Over 130,000 students attend Philadelphia’s 218 public schools. Now, use your imagination to figure out how much energy is needed to fuel those 218 schools.
Yeah, it’s a lot.
In May, the School District of Philadelphia announced GreenFutures, a five-year sustainability plan modeled after the city’s GreenWorks plan and other school districts’ and universities’ plans. There are five focus areas with 65 individual actions:
- Education — Incorporate sustainability lessons into the school day.
- Consumption and waste — Reduce intake and output.
- Energy and efficiencies — Save money and energy.
- School greenscapes — Green schools’ outdoor learning areas.
- Learning environments — Make every school “well-resourced, safe, healthy, clean and comfortable.”
One example goal of the plan is to reduce the school district’s energy consumption by 20 percent in the next five years. So how the heck will it do that?
The school district will only achieve its goals with the help of dozens of partners — from The Food Trust to the Philadelphia Zoo to Youth United for Change to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society — that guide the school district on meeting its goals and attend monthly subcommittee meetings, Francine Locke, the school district’s environmental director, said.
“Our partners are key,” she said. The district is “dependent on them to get the work done.”
The Trust for Public Land, for instance, is doing design work for schoolyards in collaboration with the Water Department. The Franklin Institute is offering sustainability-tinged professional development to school district teachers — something it’d be doing anyway, but now, GreenFutures can serve as a vehicle for teachers to learn about the opportunity. (Start at page 20 of the plan to read about how the district plans to tackle that energy consumption issue.)
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Bringing these disparate partners together for the common goal of greening the school district took a whole lot of networking and relationship building.
When they were first setting out to write the plan, Locke said her office started by reaching out to people they considered “sustainability gurus” — Katherine Gajewski, former head of the city’s Office of Sustainability; Alex Dews of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council; Lori Braunstein, formerly of PA Green and Healthy Schools and now with The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education; and Lorna Rosenberg of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those people connected them to others who were doing relevant work, either at other school districts, in the city or at related nonprofits.
“We just kept asking around to see who was interested in helping the District develop a sustainability plan and the partners started pouring in,” Locke followed in an email. “We established subcommittees for each focus area and it took two years of discussions to determine what the District could promise in terms of targets and actions. Once the partners started seeing that the District was serious about setting real goals and actions, they became committed to working with us.”
And why does the school district need all these partners in the first place? Basically, those on the GreenFutures team aren’t experts on every one of the 65 actions the plan includes.
“We have to tap into those who have expertise, experience and actually do the work that translates to the actions in GreenFutures,” Locke wrote. For example, the Office of Sustainability’s Rich Freeh “has been instrumental in providing his expertise to us in terms of what data we should be looking at in terms of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. This allows us to be able to ask the right questions of our energy providers and auditors, and obtain reports that are pertinent to sustainability.”
For their work, the GreenFutures crew was given the Sustainable Communities award at the recent SustainPHL event, recognizing it for its work convening multiple stakeholders toward a common, green goal.-30-
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