Student Congress on Sustainability 2009
Ben Plaut, West Hawaii Explorations Academy
Hawaii Preparatory Academy's Student Congress on Sustainability is a yearly chance for high school students from all over Hawaii to meet for a weekend to learn about and discuss issues of sustainability in Hawaii and around the world. This years congress had over 70 participants from 9 schools of the Big Island, Oahu, and Maui.
My favorite presenter was Jesse Law, founder of Sustainable Island Products His presentation on disposable plastic bottles opened my eyes to a major environmental issue that receives little attention. WHEA is currently considering closing our drink vending machine to cut electricity usage and plastic bottle waste.
At the congress, WHEA brainstormed ways to reduce our material consumption. Since the school year as started, small changes been made in this direction. All papers except for final drafts are now printed on the back of used paper. Composting garbage cans are used for our paper towel waste. Marine projects are budgeting and reducing their water usage. In a year of drastic budget cuts, these changes also help the school in monetary ways.
Here are a few things to consider for next year. First, what is the true value of the event—is it an educational conference to raise awareness to students on sustainability issues? Is it an action meeting to help students start green initiatives in their own schools? Is it a chance for students to network with their concerned peers from all over the islands? This years congress seemed to me strongest in awareness and networking, with a large variety of presentation topics, and the organization of future contact with attendees through the newsletter.
Many thanks to Karen Yamasato, Sam Birch and Bill Wiecking for hosting this year's event, and a round of applause for all of the organizers and presenters for putting on a great congress. I speak for all of us when I say, I had fun and learned lots!
What's happening at WHEA? Here are just a few pictures...
Left: Maya Myers and Janessa Hernandez sort worms from worm castings. Students at the school turn food scraps into compost, which is used to fertilize the school's gardens.
Right: A rainmaker in the school's Geodome. Rainmakers use pipes of 40 degree deep ocean water to create freshwater from condensation. The freshwater is used to water gardens.
Left: Tony Eaton, Tyler Plasman, and Taylor Anderson stand infront of the State Capitol building in Honolulu after a Peace Day celebration of Peace Gardens at schools in Hawai'i. The students presented WHEA's gardening projects to over 100 people.
Right: Kyle Kirk adds green waste to one of WHEA's composting bins.
Take a look at the Green Schools Initiative, where you can see some 'Green School' Profiles, and take a 'Green Schools Report Card Quiz' to see how green your school really is!
Setting up a Green Team in your School!
Photo: Ke Kula O Ehunuikaimalino in their School Garden.
Setting up a ‘green team’ is a fun and constructive approach to build upon the ideas and discussions laid out at the student congress. Many schools have adopted this idea to organize students interested in making a difference and as a way to attract new recruits into the eco-conscious mindset. Green teams can offer a variety of services, limited only by the creativity of the students, to help improve the ecological footprint of their school and local business or organizations that may also become involved.
To organize a well run, effective green team there are a few factors worth considering. First, you will need the permission of the school and a dedicated faculty member to act as the team’s advisor. Next, it is valuable, and fun, to set forth a mission statement and team logo, as well as any other ideas that team members can brainstorm, to capture the idea and purpose of the team while also reflecting the individual uniqueness of your school and locale. Most green teams also benefit from voting or choosing a set of members to occupy certain positions. These include president, treasurer, record keeper, etc. Keep in mind though, these positions can be varied and it is up to you to decide what works well for your team-for instance some green teams might prefer one president while others may have a group of individuals that share that role. Deciding about all these things is part of the fun and creativity involved in crafting your distinctive green team.
It is amazing what you can accomplish with an organized and motivated group of like- minded individuals. Anthropologist and intellectual, Margaret Mead once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Besides the fun of hanging out with your friends, a green team has enormous potential to improve the eco-friendliness or ‘green-liness’ for all the day to day input and output streams of materials and resources that are needed to keep your school functioning.
Some ideas that other school’s green teams have pioneered have been as small as using reusable dishware in the cafeteria, to larger more technical projects like converting all the buses from diesel to biodiesel made from used vegetable oil. Wouldn’t it be great if all your buses smelled like French fries!
The potential for ideas is endless. Not only will you have a blast, but you will learn things while teaching others. Involvement in this type of community organizing not only looks great on a college application but feels great because at the end of the day you accomplished something that made the world a better place.
Do you already have a green team at your school? If so, we would love to hear about some of the things you are doing!
Check out NOAA's Marine Debris Web page, with some great information about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch online and to download!