Tacoma schools work toward a more sustainable future

Making Tacoma schools greener will be good not only for the Earth and the bottom line, but also for kids, Tacoma Public Schools officials .

The School Board last week adopted a sustainability policy with a double mission: make good environmental practices part of the physical operations of the school district, and use the practices as educational tools for students.

The policy is not just about making buildings more efficient, said Sam Bell, the School District’s chief operations officer.

“It’s also that our buildings are a living, breathing part of the educational process,” he said.

Specifically, long-term goals are to reduce the use of fuel, water and other natural resources, encourage recycling, adopt and implement conservation standards for school district facilities, and educate staff members and students on ways to conserve resources.

“I’m excited about teaching students stewardship,” said Felicity Devlin, a parent and founder of Tacoma Green Schools. “It’s not just behind the scenes. It’s getting to kids.”

Devlin and others started working on sustainability projects when she was a Washington-Hoyt Elementary School parent in 2008. Projects included a school garden, walk-to-school days and a student-conducted energy audit. Other city schools joined in their efforts.

Devlin said she is happy to see the School District play a formal role in promoting green practices.

Many of the concepts outlined in the new policy already are part of district operations, Bell said.

At Baker Middle School and the newly remodeled Washington Elementary School, students learn about resource use through electronic screens that track energy consumption at their schools.

The district hired resource conservation manager Bonnie Meyer a year ago. And it has been tracking and analyzing school-by-school energy and resource use for decades.

But Bell acknowledged room for improvement in areas such as recycling where, he said, “We need to make greater strides.”

The new policy asks schools to expand the types of materials recycled, and to educate students and staff members about recycling methods and programs.

Bell said the district also is looking at the possibility of using alternative fuels in district vehicles.

Kristi Lynett, the city of Tacoma’s sustainability manager, spoke at Thursday’s School Board meeting in support of the new policy. But she said she also would like to see the addition of target goals around conservation.

“It’s important to have measurable goals and regular reporting to the public,” she said.

Board member Scott Heinze said specific targets will be developed by district staff members after the policy is adopted.

Board member Karen Vialle suggested that staff members speak with city conservation experts to get their suggestions for the School District.