Never underestimate the initiative of a few teenagers, especially when it comes to greening their school. Yarmouth High School in Yarmouth, Maine, is now solar-powered, thanks to a few motivated seniors. The students, with help from local renewable energy company Revision Energy, secured a state grant to cover 80% of the $33,000 project. They made up the difference with profits from sales of T-shirts and dance tickets, as well as a donation from a local organic restaurant. Greening your school -- or your child's school -- doesn't have to mean going off the grid. There are plenty of smaller projects that parents, children and school administrators can tackle to make their school a more environmentally friendly place. Even better: According to a 2007 report by building firm Capital E, students and workers in green buildings are healthier and more productive. In addition, the report found that, on average, the cost of converting a school so that it meets LEED (or state-equivalent) qualifications was $3 per square foot, but the financial savings of a green school was $74 per square foot. The end result: a net savings of $71 per square foot annually. Here's how to green your school: Reduce fuel use and pollution by making school grounds a "no idling zone." Clean School Bus USA's National Idle-Reduction Campaign suggests that buses limit idling time during early morning warm-up to the three to five minutes recommended by the manufacturer. In addition, buses should be turned off when waiting for students. Consider switching the bus fleet to a cleaner-burning fuel like natural gas if the school system has the money.
Encourage staff, teachers and students to bike or walk to school. But make sure it's safe. Create a parents' group to chaperone younger students. Walking School Bus explains one model that is gaining ground nationally. (Of course, you'll need to make sure crossing guards are in place.) When driving is necessary, encourage carpooling and remind parents and older students not to idle. If your school doesn't have a recycling program in place, set one up. Make recycling easy by placing bins everywhere -- in classrooms, hallways, teachers' lounges and the cafeteria, as well as near gyms and athletic fields. Create a volunteer network of students, staff, teachers and parents to collect the recycling and prepare it for pickup (if your town offers it) or take it to the recycling center. Encourage conservation of water and energy by reminding students, faculty and staff to turn off the tap when they're done washing their hands and turn off lights when they leave a room. Better yet, add motion-sensing faucets and lights to your next school budget. And always turn off computers and printers at the end of the day. Save paper by promoting double-sided printing. And conserve paper, ink and toner by limiting printing and photocopying to times when it's absolutely necessary. Green the cafeteria. Join Farm to School, a program that connects local farmers and schools to serve nutritious school lunches and support local agriculture. Make compost from cafeteria waste and start an organic garden on the school grounds. Renowned foodie Alice Waters started the Edible Schoolyard movement at a middle school in Berkeley, Calif. The project's Web site includes information about how she did it, as well as a list of other resources (including sources of school gardening grants).
If your school budget allows, make bigger changes. When possible, rely on daylight to light classrooms -- studies by the Heschong Mahone Group, an energy-efficiency consulting firm, have shown that students with more daylight perform better than those with less. When daylight isn't enough (or isn't available), use efficient lighting such as T-8 fluorescent lamps, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or LED lights. And then get an energy audit. A professional energy auditor will determine how energy-efficient your building is and provide suggested areas of improvement. You may want to make small changes like beefing up the insulation and adding weather stripping to seal leaky windows. You could also go whole hog and upgrade to a more efficient heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.