5 Impactful Green Initiatives to Start at School
Two years ago at RYCOR, we launched our RYCOR eFORMS solution to help districts easily create, assess and track custom digital forms for all school activities, including permission forms, activity registration, event ticketing and payment forms. Our objective was to increase districts’ efficiency and productivity, while positively impacting the environment through paperless forms. With schools being a major paper consumer, we understood the immense effect that paperless schools could have on the sustainability of our environment.
Since 2017, we have helped 15 districts, 469 schools and 290,000 students across Canada and the US take their forms paperless using RYCOR eFORMS. We have helped our clients save over 52,000 trees or approximately enough trees to cover the area of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City four times. On top of significantly reducing paper usage, our clients have cumulatively saved approximately $9 million on purchasing paper.
What are Other Ways that Schools can Reduce their Environmental Impact?
In addition to going paperless, schools can lower their environmental impact through teaching and implementing greener practices. Below are 5 impactful green initiatives to start at school, with the aim to reduce your school’s carbon footprint and educate students about sustainability.
1. Litterless Lunches
Almost half of school aged children eat cafeteria breakfast and lunches in the US. Meal waste and single-use lunch containers therefore are a large contributor to waste produced by schools. Although recycling these materials may appear to be the solution, only 29% of recyclables ends up being recycled. As well, plastics have a definite lifetime and can only be recycled 7-9 times before fibers are broken down.
To spearhead cafeteria waste, an alternative is having students participate in a litterless lunch where students and staff are encouraged to bring reusable containers, water bottles and utensils to the cafeteria. One way to start the transition and build excitement for the initiative could be offering a free lunch on the last Friday of every month when students and staff bring their own reusable containers. As your school community adapts to the idea of litterless lunches, you can introduce a small discount (eg 25 cents off) to incentivize bringing reusable containers every day.
Other ways to promote sustainable habits in the lunch room could include implementing a meatless meal days, to reduce emissions created by meat production, or partnering with a local farm vendor, to reduce emissions from transportation. To start meatless meal days, first collaborate with your lunch and nutrition staff on kid-friendly meatless alternatives to try in the lunchroom, for eg chickpeas, veggie burgers, tofu. Then pick a weekday to host your meatless lunches, eg Meatless Mondays, and frame the meals as a new, fun dish that everyone gets to try out. To start partnering with a local farm, reach out to local vendors and see if they’re willing to sell in-season produce to your school once a month in exchange for promoting their local farming businesses.
2. Green Curriculum
Children live and think in the present. Hence, it can be a challenge for some children to understand and care about long term environmental consequences. Luckily, children are at a critical age for habit formation and learning. Green practices and environmental appreciation can be incorporated directly into classroom behavior and curriculum:
- Recycling – Actively recycling materials in the classroom and modelling ways to minimize waste (For eg turning off the tap when washing hands)
- Sustainable art – Choosing to repurpose old materials (for eg magazines, newspapers, boxes) as tools and supplies for art
- Educational field trips – Visiting locations that provide depth on how different players in the community care for the environment (for eg visiting a recycling plant or local farm)
- Projects – Using projects to involve children in green decisions and ownership (for eg creating and maintaining a class garden)
By modelling and consciously engaging in sustainable behavior taught at school, children can develop a gratitude for the environment that will continue past their education.
3. Sustainable Swap
Kids stain, rip and outgrow their clothing fast. Consequently, the decision to purchase cheap, fast-fashion apparel for kids is common among parents. Globally, the fashion industry contributes between 5-10% of global pollution. Huge amounts of materials and chemicals are used in the production of a single garment, for example, to produce one pair of jeans, approximately 10,000L of water and 40 chemicals are used.
In light of fast fashion issues, parents do have budget-friendly alternatives for their children’s clothes. Try hosting a monthly/annual sustainable clothing swap or donation drive. Children can bring in their gently used clothing and swap for different styles with their peers. You can create rules around the clothing swap, for eg if you bring 5 used clothing pieces, you can swap for 5 other clothing pieces. A clothing swap is an affordable alternative to purchasing clothing and can be an exciting, community-building event. Similarly, students can participate in hosting a donation drive where used clothes, shoes, toys, etc are brought to school and donated to a local charity.
4. Commuting Challenge
Cars contribute 20% of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions. As most students live within walking/biking distance from school, commuting is an easy way to cut down car emissions and improve air quality. In addition to environmental benefits, walking or biking to school also supports physical activity, which has been tied to better academic performance and well-being in children.
Get your school to start a commuter program by organizing parent-supervised group walks or bike rides to school. You can also try a commuting challenge, where staff and students compete on who can commute the most in a month, and incentivize participants with prizes for their car-free transportation. Prizes could include a gift card to an running store, bike locks, helmets or a new bike as further motivation to continue commuting. As your commuter program gains participants, you can also disincentivize student and teacher parking by increasing the cost of parking at school. The increased parking revenue can be used toward building more bike racks to support your commuter program.
5. Power Down
K-12 Schools in the US spend $6 billion every year on their energy bill, an astounding figure that exceeds annual spending on computers and textbooks. On average, reducing energy use by 10% would provide savings of $65,000 per school per year. This could mean classroom upgrades, improved sport equipment or hiring an additional staff. Powering down electric equipment, such as computers, lights and projectors when not in use can lower your school’s electricity bill and conserve energy. Create a tangible goal with clear rewards to get the whole school on board, for eg “If everyone turns off the light when they leave the room, we will have enough energy savings to upgrade the gym”.
Since 2000, RYCOR has been a leading provider of K-12 business administration school software, serving over 1700 schools and 975,000 students. RYCOR provides districts with solutions for online payments, fee management and eFORMS. In addition to eliminating the need for paper fees and forms, RYCOR enables districts and parents to have transparency, efficiency and convenience. Learn more about RYCOR’s services and how we can help you go paperless at rycor.net.