Greening the next generation

Student planting plants
A few weeks ago, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson visited Lincoln High School to tour its Green Academy. Part of his visit included a call for the integration of environmental science into other subjects to educate a generation of “ecoliterate Californian students.”

It was no surprise he picked SFUSD to host the press event; we’ve officially been pursuing a sustainability agenda at SFUSD for the past seven years. In 2008 Mayor Gavin Newsom directed the SFPUC and SF Department of the Environment to support the creation of the SFUSD Sustainability Office, which I have been proud to lead ever since.

Without using a penny of school district funds, the Office of Sustainability has grown to three full-time and two part-time staff working to make our buildings healthier and more efficient, reducing the waste we send to the landfill, and encouraging families to leave the car behind when commuting to school.

The nice thing about these initiatives is that they pay dividends in terms of our educational mission and bottom line as well as our environmental sensibilities.

For example, as our staff battles the drought by replacing water fixtures, reducing garden watering times, and installing rainwater cisterns, we also teach our students by example in the outdoor classroom -- and reduce our monthly utility bill.

Similarly, the Food to Flowers composting programs teaches our students to care for the natural world by composting cafeteria waste while also keeping our hauling fees from escalating. And when our kids join each other to walk to school (we call them “walking school buses”), they not only reduce pollution and congestion but also burn off some energy so they can arrive in the classroom ready to focus and learn.

Over the course of this school year I’ll feature some of our most exciting sustainability work in this blog and hope to inspire you to take similar steps at home–that is, if you haven’t already.

Sustainably yours,
Nik Kaestner
Director of Sustainability