EPISODE #4: HDSB's Approach to Environmental Sustainability
In this episode, we examine how we are taking steps to reduce our environmental footprint and how these kinds of measures are connected to student learning.
Director's Cut Episode # 4 - HDSB's Approach to Environmental Sustainability
With 105 schools, two administrative offices and several other educational sites, the Halton District School Board manages approximately four million square feet of space. It is vital that as a public organization, we recognize our role in the community to address the pressing climate challenges of today and tomorrow.
We have more than 65,000 students and 8,000 employees in our buildings every day. We must make sustainability and responsible resource use a priority in our daily operations. The Halton District School Board is committed to being leaders in environmental awareness and action.
Many of our actions fall in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including key areas that address quality education, good health and well-being, sustainable communities, affordable energy and climate action. By taking leadership roles in the province through the development of Green Cleaning protocols, system-wide Green Cart collection or the re-greening of outdoor learning spaces, our goal is to achieve sustainable well-being for all.
We make every effort to minimize the environmental impact of our schools and buildings.
Through our facility renewal program, we upgrade our buildings to more efficient systems. We replace fluorescent fixtures with LED lights, which reduces the electricity used by more than 50 percent. Since joining the Take Back the Light program in 2012, we have recycled more than 168,000 fluorescent lamps.
We have a strategy to use renewable energy by installing solar panels on all school rooftops. Currently, we have solar panels at three schools. These panels reduce our dependence on the traditional electricity grid and provide a significant cost-savings.
We’ve installed systems that automate and control our heating, air conditioning and electricity system, which reduced our energy consumption by more than 6 percent in 2019.
Creating awareness with students and staff is an important part of our conservation effort. The building automation systems provide an interface that allows them to see and measure, in real-time, that their conservation efforts are working. They can see how much electricity a solar panel system is producing or calculate the energy used to heat or cool a classroom.
When we build new schools, or make improvements to existing schools, we plant trees to provide shade , incorporate light sensors, install efficient mechanical and electrical systems, and source materials with minimal environmental impact. For example, in new construction we use a soy based spray foam insulation for our exterior walls, which is a renewable resource.
We have a goal to replace all of our paper towel dispensers in our washrooms with energy-efficient hand dryers. Replacing paper towels with hand dryers reduces damaging carbon-dioxide emissions by 80 per cent.
Engaging students and staff in behavioural change is a big part of the HDSB’s approach to creating a more sustainable community.
All of our schools have bike racks to encourage students and staff to use active modes of transportation whenever possible. More than 200 additional bike racks have been installed at schools over the past two years.
The Board conducts annual waste audits to verify that our recycling, composting and waste disposal processes are working. The HDSB was one of the first school boards in Ontario to have all schools participating in organics collection in 2012. As a result, approximately 20 per cent of waste is diverted from the landfill each year.
Through our waste diversion programs, we have responsibly disposed of 145,000 lbs of electronic waste, 4,000 pounds of batteries and almost 8,000 pounds of electrical appliances.
We install water bottle filling stations at schools and follow a policy where the Board does not purchase single water bottles.
A big focus is providing our students with opportunities to engage in their local environment through outdoor learning spaces. These areas do not require energy consumption compared to indoor classes. Outdoor learning spaces can include seating areas, gardens, and tree planting to support local species and increase biodiversity. More than 50 schools in the HDSB have carried out additional school ground greening projects .
Many of our schools are working toward EcoSchools certification. EcoSchools celebrates student-led environmental initiatives and action like litterless lunches with reusable containers, banning plastic water bottles, recycle pens and markers, initiating clothing and book swaps, community clean ups and media campaigns, including morning announcements, to create climate awareness. Some schools have planted their own community gardens to harvest food for their food school and the greater community.
Last year 47 of our schools certified as EcoSchools, 13 of them at Platinum, the highest level achievable. We are very proud of the staff and students who take on leadership roles in these initiatives.
As you can see, implementing sustainable measures to preserve and protect the environment is ongoing at the Halton District School Board.
We know there is more to do and we don’t do it alone. As part of the Halton Climate Collective, we partner with Halton Region, the University of Waterloo, local municipalities and community organizations such as Conservation Halton and Halton Environmental Network on community strategies to respond to climate challenges.
Together, we will inspire every student to learn, grow and succeed as champions of the environment.