Earlier this month, the capital of California hosted the Green California Summit, a conference dedicated to exploring progressive environmental policies in a state where "the water's warm" for reform.
Among the breakout sessions, Zac Taylor, Architecture for Humanity's Green Schools Research Coordinator, led a discussion on practical strategies for American public schools to secure resources for becoming more sustainable. The forthcoming Green Schools Investment Guide was previewed, and the three-person panel represented different elements in the equation for taking successful local action to improve learning spaces.
Sitting on the panel were Zac, Julia Burrows and Farah McDill. Zac explains everyone's role and how the discussion fell together.
Julia Burrows is the Executive Director of Greenwise Joint Venture, a regional nonprofit focused on transforming the Sacramento area into the greenest region in the country and a hub for clean technology.
"Sacramento wants to brand itself as the 'Emerald Valley,'" says Zac. "They want to be THE place for a green economy."
And so may be a few steps ahead on greening schools, and seeing how they fit into a bigger picture.
"It's about sustainable development-and not just planting trees or reducing your carbon footprint, but about having financial independence, taking a proactive approach and carving out a healthy / sustainable / regional economy. Julia is working really hard to scale something called PACE."
Property Assessed Clean Energy is basically a finance mechanism that taxpaying property owners can use whereby they repay a loan for energy efficiency retrofits through their property tax bill.
Burrows is working with legislators to get PACE extended to public schools. Public schools don't pay property taxes, as government entities. Julia's plan allows schools to opt into property taxes and use the PACE mechanism to pay off green infrastructure loans.
"There are a lot of innovative ideas for greening schools in California, because the need is so great."
But no more or less critical than in the rest of the United States. There are $542 billion in school building maintenance and modernization needs across America, according to the 2013 State of Our Schools Report. "$271 billion just to bring them up to code, and another $271 billion to make them effective 21st Century learning environments."
Farah McDill, Zac Taylor and Julia Borrows, participants on the Green Schools Investment panel
"Public schools need access to creative capital - they need flexible creative capital ways to pay for these building improvements."
Julia's other role on the panel is to represent a regional perspective.
"The Green Schools Investment Guide is a community engagement resource. We wanted this panel discussion to show an example of when we talk about green schools champions, what it actually looks like in practice."
Enter Farah McDill, the third panelist.
"Farah is a UTC Center for Green Schools Fellow at Sacramento City Unified School District." The U.S. Green Building Council has a fellowship program which places two individuals inside a school district to do creative green schools work. The districts chosen are in Sacramento and Boston, Massachusetts. Farah related some of the exciting work that has come out of her fellowship.
The idea of the panel, Zac notes, was to have one high-level 30,000 foot view of the guide, which was previewed at the panel, and two practitioners at the regional and schools scale to providing greater insight into the processes that the guide advocates.
"It's about how folks have come together to prioritize investment in school buildings. What are the arguments they're using? How do they pull people together? How are they leveraging resources? Why is it that school buildings matter for a school district, a region, or a state?"
Solutions lie at the intersection of these different groups' interest, "where these priorities align. Because that's how you get investment."
The Green Schools Investment Guide developed by Architecture for Humanity and the Center for Green Schools at USGBC details a range of such strategies. It will be publicly available April 30, and is the first joint project of a larger partnership between the two organizations to create and apply resources that help America's communities to invest in their school buildings.