Recently I attended the 2014 Green Schools National Conference in Sacramento, California, and I left pleasantly surprised at the energy and enthusiasm displayed by those in attendance. From the administrators, teachers and school staff members to the students, I departed with a renewed confidence that the greening of our schools is a real possibility. But I was most impressed by the students. Their passion for bettering their schools and communities was inspirational.
A few key student-specific takeaways:
- They are getting engaged in school sustainability efforts and are proactively advancing these efforts where they do not see enough being done.
- They are asking the important questions, and they are challenging the status quo.
- They are working to change behaviors of those in their communities about all things green and sustainable.
An example is Nazarey David, Sustainability Ambassador for her high school in Las Vegas. She’s a trailblazer not only in her school but in her community as well. Just some of the great things Nazarey is doing include:
- Establishing a recycling program at her place of employment. She noticed they were throwing everything away so she took it upon herself to implement a new program.
- She contacted a local waste management company to replace one of the existing large dumpsters with a large mixed recycling container for use by multiple businesses.
- She also met with and encouraged recycling at other local business by meeting with managers from those stores. She explained the options for recycling and educated owners/managers about what materials were recyclable and what weren’t. In some cases she also taught people at the businesses how to recycle.
It’s this kind of leadership that was pervasive throughout my time at the conference. Kids taking the initiative and working hard to drive home the need for better, more effective approaches to advancing sustainable solutions in their schools and communities. The idea of future generations being proactive in driving improvements is exhilarating, and will ultimately lead to better health, safer products and a better environment for those future generations to live and learn in.
Green Cleaning and Hygiene Keys to Better Learning Environments
Another thing that really stood out to me was the high level of importance being placed on green cleaning, and the health and hygiene of everyone within school systems. As background, we know illness is responsible for more than 144 million lost school days per year. That absenteeism robs students of valuable classroom learning time. So, two of the biggest challenges faced by schools systems in helping kids achieve their full potential is keeping them engaged in class, and keeping them healthy enough to learn. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says hand hygiene is one of the most important steps in preventing illness, yet with all of the demands of a busy school day, it isn’t easy to achieve. That’s why we have worked so hard at GOJO to create products that solve these issues and keep kids and their teachers in school.
A Bright, Clean and Safe Future
The conference confirmed for me that our hard work, and the work of so many other companies and organizations is not being lost on those in attendance. In addition to the many students I talked with, I also had a chance to speak with educators — those in physical education, science, biology, and of course sustainability. All were not only excited to be there, but also were looking forward to getting back to their facilities and implementing the take-aways from the conference.
The combination of students driving initiatives within their schools and communities, and the educators increasingly embracing health and hygiene solutions can only lead to great things for our school systems. It reminds me of how we work at GOJO to embed sustainability thinking into every decision we make. Because, at the end of the day, it’s about more than the science, product testing and daily business protocols. It’s really about positive outcomes for the lives we touch every day.
That same attitude of focused teamwork is what excited me most about the Green Schools National Conference. Just thinking about what is possible when students, teachers, parents and administrations from schools across the country begin to work together to achieve sustainability goals for healthier, brighter tomorrows, gives me chills. This is the kind of future that makes me excited to be a part of.
I’d love to hear how you are tapping into the next generation of sustainability champions as you move your sustainability efforts forward. Leave a comment to this post, and let’s continue the conversation.