The November issue of Fast Company includes a feature on "50 Ways to Green Your Business." Indeed, concern for the future of the environment has become a key component of social responsibility, and companies looking to enhance their public image (and save money) are jumping on the green bandwagon. But what about that other hub of social responsibility: the one that grooms the next generation of leaders in business and other fields?
Precisely because environmentalism has become an increasingly important component of social responsibility, the push to "go green" has begun to spread to K-12 schools. The New York Times ran an article yesterday on one school's adoption of environmentalist efforts. As the article points out, these efforts have extended from recycling programs to environmental themes, hiring sustainability officers, and even incorporating green design into new school buildings.
A Raleigh, N.C., architectural firm, aptly named Innovative Design, specializes in environment-friendly buildings, and has designed "green schools" that use less energy through daylighting across North Carolina. The firm has also consulted for several projects outside the state, including two Las Vegas schools. Innovative Design has also commissioned studies in North Carolina schools that suggest that these daylit schools boost students' performance.
The green movement in schools, however, faces a similar challenge facing the environmental movement at large — it comes across as a high-end campaign. While studies on green design boast promising rewards, they don't allow immediate implementation — school districts must justify renovating and building new schools, which requires lots of funds, red tape, and time. And tellingly, the school profiled in the Times article is Scarsdale Middle School, located in one of the country's most affluent communities. No Child Left Behind probably isn't causing this school much stress, so it can literally and figuratively afford to focus on environmentalism. One quote from the article demonstrates this quite nicely:
"We have the luxury of getting involved in things like this," said Steven Frantz, the sustainability education coordinator. "Our kids do so well that we’re not worried about the next test score, but that also comes with more responsibility."
No wonder then that skeptics say that fostering a green movement within K-12 is a waste of time, especially when your students are failing and your school risks being taken over by the state in a few years (if it hasn't been already). But must cultivating environmental awareness necessarily be an extra burden? The Scarsdale efforts don't involve additions to the curriculum; they're more about behavioral policies. And environmental studies are already present in school curricula, so there's no reason why behavioral reinforcement can't accompany what's already being taught. It might even help students retain science facts more easily.
The key here is effort. Obviously devoting time to ensuring students meet performance benchmarks, rather than ensuring that parents' SUVs don't idle outside the school too long, is the greater imperative. Many businesses have the luxury of figuring out how to become more environmentally friendly. In the educational sphere, this luxury seems to extend to only a select few schools like Scarsdale Middle. As environmental efforts become less of a novelty and more of a practicality among the public — and business efforts are leading the way in that respect — schools will most likely follow suit. The future of corporate social responsibility, and ultimately the earth, depends on it.