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Environment Prep: Teaching the Next Generation to Take the Lead

Brian Kasher, Manager of Environmental Health and Saftey at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, knows that "greening our cities and towns requires a targeted approach in public school systems to achieve meaningful health benefits for our children." He lives, works and aims to teach that ideal each day.

Brian Kasher is being recognized as a Champion of Change for his innovative energy priorities and sustainable living practices making a greener community a possibility in any American city or town.

Being honored as a White House Champion of Change is indeed an honor, but in turn also serves as recognition for the broader efforts of the regional community including Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) students and staff, Mecklenburg County Environmental Leadership Team, City of Charlotte Environmental Cabinet, numerous associations, advocacy groups, public private partnerships and more. Through collaboration and teamwork the CharMeck region continues to make strides in environmental protections and improvement.

Greening our cities and towns requires a targeted approach in public school systems to achieve meaningful health benefits to our children united with substantial savings to the taxpayer and improvements for the larger community. School systems very often have the largest environmental footprint under local public auspice. Metrics such as the number of daily occupants, size of built environment, acreage, utility consumption, fleet fuel consumption and emissions, purchasing volume, number of meals served and more illustrate the significant scale of public school system commons within the community.

Schools can enhance district attendance, academic achievement, and productivity while serving the community at the core of re-greening initiatives through strategic capital investments, targeted adjustments to operational approach, and culture change. It is vital for public leaders to define greening our communities to include environmental health factors as well as the more typical resource conservation and waste diversion aspects which are often market driven factors at their root.  Indoor air quality, environmental health impacts of chemical compounds, environmental impacts of technological innovation, ecosystem lifecycle implications, and more are environmental health factors that cannot reasonably be expected to be market driven. Humans are, by International Standards Organization (ISO) 14001 standard definition, part of the environment. Human health, and especially children’s health, should be a priority aspect in any public green initiative and not simply a marketing hook or afterthought.  Fossil fuel rooted energy conservation measures are destined to reach the fulcrum of economic benefit though human health will remain paramount to the public. Clean energy offers the only tangible means for a healthy future for the Earth and society as we know it. Schools provide the fertile soil required for large scale market seeding for new and emerging green technologies of the future.

The key strategy and tactic number one of the CMS going green initiative is engagement of all stakeholders. Engagement is encouraged using a number of techniques. There is the 30 plus page website focused on environmental stewardship programming; local, statewide, national and international presentations on environmental health and going green sponsored by association and government strategic partners; CMS Parent University courses; professional development courses for key school staff; going green brain storming sessions with students; the CMS Green Star Schools environmental stewardship recognition program which recognizes the environmental stewardship efforts of schools; STEM education programs and more. There is also the 150 page “Going Green at CMS” environmental stewardship guide featuring school success stories, how-to guides, and awareness guides on many environmental stewardship topics. The Stewardship guide download link has been distributed to school contacts nationally by USEPA and associated NGO’s. Going green— including being healthy indoors and out -- is really about culture change, learning to make personal, agency and or corporate decisions that not only have economic benefit but also the environment and social factors including children’s health. Public investment in building and operating schools must support both children’s and staff ability to achieve academic potentials. Anything less is a pale shade of green at best.

Public leaders at all levels need to ensure going green efforts engage local school systems encompassing health factors as well as energy and resource conservation initiatives. Schools provide great opportunity for public investment in infrastructure updates that deliver healthier more productive facilities, measurably enhance operational efficiencies, and assist in the development of environmentally literate citizens. This is a call for public leadership commitment to greening the economy through clean energy approaches, rebuilding the nation's infrastructure with focus on high performance schools, and in greening the future progeny of this land, our land, America the Beautiful.

Brian Kasher is Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools' Manager of Environmental Health and Safety and the principal author of Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education environmental policy, Strategic Plan 2014 Environmental Focus Area and associated tactic management plans.