Palo Alto Unified School District
Inspiring Sustainability Initiatives
Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) has demonstrated remarkable progress and effort to promote energy efficiency, sustainability and restoration within their operations and facilities. The PAUSD Sustainable Schools Committee has spearheaded many of these efforts and continues to push for continuous improvement. The District has been recognized by the city of Palo Alto as a “Leader’s Top Performer” through the EPA’s Energy Star Program - a distinction achieved when the average of all PAUSD buildings is rated a 75/100 or higher on the program’s grading scale.
Below are a number of innovative sustainability initiatives and savings that continue to improve PAUSD and have been met with significant results.
In an effort to achieve energy savings through behavior changes in energy use, the District has brought in Rebecca Navaro who is an Energy Specialist with Cenergistic. Some significant improvements include changes to the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system, converting from lit to dark campuses at night, and minimizing the vampire plug load during scheduled breaks. Since the inception of this program in 2010, the overall energy use from PAUSD facilities has decreased by 13%, resulting in a saving of $667,908 as of August 2013. These savings equate to the elimination of 1,834 metric tons of CO2, which can be considered as 329 cars taken off the road for a year or 46,903 tree seedlings grown for 10 years.
Along with huge gains in energy use behavior, the District has taken advantage of Energy-Saving Equipment and Utility Rebate savings - to the tune of $76,295.95 in savings. The District will receive between $450,000 to $500,000 over a five-year period from Prop 39 funds to use towards energy saving projects. Enovity, an integrated energy solutions provider, will provide assistance to the district with free energy audits.
One area of ongoing concern for PAUSD has been observing 80% of the District’s garbage as waste that could have either been recycled or composted. In an effort to divert waste going to landfills, the District worked with Kate Lewis of Greenwaste to begin a waste audit pilot program at Jane Lathrop Stanford (JLS) Middle School. With the help of student groups and the custodial staff, Kate filmed a waste audit that was shown during the school’s morning television broadcast to help educate students about waste sorting. After the broadcast, the District saw improvements compared to the district average, with garbage containing 45% of recyclables and 15% of compostable waste. This is a significant decrease from previous observations. Future initiatives involve improving the disposal of kitchen waste and rolling out this audit program to other schools in the district.
Through grants provided by the Morgan Family Foundation, and matched by the District, Acterra (an environmental education and action non-profit) has worked with students and volunteers to establish native plant gardens that provide educational opportunities to students. Together with PAUSD and the Sustainable Schools Committee, Acterra is working towards the creation of 7 different gardens over two years through removal of water-intensive lawns and utilization of unused sections of land. With themed gardens, such as the pollinator garden and the CA ecosystems garden, students can step out of the classroom and see real-world applications of their science curriculum. With 800 students involved in the planting and learning programs, Acterra has been able to remove 5,500 sq. feet of lawn and replace it with 4,000 sq. feet of native meadow and 3,500 sq. feet of native gardens, with a total of 5,300 plants installed. Acterra Program Director Alex Von Feldt has lead initiatives to get rebates for the District under the Landscape Rebate Program to cut back on overall costs by reducing overall water consumption, energy use, and maintenance costs. The District has continued to fund and support this program, and is looking to expand to more schools.
The newly planted meadow at Addison school is flourishing and growing well with close monitoring by Acterra, volunteers and the Sustainability School Committee.
The Sustainability School Committee collaborated with District Staff and Canopy to develop a tree policy that was adopted on June 14th 2011 by the Palo Alto Unified School District. It leads the Nation as one of the first widely accepted policies geared towards protecting and preserving trees. The policy reflects the importance of creating a healthy and sustainable environment for students, staff, faculty and community. Today, the district manages tree assessment and maintenance of trees covering more than 228 acres throughout the Palo Alto School District. The Policy serves to protect and preserve mature heritage trees, utilize trees for shading and protecting play areas, ensuring best practices to sustain healthier trees and teaching the importance of trees to students by incorporating it within the school curriculum.
PAUSD continues to improve their sustainability portfolio and think creatively about how to improve their district’s environmental impact. We can only expect to see new sustainability programs and environmental education opportunities within PAUSD in the future, with the help and continuous support of the PAUSD Sustainable Schools Committee.
By Jennifer Yee and Violet Wulf-Saena, March 25, 2014