Green digest // Greener district

New school year, greener district

For Minneapolis Public Schools, the benefits of a greener district are many.

The district’s efforts to reduce energy consumption and increase recycling rates are a good cause for a collective pat on the back that also generate much-needed cost savings. But they may have educational value in the classroom, too.

Meredith Fox, special assistant to Chief of Policy and Operations Steve Liss, told the School Board in a presentation this summer the new “green reports” that will soon generate regular energy use, recycling and waste reports for each school site in the district could find their way into the curriculum. Science classes, for example, could use the information to calculate the carbon footprint for their schools, Fox said.

Those green reports, posted online at mpsgoesgreen.mpls.k12.mn.us, are just one example of the district’s new commitment to sustainability. A resolution approved by the School Board in February 2009 identified environmental sustainability as a core value of the 34,500-student district.

With the start of the new school year, the district took a few more steps toward sustainability goals.

Liss told the School Board in July a grant would allow the district to install solar panels on four school sites this fall, beginning with Pillsbury, a math, science and technology magnet school in Northeast. There was no word, yet, in August whether any Southwest schools were getting solar panels.

Seven Minneapolis schools will start organics recycling programs in their lunchrooms this fall, joining a list of 22 schools already composting food scraps instead of putting them in the trash. The district’s organics recycling program was piloted at Burroughs Community School in Lynnhurst.

Fox announced another much-anticipated change in district lunchrooms this fall: Gone are the Styrofoam lunch trays, to be replaced with paper trays.

She said the change came “after a lot of urging from parents and teachers,” and would “significantly increase our ability to recycle organics.”

Fox described efforts to unplug electricity guzzling office equipment at schools and in administrative offices, cutting the number of printers, photocopiers and computer servers in use district-wide. That could improve the district’s already impressive track record for cutting energy use, which Fox said was down by 15 percent since 2007.

Recycling rates were tracking up, she added, with about one-quarter of all waste generated across the district recycled.

The School Board voted to lead by example last spring. Make that LEED.

The board approved plans to build a new district headquarters at 1250 W. Broadway Ave. with the intention of seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver Certification.

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Watershed ‘heroes’ to be recognized

The City of Minneapolis and Metro Blooms will be among the honorees when Minnehaha Creek Watershed District holds its 2010 Watershed Heroes Awards in October.

The annual awards recognize community members and organizations whose contributions have improved water quality and quality of life in the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. The public was invited to nominate watershed heroes through the end of July, and winners were selected in six categories.

The city won this year’s Innovation in Government Award for its sustainability initiatives, including efforts to link water quality to public health, the economy and the environment. Among the city’s sustainability initiatives (outlined on the city website at ci.minneapolis.mn.us/sustainability) is an effort to promote water conservation by emphasizing the economic benefits to homeowners.

Metro Blooms won the Citizen Engagement Award, recognizing the organization’s approach to promoting rain gardens through community education. In June, the private, volunteer-run nonprofit welcomed the 5,000th attendee to one of its rain garden workshops, which teach area residents about the environmental benefits of native species gardens that absorb and filter storm water runoff.

The watershed district even gave a few of its own volunteers a nod in the Outstanding Contribution category. That award went to the district’s rule-making task force, a 20-member citizen committee that reviews and revises watershed policies.

Established in 1967, the 181-square-mile district covers 27 cities, including parts of Minneapolis around the Chain of Lakes in Southwest. All of the lakes, creeks and wetlands in the district drain into Minnehaha Creek and then flow into the Mississippi River.

The awards ceremony is 6:30 p.m. Oct. 8 at BayView Events Center in Excelsior. Tickets are $35 and must be reserved by Sept. 24.

To RSVP contact Chandi McCracken at cmccracken@minnehahacreek.org or call (952) 471-0590, ext. 222.