School sustainability leaders: the power on the front line

Published on: 
22 Aug 2013
Anisa Heming

For the third summer in a row, a small group of powerful people gathered in the USGBC offices this past June to talk green schools strategy. These individuals directly affect the health and education of over 4.3 million students, and their decisions sway local markets and influence the management of millions of square footage of public property. Who are they? They are school district sustainability managers, and they represent the front line of green schools work across the country.

This year, 45 school district staff came to Washington, D.C. from districts in 20 states to attend the Center for Green Schools' Sustainability Leaders Summit. The Summit was free to attend, and many received scholarships to partially cover their travel costs. These 2013 attendees join the ranks of others from across the country who act as the leaders for sustainability in their schools. The attendees came together over lively dinner conversations, resource sharing and brainstorming activities, and discussed topics ranging from culture change to energy management to effective data collection. In addition, the online forum that the Center set up to engage this network of sustainability decision-makers now reaches 84 active users and sees new posts and conversations weekly.

The phenomenon of school district sustainability staff has been gaining steam over the last couple of years. Colleen Gillard of Harvard Education Letter recently published an article about the budding movement, noting that school districts “are learning that helping the environment can also make financial sense—something colleges and universities have known for years but school districts are just beginning to discover.” Gillard featured two of our former summit participants, Lee Smit of Douglas County in Colorado and Nik Kaestner of San Francisco Unified School District, and praised their and other sustainability leaders’ breadth of knowledge, saying, “the complexity of talents needed to navigate all the relevant departments requires empowering a point person…to get things done.”

The School Sustainability Leaders Summit will happen next year from June 25-27, 2014. In the meantime, the online forum is free and welcome for any school system staff who are the main points of contact for sustainability in their schools. Simply write [email protected] and explain your position and why you would like to join us. We look forward to seeing you in person next year!