Here’s Hoping for Greener Schools and a Better Future

By Emily Andrews, Executive Director, USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter

This past summer has been a doozy when it comes to extreme weather and climate emergencies, hasn’t it? Locally and globally we have seen record breaking heatwaves; drought, drought and more drought; and epic rainfalls followed by even more epic flooding. If you had a dry basement in St. Louis in early August, count yourself lucky. We know climate change is driving more frequent and more extreme weather events. Like others, I often find myself feeling worried for our future. But then, I am reminded — by our members and volunteers and by the students, teachers and staff that participate in our Green Schools Quest — that there are amazing human beings out there working to change the world.

As I write this, I am also celebrating the passage of the most historic piece of federal climate legislation in history — the Inflation Reduction Act. Kind of an odd name, right? But I’m okay with reducing inflation along with the 40% projected greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2030. In addition to expanding tax incentives for home energy efficiency improvement, the Inflation Reduction Act will expand tax deductions for commercial building energy efficiency, and provide funding to improve efficiency in affordable housing. While the legislation isn’t perfect, the actions that it will support is something to be hopeful about. 

What else do we have to be hopeful about? Green Schools! This month, we are about to launch the 10th year of our Green Schools Quest, which challenges K-12 schools to devise and implement the most creative, effective and no- or low-cost sustainable practices for their schools. We pair up schools with our volunteer Green Mentors to support student-driven projects to work towards the vision of making every school a green school within this generation. Nearly 200 schools have embarked upon sustainability projects with thousands of students and teachers participating since the launch of the Quest. 

We are inspired every year by Green Schools Quest projects. We see pollinator gardens, food gardens and rain gardens. We see audits of cafeteria waste and action implemented to reduce waste. We see energy efficiency projects and campaigns to change behavior to waste less and recycle more. One of my favorites was “Window to a Greener Future,” when Jennings Senior High School Students weatherized the school’s windows in order to heat and cool the space more efficiently. Students researched the best weather sealing materials, developed a cost analysis, raised the money to purchase materials AND installed the weather sealing! We know these past few years during the pandemic have been challenging for schools, but they have persevered with sustainability efforts. During the 2021-2022 school year, projects included revamping outdoor learning and community spaces, a Pollinator Protection Squad, and food waste collected to feed pigs at a local farm that reduced lunch waste at one school by 31%. 

Every year of the Green Schools Quest brings more innovation, more inspiration, and more hope for our future. Want to get involved? Visit www.GreenSchoolsQuest.org.