Greening Mid-Michigan Schools

“Going green” is a phrase that seems to be on everyone’s lips these days. Companies are trying to turn their products into environmentally friendly investments for their customers. Developers are scrambling to incorporate Leadership in Energy and Environmental Designs (LEED) standards into their buildings. Car companies are trying to deliver more fuel-efficient cars.

But the eco-conscious push does not stop at capitalists or consumers. Schools, too, are transforming their buildings, creating recycling programs and getting students involved in the pursuit to save Mother Earth.

Green School Designation

Approximately 200 schools in Michigan have a green school designation through a state-run certification program that recognizes schools undertaking certain environmentally friendly practices.

Currently Lansing only has a few designated schools, but efforts are well underway to expand the number and continue environmental outreach. The Greater Lansing Go Green Initiative, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and Delta Township are partnering with other organizations in the tri-county region to turn two into dozens.

Based on a new law passed in Michigan in 2006, Michigan schools can earn a Green School designation by meeting 10 goals out of a list of 25 activities. They can be simple changes such as recycling water bottles, print cartridges and paper products; educational activities like adopting an endangered species or ecological art projects; or they can be big moves, like constructing LEED-certified, energy-saving buildings.

Though Woodcreek Elementary and Hayes Middle School are the only Green Schools in the Lansing area, though many others are in the process of applying for this designation.

Taylor Heins, director of the Greater Lansing Go Green initiative, says designations were slow in coming because there isn’t yet a Green School coordinator in the Tri-County area around Lansing. In fact, Wood Creek Elementary had to go through Livingston County to become designated.

However, the DEQ and Heins’ Go Green initiative are working hard to get schools more involved. Go Green has agreed to be the centralized location for school districts in Mid-Michigan.

“We are taking the reins because Mayor Bernero is trying to look at the broader picture, and reach out to youth to get them involved in environmental programs,” Heins says.

She suggests the green school program is important because “Lansing could become a more attractive option for more progressive people, which would attract those types of businesses to locate here and draw those types of people to work for them.”

How Green It Is

Financially, turning a school green just makes sense. Research suggests that although green buildings may cost slightly more to construct, the long term savings far exceed that extra cash. A national review of 30 green schools showed that green schools cost about 2% more than a conventional school, “but provide financial benefits that are 20 times as large.”

“Failure to invest in green technologies is not financially responsible for school systems,” according to the study, entitled “Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits.” The report concludes that “investments in green technologies significantly reduce the life-cycle cost of operating school buildings.”

That kind of green is not the only benefit such schools provide, though. Many of the points on the Green School qualifications require that students and community members be directly involved in the programs and education about environmental issues.

“There are obvious health benefits from removing toxins, but the real benefit is the learning experience the students will receive,” says Heins, who suggests that being involved “will instill a sense of responsibility and environmental stewardship.”

Heins explains that the “biggest effect on students is that it gets them thinking about how their actions impact the environment. They are picking up the tools and applying them elsewhere, like in their homes and neighborhoods.”

Amy Butler, chief of Environmental Sciences and Services at the DEQ, agrees. “These activities raise awareness and get children involved in environmental issues.”

Sarah Storm, an eighth grade science teacher at Hayes Middle School, saw these benefits first-hand as a staff member pushing the Green School designation.

“We had several students ask if they could bring their water bottles from home to recycle them at school, because they didn't have curbside recycling where they lived,” Storm says. Several times, she witnessed students stopping one another from throwing water bottles in the trash instead of recycling them.

“It’s important to make recycling convenient. It was great to see students say to each other, ‘Hey! You’re supposed to recycle that!’”

What’s Next?

The Green School program’s ultimate goal is to designate as many schools as possible. Through the collaborative work of the Go Green initiative and the DEQ, Butler and Heins hope to make the process easier and more accessible to all schools in the area.

Butler hopes to engage the community in changing their social behavior and encourage the building of more LEED certified or Energy Star buildings.

“If every school system had these types of buildings, it would have a huge impact on the energy use in Michigan,” she says.

Storm says going green is addictive. She and her students look forward to expanding their green initiatives this year.

“There is a huge problem with wasting things. At schools, a lot can be wasted just in one day. Going green should not just be encouraged, but expected,” Storm says. Many other schools in the Grand Ledge school district have approached Storm for advice on getting their schools designated.

“There is always more that could be done,” she says.

Lydia Weiss is a recent Michigan State alum, enjoys finding out about people’s lives and encourages everyone to challenge their preconceived notions of the world around them.  

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


"Green Enough" T-Shirts at Hayes Middle School

Student made Earth Day posters

Rachel Byrnes, Lexie Nugent, & Laura Harrold with some of the hundreds of CDs they are recycling

“Join the Green Team”

Dalanie Otto, Sarah Storm & Kaitlyn Slack

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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