The Youth Climate Action Network (YouthCAN) has been in existence for almost 13 years at Boston Latin School, but it has taken us a long time to find an effective system for tracking our sustainability performance. In 2017, the Massachusetts school that I attend was introduced to the Arc platform, an online tool for measuring our progress and performance in specific categories. YouthCAN members arranged a Green Apple Day of Service training where students learned about the features of Arc, including how to collect, upload and analyze water, waste, energy, transportation, and air quality data on the platform.
While taking action to green our school was not new to YouthCAN, the use of a tool like Arc to measure the impact of our initiatives over time was a significant step forward. By quantifying the effects of our actions through data analysis, we were finally able to determine which of our tactics have the largest impact.
After the training, students quickly began strategizing how to collect baseline data and conduct whole school audits for each of the five Arc sustainability categories:
YouthCAN conducted a trash, recycling and food waste audit and offered prizes to students who collected the most trash and recyclables. With the help of custodial staff, we categorized the waste and measured its weight and volume in order to generate a performance score.
Students conducting a waste audit at Boston Latin School.
Students arranged with school administrators and homeroom teachers for the entire school, students and staff, to complete the Arc transportation survey. This asked how far, and by which mode of transportation, people traveled to school. The data was translated to a carbon footprint score in Arc. To raise awareness for the survey, YouthCAN dressed in green costumes and engaged with the school community as students arrived and departed.
Air quality/human experience
Members of YouthCAN contacted the Boston Public School Environmental Health and Safety division to help us conduct an air quality audit. Students researched the U.S. EPA testing guidelines, identified high-traffic areas to measure, and secured equipment and support from the facilities staff to help us record VOC and CO2 levels. In addition, the human experience survey was emailed to the entire school and recorded occupant satisfaction.
Boston Latin School students conduct an air quality audit.
Students used previous energy audit data to measure and compare the impact of several new energy-saving actions, such as replacing inefficient light bulbs, adjusting the hot water temperature and advocating for energy conservation behavior around school. We also contacted a marine engine steam specialist to learn how we might optimize the school’s steam heating system.
We obtained water data from the district and invited the school plumber to present on water-saving solutions. We also contacted the school’s administrative team to identify areas where they could reduce water consumption. YouthCAN had previously installed a rain catchment system at the school and is considering similar measures to reduce water consumption.
Now, we’re taking the program to another level as a participant of the Center For Green Schools' new program Building Learners. This program offers us access to Arc, curated sustainability curriculum and a green building mentor from the community, all of which will help teachers incorporate the use of the school building into their lesson plans throughout the year.
A new TV screen dashboard in the main lobby was recently updated with grant funds, so we can display our Arc data there and spread the word to our 2,400-student body. We’re really excited to have this broader outreach happen.
Everyone needs to understand the importance of sustainability. We not only use Arc to quantify the impact our initiatives are having on our own school building, but also to keep our school community informed and educated about the environment and sustainability as a whole.
Students can learn about all the systems that make up the operation of a school in real time, as well as how those systems impact one another and the environment. They’ll understand that the choices they make influence those systems, the building and the climate. YouthCAN sees it as a springboard for larger questions about responsibility in the world: If you start students thinking about sustainability in school, they’re going to be thinking about it in other areas of their lives.