For NJSBA, the New Jersey Sustainable Schools Project was the genesis for integrating sustainability into its own organizational structure. It set the stage for providing both sustainability education for NJSBA members and the support for schools in areas from policy to facility operations.
The Association understood that in an era of budgetary pressures in school districts, sustainability measures could save money and free up funds for the classroom. They can also improve student health and wellness by improving the learning environments in schools.
As NJSSP evolved, success stories and challenges were emerging from the pilot districts, as well as from other schools around the state. This was exactly what was needed for NJSBA to continue learning, discovering accurate and trusted resources, developing new partnerships and ultimately, sharing those best practices with member districts. It also provided the foundation for the organization to embark on a number of sustainability projects at NJSBA headquarters. The projects ranged from reducing paper use, and pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification
from the US Green Building Council, to forming a green team consisting of NJSBA staff members passionate about the environment and dedicated to changing their actions in a way that will create a more sustainable NJSBA.
Given NJSBA’s own experiences, the project team understood the good intentions of the pilot schools to become sustainable and was well aware that changing behaviors and documenting those changes is not always easy. However, getting to “change” requires data and positive outcomes that can be replicated and, as always, a dedicated group
of green champions willing to commit to becoming a sustainable school. It requires an understanding of the short- and long-term benefits of strategically implementing sustainability and a clear view of the importance of identifying
measurable objectives that are realistic and achievable in the local school and community. It was also important to report obstacles so other schools can avoid making the same mistakes and wasting time and resources.
One challenge for the pilot schools was how to build and maintain momentum, and not have sustainability be viewed as an add-on project, but an integrated approach to school improvement that can be embedded in every aspect of a school’s operations. It is critical for board members and other educational decision makers to understand this in order to maximize the benefits of sustainability. No two pilot schools took the same approach to managing the project. However, all the pilot teams learned along the way that these initiatives are most rewarding when students were involved in the objectives.
Students understand what is at stake–the preservation of their environment and the future health of the ecosystems.
Furthermore, during the course of the three-year project, NJSBA developed training for school board members, established an iSTEAM and Green Command Center at the annual Workshop conference, partnered with the New Jersey Department of Education to manage the Green Program of Study in schools, welcomed a “Green Fellow” from the US Green Building Council who was assigned to NJSBA, hired a full-time sustainable schools specialist, and partnered with Sustainable Jersey to establish the highly successful Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification program. With these resources in New Jersey–and beyond the state’s boundaries–schools now have the tools to implement sustainability measures, and to create an academically-engaging, healthy learning environment, while saving the school district money.