a recycling program.”  So when is recycling a big deal?  When the biggest electronics consumer in the United States announces a landmark electronics recycling program that moves the whole market forward.

E Waste and electronics recycling

Image from New American Media

The new plan from the General Services Administration (GSA) commits them to recycling all electronics responsibly, using their presence in the market to encourage major manufacturers like Dell, Sprint and Sony to create recycling options for all consumers.  They will also use their hefty purchasing power to encourage the design of more efficient electronics by cutting ENERGY STAR and EPEAT non-compliant items from their purchasing contracts. Large purchasers and markets can often use their leverage to move industries forward faster than individual consumers.  The green building movement continues to cause similar shifts in building material marketplaces, like the rise in responsibly managed, FSC-certified forests.

Piper Kujac of Sustainable Industries spoke with James Kao of e-Stewards, a third party certification system for responsible electronics recyclers, to get insight into the new policy.  “Kao anticipates that we will see a lot more restrictions and recycling components, as well as consumer reports aimed at rating the recyclability of a product, not just its performance during use.”  While we wait for electronics manufacturers to rise to the GSA’s elevated standards, e-Stewards is a great resource for individuals trying to recycle their electronics with a clear conscience.  Many of their approved recyclers also repair items to keep them in use and out of the waste stream entirely, such as  Portland’s Free Geek.  Take a look at e-Stewards’ interactive map of responsible electronics recyclers the next time you make an upgrade at your home or office.

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