By NICK MORDOWANEC
Capital News Service
LANSING – While issues like global warming and air pollution dominate public attention on the environment, some Michigan schools are at the forefront of making environmental changes a reality.
Under a Senate proposal, schools across the state would have the opportunity to be designated as “green.”
The bill would create three levels: green, emerald and evergreen. To achieve a ranking, schools would need to complete a range of activities, such as operating waste-free lunch programs, teaching about alternative energy and composting food and organic wastes.
The number of points earned from enviro-friendly activities would determine a school’s level.
The state’s current green program started in 2006 with 18 schools and now has close to 500 participants. Schools in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb make up the majority of the total number of official green schools in the state.
“Some schools have been asking for more eco-activities and learning opportunities, so we’re adding additional points to the existing law,” said Kristine Moffett, program administrator for Michigan Green Schools, a nonprofit agency initiated by students and teachers in the Hartland Consolidated Schools in Livingston County. “Michigan is one of a handful of states to have an official green school program.
“We also are adding two higher levels of achievement since some schools want to do more than 10 points for official certification during an academic year. The Michigan Green School Foundation feels we should support that,” Moffett said.
Another organization, Michigan GREEN (Group for a Renewable Energy Efficient Nation), based in Brighton and Escanaba, says too many schools need to “be more aggressive about reducing their energy consumption and lowering their utility bills.”
Douglas Russell, its executive director, said, “We’ll continue to keep our focus on getting projects done that result in the installation and utilization of more energy-efficient technologies.”
Not all school officials are keen on the new Senate proposal to use a new point system to designate elite “green” institutions.
Patti Dib, a “green” coordinator from the Macomb County Intermediate School District, said the meaning of “green” is vastly different in various counties, depending on their size and activities.
The Southeast Michigan Green Schools Initiative was instituted to help Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, the three most populous , develop their own versions of “green” schools.
“As a region, we are somewhat concerned that spelling out specific ‘green’ activities in the law is too limiting and the activities may not address what is appropriate for counties all over the state,” Dib said.
In Macomb, 44 schools achieved green status.
Many schools in Macomb County run recycling programs, collect funds for endangered species, follow energy efficiency practices, turn lights off during non-use times and plant native gardens.
The three-county program “is a win-win,” said Debby Dunn, project coordinator of capital and building projects and facility operations at the Oakland County Intermediate School District. “It helps the districts save money, and they get the recognition for doing activities many of them have already done for years.”
Oakland currently has 98 designated “green schools,” and Dunn said the goal for the current school year is 200.
The bill is sponsored by Sens. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, and Gilda Jacobs, D-Huntington Woods. It has been referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.