As moms, as dads, and even as taxpayers, we all want to do everything we can to ensure our children have opportunities to grow, thrive and succeed. 2012 proved to be a tough year for U.S. public education, with budgets stretched thin, and a teach-to-the-test mentality imposed on our teachers. Who can really blame us as a nation for worrying that we won’t be able to produce graduates and future leaders who can compete in the global economy?
For me, one of the highlights of Greenbuild 2012 in San Francisco was the faux show hosted by Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough at the opening plenary. I was particularly struck by Biz Stone, the founder of Twitter, who came on stage and announced that “philanthropy is the new marketing.” He described a world in which a company would spend more money on philanthropy then they would on actually promoting the work that they did to further elevate their brand.
The countdown has begun. One month from now on September 29, the Center for Green Schools at USGBC will host the first annual Green Apple Day of Service, an initiative to have volunteers around the world participate in small acts of service to improve their local school environments. Now that kids are back in school, projects are showing up on the map at a record pace. But one of the things we hear more and more as we get closer to the date is: “I really want to get involved, but I’m worried that there isn’t enough time.”
Following a recent speaking engagement, I was approached by a young teacher who asked me how she could convince her school to go green. She told me that her classroom has one broken window that was positioned directly above the dumpster, her ceiling tiles are covered in mold, there’s a funky smell that she can never seem to find the source of and there is a flimsy partition that separates her class from the next, creating a noisy and chaotic learning environment and not nearly enough space for the 55 students crammed into her classroom.
This week, I’ve had the pleasure of spending my time in San Antonio, Texas with some of the most engaged members of our USGBC family for our annual mid-year meeting. These folks are the heartbeat of the green building community – the lifeblood of our movement. And the mid-year meeting serves as a way to celebrate their many victories and vision into the future.
I told this audience at my opening remarks on Tuesday night that we have some very important work to do in the coming months. The stakes have never been so high, the opportunities never been so tremendous.
Five years ago, in preparation to lead USGBC’s green school efforts, I spent three months working alongside a wonderful born and educated German, Anja Caldwell, who at the time was the green building program manager for Montgomery County Public Schools. In this field, Anja was a pioneer and visionary, and she never missed an opportunity to remind me that all she really needed to know she learned in Germany.
Even though by my assessment I was the only non-parent to take the stage at Parenting Magazine’s 2012 Mom Congress Conference, mom delegates from every state in the country welcomed me into their fold with open arms. It was incredibly energizing to meet so many moms who are singularly focused on helping their children succeed at any cost. I met one mother who has to fill out 19 applications a year to be able to send her children to higher performing schools on the other side of the city.
Those of you who have seen me speak recently know that I have had some pretty disparaging things to say about polar bears. Not because I have anything against polar bears (though I did visit a school in Alaska once where they had to put up a big fence to keep the bears from eating students), but because I don’t believe that polar bears are deserving of being the icon for sustainability, or even climate change.
Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Beijing, China for the 8th International Conference on Green & Energy Efficient Building to discuss the green schools movement. Although there are so many implicit differences between the U.S. and China – the language and culture are incredibly diverse from ours – I tested my assumption that healthy, high performing kids are a universal value that requires no translation.
Last week, I was able to visit one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to make an exciting announcement, recognizing the Green School in Bali as the Center for Green School’s “2012 Greenest School on Earth.” The school has some incredible features, such as structures made from environmentally friendly bamboo, solar energy and vortex hydro technology projects to remove the school entirely off the grid, bio-intensive farming around campus to raise organic food and so much more.