Green Scene: Districtwide Sustainability

Take a Districtwide Approach With Sustainability

Many of us who work in the green building movement have a tendency to present sustainability as though it is a new idea. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

That which is sustained has survived over time, and that which is sustainable possesses the ability to keep on going. Establishing sustainability goals and initiatives for your school district means making a commitment to put in place practices to improve what you already have; build upon new successes and balance educational, economic and environmental priorities.
Sustainability at a district level will never be realized as a moment in time. Greening a school district is a journey in which incremental improvements are made over time and success is continuously redefined by the district’s own advancements and momentum. Building awareness, developing budget-wise strategies that meet the needs of your schools, and effectively engaging the entire community will make the implementation of sustainability initiatives meaningful and lasting.
New Mexico’s Rio Rancho Public Schools is one of the fastest-growing districts in the country. In order to keep pace with the district’s rapid growth, the facilities team at RRPS had to build a lot of new schools in a short period.
Martin Montaño, director of capital projects, was determined not to sacrifice quality for quantity. When developing plans for the new facilities, Montaño and his colleagues did something unusual: They looked to district operational improvements for inspiration.
The district had already implemented successful energy management, green cleaning and indoor air quality programs. What if the new facilities could echo the same commitment to efficiency and occupant health and well-being? In less than two years, Rio Rancho has opened three green schools, including the 356,000-square-foot V. Sue Cleveland High School, that are seeking LEED certification.
Energy-efficiency strategies and technologies in the new RRPS facilities inspired new resource and money-saving practices throughout the district. By unplugging lamps, microwaves, computers and other energy-consuming devices, Rio Rancho saved an estimated $40,000 over its 10-day winter break in 2008. All schools in the district have committed to a similar effort for every long weekend, as well as every Friday in February, saving the district hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in energy costs.
The district also hired a part-time energy manager to work with teachers, students and staff to accelerate the adoption of occupant-led energy-saving strategies. By encouraging efficient choices such as shutting off lights and computer monitors during lunch hour, the district saved more than $2.7 million in a single quarter.
When the San Francisco Unified School District in California elected to pursue LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance certification for Bessie Carmichael Elementary, it presented an opportunity to bring various green programs and practices that had been piloted throughout the district under one roof.
Nik Kaestner, director of sustainability for SFUSD, brought facilities staff from across the district together for a full-day charrette, and the team determined that energy management, green cleaning and integrated pest management practices in place in a number of schools could easily be implemented at Bessie Carmichael. 
Sharing green victories with your community and reporting on continued progress provide invaluable opportunities for increased engagement and support. 
RRPS and SFUSD use their district Web sites to explain their green initiatives and provide links to local and national media coverage. With SFUSD’s sustainability site, students, parents and community members can learn about the district’s green computing efforts, ultra-low sulfur diesel buses and green schoolyard projects. Those who want to be kept in the loop can sign up for the monthly e-mail newsletter.
If your capital funds have dried up and your operating budget is stretched thin, you can still place your district firmly on the path to green. Work with the school board to pass a green schools resolution that will institutionalize a districtwide commitment to sustainability. A sample resolution that addresses both new and existing facilities can be found at
New Orleans and its public schools are working together to go green. In May 2008, the New Orleans City Council adopted a resolution requiring that all new construction and major renovation of public schools earn LEED for Schools certification.
This past August, the city opened the first newly constructed public school since Hurricane Katrina. Pursuing LEED for Schools Gold certification, Langston Hughes Elementary is representative of New Orleans’s solid commitment to rebuilding green, and the first of more than 20 green school projects in the Recovery School District that will restore vitality and hope to a well-deserving community.
For school districts, green is a moving target — one that requires a long-term commitment from school district staff and the larger community. Setting goals and continually revisiting and adapting those goals will equip you to make better decisions and scale up your efforts over time. The green schools movement is fueled by our collective drive to move forward, carry on and sustain.
Web Resources

SFUSD’s sustainability site:
Sample green schools resolution: