I’ve started seeing school buses on my walk into work each morning, which makes me reminisce about my teaching days. One of my best memories: going green at the high school where I taught for four years.
We began by focusing on no-cost, low-hanging fruit. Some students and I decorated “Paper Only” cardboard boxes. On Thursdays, one of my colleagues parked a school van in a central location, where classes could then bring their paper to be recycled. The students in my last class of the morning collected boxes that had not yet been emptied, and then I drove the van to the recycling center during my lunch break.
Not exactly rocket science, but it was a start.
The next fall, I purchased blue trash barrels to put around the campus. The industrial arts program drilled a hole in the center of each top, and my daughter painted “cans and bottles only” around the hole. Because there’s a 5-cent deposit on all beverage containers in the state, we invited the National Honor Society to collect the cans and donate the redemption money to a good cause.
Student involvement increased tremendously when we started our senior capstone class. One of my first capstone students wrote a successful proposal to switch the entire campus to recycled paper. Another student proposed changing the library printers from single-sided to double-sided printing default. Paper costs in the library dropped from $9, 000 to less than $4, 500 in one year—more than twice the savings needed to make a campus switch to recycled paper cost neutral.
Teachers also began incorporating green initiatives into their curricula. A young physics teacher partnered with a nonprofit environmental education program, which helped her class conduct a campus-wide energy audit. In a public presentation, the students successfully recommended three changes—switching to LED lights in exit signs, using motion-detector lighting in classrooms, and installing dimmers in the cafeteria where natural lighting was abundant.
Even now, a decade after leaving teaching to start Blessed Earth, new initiatives continue, including cutting back on the use of Styrofoam in the cafeteria, on-site composting of food waste, and a new waste collection system that cut trash production by 50 percent.
Today, green is not only the school’s official color—it’s also an integral part of the campus culture. The school motto, Semper Discens (always learning), applies not only to what we know but also to how we live.
And isn’t that at the core of our faith? Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a firm foundation” (Matt.7:24). Putting our knowledge and beliefs into action–and planting seeds wherever we live, work, and learn–is what it looks like for us to love God’s good earth.
Some ideas to get you started:
- Headed back to the dorms? Check out organic bedding and pick up dishes from yard sales or Goodwill.
- Find out if there’s an environmental group on campus—and then get involved. If there’s no club in existence, consider starting one yourself.
- Look for notebooks and school supplies made from eco-friendly and recycled materials.
- Take only as much as you’re sure you can eat in the cafeteria. And use only a plate instead of both plate and tray when you go through the line. It’ll be one less thing to go through the dishwasher.
- When it’s warm, use a fan instead of the AC in your dorm room. In the winter, pile on extra blankets at night so you can turn down the heat. Make sure your roommate has another comforter, too.
- Get a potted plant for your dorm room or classroom to improve indoor air quality.
- Turn off your computer at night or whenever you won’t be using it.
- Packing lunch? Use a reusable water bottle and Tupperware instead of buying juice boxes and individually-wrapped snacks.
- Stock the printer with 100% recycled computer paper.
- Use the backs of old handouts as scrap paper.
- Walk or ride the bus to school. If neither is an option, carpool.
- Encourage your school to buy two-sided printers for the library or any other place where the printer is used a lot. The savings in paper will more than repay the cost of the printer or converter kit in just one school year!
- Look into getting “energy misers” that can be installed on vending machines to save energy, so it will go into partial hibernation when it’s not in use. Similar devices for water fountains that shut off the cooling device overnight are also a great investment.
- Buy refills for pens and mechanical pencils instead of using disposable ones.
- Look into offering more local and organic food in your cafeteria.
- Start or expand the recycling program at your school. It’s not only good for the earth; it could also turn out to be one of your best memories of school!