Is Green in Your District's Future?

By Joetta Sack-Min

The “greening” of Florida’s Broward County Schools started with a school board member and an uprooted ficus.

Robert Parks saw the enormous tree blocking a road when he went grocery shopping shortly after Hurricane Wilma swept through in 2005. His curiosity piqued, Parks learned that ficus trees weren’t native to Florida and couldn’t withstand the state’s severe weather. When Parks studied the district’s construction program, he realized most landscaping included non-native plantings that eventually would face the same fate. 

Parks shuns the “tree hugger” label, but he learned the need for conserving water, energy, and other natural resources when growing up on Key West, and he thought those lessons should be practiced by the Broward County district and handed down to students.

His board resolution to use only native plantings for school landscapes ultimately led to a strategic plan for the 255,000-student district to become more environmentally friendly—saving millions of dollars annually.

“One of the more important things besides being green was that we wanted to look at a return on investment,” says Parks. “There are two major goals: one is to become a totally green, large urban-suburban school district, and second, we want to not only save money but avoid costs.”

Districts across the country are embracing similar strategies through sustainable construction and renovations, natural resources conservation, alternative energy systems, healthier indoor air quality, and programs to instill such values into students. Alternative energy is expected to be a priority in the Obama administration, and many advocates expect green building and sustainability will be a priority for new initiatives.

Tight budgets also are pushing many school districts to “go green.” Using less means lower costs. Building a sustainable facility or incorporating features into a renovation saves money over the long term. And just changing day-today practices may not cost a dime, but it can add up to significant savings.

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