Every year People magazine's 'Sexiest Man Alive' issue sparks conversation and controversy. Not surprisingly, not everyone agrees on who should be awarded the title. But this past week, the Global Coalition for Green Schools, an initiative of the U.S. Green Building Council, found consensus on the 'Greenest School on Earth'. That's quite the accomplishment, especially given how many schools are making efforts to go green and follow best sustainable practices. It intrigued us at EcoSmart Products, and we set out to learn exactly it takes to be the best eco school on the planet. How did Dunbarton High School, a public school in Pickering, Ontario, Canada, became the 'greenest school on the planet' - despite being in a 50 year old building? Their efforts are certainly comprehensive and diverse. But after examining their efforts and reading their testimonies, we have narrowed it down to one important condition that the school achieved over and over again. This one condition was present in all their activities and is something that every school and organization can achieve to varying degrees.
First, let's take a look at the criteria that won Dunbarton High School the greenest school on earth. Their impressive list includes:
- Energy efficient windows throughout the school
- A rooftop solar hot water system
- A 40-seat outdoor classroom
- A 500-square meter pollinator garden. Garden vegetables are donated to the local food bank.
- Bee condos
- Low-wattage fluorescent lighting
- More than 70 shade trees to help keep the building cool (planted by the students)
- Reusable water bottles for every student
- A compost program that sees green bin waste set out at neighbours' homes near the school
- A regular curriculum that integrates sustainability and environmental education
- A specialist major focusing on the environment
- Opportunity for students to participate in the Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program, research Rouge National Urban Park, monitor the school’s air quality, audit its electricity use, research trees planted on campus, and take on climate change civic action projects
At the outset, we said that Dunbarton's achievements essentially comes down to one condition. That condition is capacity building. In all accounts, we read how the staff and students themselves saw a vision and contributed to the goals: planting trees, helping in the gardens, taking specialized courses, involving their families and community, and becoming part of the school's culture. This has been a hugely coordinated effort, one which did not devolve onto the shoulders of a few passionate champions. This was a collective effort, which through consultation and collaboration has seen the capacity of the whole school community grow and grow.
There's no doubt that individual initiative and a few passionate champions got the ball rolling at Dunbarton. But where the school really built momentum was when collective efforts began to surge, creating synergy, a school-wide eco culture, and an unstoppable Greenest School on Earth. It's like the Chinese proverb:
"When a true leader has finished his or her work, the people say: Look what we ourselves have done!"
See the Center for Green Schools site for more information and for past winners.