More than 55 percent of New Jersey school districts are participating in Sustainable Jersey for Schools, a program that provides tools, training and financial incentives to support school leaders as they pursue sustainability programs. From energy audits to integrating sustainability into student learning to boosting recycling efforts, more than 3,900 sustainability actions were completed by schools and districts working to achieve certifcation with the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program.

Of the 91 Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification actions, 11 relate to school board policy and strategic plans. These policies support a culture of sustainability, health and fiscal responsibility in addition to contributing more than 100 points to a school’s 150-point requirement for bronze-level certification.

Here are some examples of how one district is reaching sustainability goals.

Readington Township School District Provides Sustainability Leadership Readington Township School District, located in Hunterdon County, has created and approved a number of important sustainability policies that drive their sustainability program while helping their schools achieve certification.

All four schools in the Readington Township School District have achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification. Three Bridges Elementary School and Whitehouse Elementary School are certified at the silver-level and Holland Brook Elementary School and Readington middle School are certified at the bronze-level. Also, the schools in the district have been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program, the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools program and Eco-Schools USA. Dr. Jonathan Hart, the Readington Township superintendent, said, “Thanks to the guidance provided in our strategic plan, sustainability is a part of every conversation we have in the district. And the goals are not something we abandon at the school door; we are also working to be more sustainable at home and in our communities.”

The Readington Township School District relies on its Green Committee to provide stewardship and leadership for completing actions for the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program. The Green Committee supports the district’s strategic plan goal to focus on sustainability and environmentally friendly practices in all areas of school operation.

Membership on the district committee includes a cross-section of school and community members with staff from each school, board of education members, administration representatives, facilities staff and township Environmental Commission members. Each school’s Green Committee is made up of administrators, teachers, nurses, facilities staff and members of the community. Two representatives from the Readington Township Education Association also participate.

Visioning Process Leads to Green Enhancement of Strategic Plan District parents, students, staff and community members participated in the Readington Township district strategic planning retreat in 2016. Through dialogue, several common themes were developed and four focus areas chosen. One of the four focus areas is “School Environment,” which relates to sustainability with the stated goal: promote a healthy and caring school environment for students and staff members. Specifically, the goal aims to continue the focus on sustainability and environmentally friendly practices in all areas of school operation.

District Sustainability Policy Adopted by Board of Education When a school board adopts a policy on sustainability, it conveys a commitment on the part of the school district and the community to be more sustainable. Sixty percent of the Sustainable Jersey for Schools certified schools have sustainability policies. Based on the sustainability directive in the strategic plan, the Readington Township School District Green Committee drafted a comprehensive sustainability policy that was adopted by the Readington Board of Education on July 25, 2017 and revised on Feb. 6, 2018.

The sustainability policy sets the goals, establishes the districtwide expectations and lays the groundwork for environmentally-conscious behaviors. It includes guidelines for professional development for sustainability, green purchasing, classroom chemical storage and disposal, green cleaning, disposal of electronic waste, long-range facilities planning for facilities, waste reduction and promoting physical activity. Donald Race, the Readington Township district facilities manager, has worked in the district for 12 years. Much of the implementation of the policies was dependent upon his department. When asked if it was a difficult transition, Race said, “Once we had the sustainability policies in place, making the changes in the district was really not that hard. We looked at our operations, reviewed the goals and made adjustments. The school community was supportive and the results benefit us all.”

The Readington Township Board of Education undertook an onsite solar generation project at three of the district’s four schools beginning in 2015. The installation was completed in January 2018 and came online in February 2018. The solar project is funded through a power purchase agreement with Ameresco and includes 292-kilowatt ground and roof arrays at Readington Middle School, 642-kilowatt ground arrays at Holland Brook School and a 136-kilowatt roof array at Three Bridges School. “Establishment of the district sustainability policy was a great step forward to formalizing our sustainability goals,” said Jason Bohm, the Readington Township school district business administrator. He added, “One reason we have made progress is because our Green Committee evaluates how to finance each of our new sustainability projects — so there is no impact to the tax levy. For example, with our solar field, we used a power purchase agreement to defer the cost. And to build our water runoff detention basin, we partnered with Readington Township to apply for a federal grant which funded the project.”

