On February 8, 2019, over sixty leaders and stakeholders from around North Carolina and the Triangle assembled to work towards facilitating a partnership for green schools in Wake County at the Green Schools Symposium. This event, hosted by the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) and funded by the Conservation Fund, saw representation from the public and private sectors, government agencies, and non-profits. Represented parties included but were not limited to:
- The City of Raleigh
- WakeUP Wake County
- NC Conservation Network
- North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality
- Wake County Government
- NC GreenPower
- American Rivers
- Wake County Public School System (WCPSS)
In fact, the green schools conversation has been happening for many years in Wake County—and many of the innovators behind existing green school work in the area took time to attend the symposium. The day was intended to bring together representatives from parallel green school efforts occurring across the county, and to have one conversation that could include many voices. Although the EFC did its best to reach as many of those individuals as possible, in the end, there were more registrants than the space and food could accommodate! The day included many meaningful connections, sparked enthusiasm and innovative ideas, and continued a conversation that will hopefully be continuing over the next few months to put in place some of the clear cut goals and outcomes discussed below…
What We Learned
While the first half of the day was dedicated to hearing experts speak on the importance and strategies of fundamental components of a successful green school partnership—i.e. facilities maintenance, infrastructure finance, and classroom engagement (you can find the presentations here)—the latter half of the day was spent in small group discussions. These conversations identified the following as some of the most crucial keys to starting a successful partnership for green schools in Wake County:
- Timeline of key milestones
- School Board and Principal Buy-in
- Sustainability Director for WCPSS
- Sustainable Funding
- Student Input and Outreach
The small groups also identified some of the assets and resources that are already in place to help reach these goals:
- Existing curriculum used by other schools from the UNC Institute for the Environment
- An in-depth look at success stories from green school partnerships throughout the county
- Model programs that already exist (Raleigh Rainwater Rewards, Bionomic Educational Training Center, Project WET)
- Available funding sources
- A passionate coalition of stakeholders from around the Triangle that are already dedicated to this mission.
After small group dialogue outcomes were shared and discussed, the time came for a wider discussion on what future initiatives in this partnership will look like. After deliberation about what should be focused on in the immediate future, the most imperative steps identified included:
- Form a specific task force to carry this torch forward.
- Find the best course of communication and organization for that task force.
- Get on the agenda for a school board meeting, and prepare a representative with a formal presentation to talk about the work of the partnership.
- Figure out how to get WCPSS to hire a sustainability coordinator/director.
The EFC is excited to see how the pervasive enthusiasm at the symposium will continue to manifest itself in concrete projects throughout Wake County. The EFC would not have been given the opportunity to participate as a facilitator of this work had it not been for the strong encouragement and funding from Conservation Fund and from the City of Raleigh Stormwater Department. It is the goal of the EFC to continue to share the lessons learned and the positive impacts from this experience with other jurisdictions across North Carolina and the Southeast!
Want to learn more about green school partnerships? Check out this EFC report, Exploring a Partnership for the City of Raleigh and Wake County Public School System for Green Infrastructure on Public School Grounds.
Erin Riggs is a Project Director at the EFC and conducts applied research surrounding legal, policy, and accounting framework that influences environmental finance issues around the country. She graduated from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law where she pursued a law degree with a specialization in Environmental and Land Use issues. After law school, Erin worked as the Assistant Executive Director of Waterkeepers Carolina, a statewide organization representing the interests of the Riverkeepers across the state. She then spent three years working in Florida as a staff attorney for state court judges in the areas of both criminal and family law. Erin assists the EFC at UNC in studying the legal, policy, and accounting framework that would influence environmental finance issues around the country.