Portland schools to increase sustainability effort

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PORTLAND — The School Board has adopted a new sustainability policy.

The new policy commits the district to continuing its efforts in areas such as lowering energy consumption, reducing waste and promoting awareness of environmental sustainability among students and staff.

“We’ve made significant progress in the district over the last 10 years at improving our energy efficiency and becoming more environmentally responsible,” said Peter Eglinton, chief operations officer for the Portland Public Schools. “But going forward it helps to be able to acknowledge what has been done and set the expectation that in the future we plan to continue such activities, that this is not just a one time initiative but it’s something we consider important.”

Doug Sherwood, facilities coordinator for the district, said that the new policy brings many different initiatives the district has been working on in different parts of the organization under one umbrella.

He said that there have big changes in facilities over the past 10 years and with this new policy those changes will continue with things like the reduction of waste, heating oil and energy use.

Since 2003, Sherwood said, the district has reduced it’s annual oil consumption from 700,000 gallons to 500,000. A similar trend has been found in both electrical consumption and waste reduction. Waste pickups in the district have dropped from 99 per year to 58 and the electric consumption has dropped from 8 million kilowatts annually to just under 7 million kilowatts.

Sherwood said the next step is to move toward capturing “the next level of engagement” and that a committee will be formed to evaluate what the next thing to attack will be.

Several existing sustainable projects in the district have been championed by students and Eglinton said that the district would not be at the level it is today without such strong student involvement.

“(Students have) actually been the ones to identify a lot of the projects that we have done whether it’s part of the expeditionary learning at Casco Bay High School or King Middle School, environmental projects are frequently some of the more popular research projects and community projects to do,” he said.

For example, Eglinton said that students in Deering High School’s environmental club were instrumental in advocating for the waste reduction efforts in district cafeterias.

“There’s nothing stronger than having students within their own school be the ones that are championing these efforts,” he said. “If it weren’t for the students, we wouldn’t be as far along as we are today.”

Community gardens run by students will help to drive what Sherwood calls a “life cycle” and will not only help schools be more sustainable, but will help students learn.

“Composting started as waste in our cafeteria and is now feeding our community gardens which are feeding students, it’s a life cycle,” he said. “Eventually we hope this will lead to other changes in the organization. That (changes) will become part and parcel of different elements of the science, math or English programs, it’s just a starting point for integration of programs.”

He said that what makes Portland’s policy unique is that there is no mandate for a sustainability policy, it is just something the district felt was important. Eglinton added that not only will the policy help guide the district on sustainability-related issues, but it will help to guide comprehensive planning for the district.

“It will spur the development of formal protocols for how decisions are made, what our targets are going to be and it will become a part of our comprehensive planning efforts and our multi-year budgeting,” he said. “To have a policy that requires (sustainability) is an important motivator.”

Amber Cronin can be reached at [email protected] or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.