Green Cleaning Policy Improves Student and Staff Health Students, teachers and staff spend eight to 10 hours each weekday in school buildings. Children are vulnerable to, and may be severely affected by, exposure to hazardous chemicals found in cleaners, waxes, deodorizers and other facility maintenance products. In Readington Township, a proactive plan started by the district Green Committee replaced several harmful cleaning chemicals being used in the buildings. Now, an all-purpose, peroxide-based cleaner that provides a safer and more effective alternative to previous products is used. Several other procedures were changed that increased the cleanliness of the buildings and reduced costs, such as use of microfiber cloths for dusting and floor care.

Green cleaning programs are part of a comprehensive approach to operating schools in an environmentally friendly, resource-efficient manner. Implementing this policy helped the school district improve air and water quality, improve student and staff health and reduce costs. The district Green Committee also worked with the district custodians and the contracted cleaning services to create a written cleaning plan, and, with the help of the district policy committee, added key points to what would become the green cleaning policy. The policy was adopted by the board of education, and, as a living document along with the cleaning plan, will be updated as new technologies become available. The policy was distributed to staff and was presented as part of a green cleaning awareness program for parents and community. “The district had a solid and effective cleaning plan in place, but it has been refined,” said Dr. Hart, the Readington superintendent. “Constantly improving cleanliness and the health of occupants and further lowering cost, will continue to have a positive impact on the students, staff and community members who use our buildings.”

Green Purchasing Policy Added to District Sustainability Policy When the district sustainability policy was revised, a green purchasing policy section was added. This policy lays out guidelines for the selection of products that are environmentally friendly and targets, at least initially, green cleaning supplies, green cleaning equipment, recycled paper and energy efficient appliances. The Readington Township district’s Green Purchasing Policy has some creative additions. For example, the policy stipulates that furniture purchased for the school district should be wrapped in blankets rather than plastic packaging to reduce waste. Jason Bohm, the Readington Township school business administrator, noted, “Policies like the packaging restrictions do not take extra work to enact. Sometimes it entails one or two additional phone calls to a vendor to help them understand what we are trying to achieve and why we want to reduce waste.”

Communicating Sustainability Policies is Key Readington Township has done an effective job aligning the political will to implement sustainability policies while making sure to communicate the changes to the key stakeholders. These are two important pillars for success. Updates on the Readington Township School District sustainability policies were promoted at board of education meetings, posted on the district’s website and sent to all staff and parents by email.

Funding Provides Momentum Readington has received $36,000 in funding through successful applications to the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Grants Program. In 2018, the Readington school district was one of seven school districts that received a Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant funded by the Gardinier Environmental Fund. The grant for $10,000 is being used to implement device-level energy monitoring that uses portable meters to send data to a cloud-based information system. The school district also received a $10,000 grant funded by the Gardinier Environmental Fund in 2015. The Three Bridges Elementary School and Whitehouse Elementary School were each awarded a $2,000 Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant funded by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) in 2015 and in 2016. The Holland Brook Elementary School received a $2,000 grant funded by NJEA in 2016 and the Readington Middle School received a $2,000 grant funded by NJEA in 2018.

District Sustainability Policies Are Available for Guidance Superintendent Hart stressed that the sustainability policies and projects are ultimately educational. He explained, “We try to make each sustainability project a meaningful learning opportunity for the students. Knowledge of and participation in the sustainability improvements and policies will serve our students well for the rest of their lives. We are already inspired with how they are taking these ideas to the next level.”

If your school district is ready to move forward with developing sustainability policies, the policy documents are available online to help you make progress. Sample sustainability policies are available free from the New Jersey School Boards Association policy services team or by clicking on the map of participating schools on the sustainable Jersey for Schools website and using the “search by action” feature to see sample policies from certified schools.

Heather McCall is program director of Sustainable Jersey for Schools.