Here at the Environmental Finance Center, our key role is to increase the capacity of other organizations to address the financial aspects of environmental protection and service delivery. The majority of our Center’s work focuses on providing technical training and resources and direct assistance to communities to address financial and managerial challenges of providing environmental services. We take pride in building relationships with diverse stakeholders and establishing rapport with organizations that have environmental, but not necessarily financial, interests and expertise.
Schools are one group with which the EFC is striving to work more closely, specifically to engage teachers and students in the exploration of environmental issues, water and energy conservation strategies and environmental finance. Over the past year, I worked with the EFC as an AmeriCorps service member through the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, to develop, coordinate, and launch the ‘Literacy in Environment and Finance’ (LEAF) project. Through my year-long service term, I partnered with teachers to build resources that incorporate environmental finance topics into curricula, taught in the classroom in Triangle-area schools, and helped to implement the ‘Sustainability, Energy, and Education Development’ (SEED) grant competition in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School district.
Through this program, the EFC has developed great relationships with folks in the education community, helped high school students win more than $31,250 in grants, and engaged more than 400 students and community members in environmental finance lessons. But in my view, perhaps the biggest success of the LEAF pilot project has been developing environmental projects with student teams. Through regular lunch-time meetings, I was able to help kids think through project feasibility, how to identify and pursue outside funding resources, connect with varied stakeholders, pinpoint difficulties and risks, and eventually implement projects. Below are three student projects we’d like to highlight and give a shout out to the teachers and young leaders working hard to make them happen:
In our work with water utilities across the country, the Environmental Finance Center is often asked how a water utility might encourage conservation amongst its customers. Such utilities may be interested in promoting water conservation for various reasons. In many cases, utilities are driven by their own public service mission or by public pressure to be good stewards of the environment. In other situations, they may be close to capacity and interested in using conservation as a means to delay capital expenses, to deal with growing demand from an enlarging customer base, or to cope with drought conditions. In each of these instances, water utilities are interested in finding ways to encourage customers to reduce water use while also protecting their own financial sustainability.
As we have written in previous posts, some utilities encourage conservation by setting rates that promote water conservation, providing rebates for improved technologies, or enacting voluntary or mandatory restrictions to reduce discretionary water use. An innovative strategy some water utilities are employing to encourage conservation is Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM).
As a society, we expect a lot from our schools. In addition to teaching basic skills, we hope our educational institutions will prepare students to be 21st century leaders. Part of preparing future leaders includes teaching students about environmental topics and helping them develop tools to understand and address environmental challenges.
One environmental topic that many schools are now trying to incorporate into their curricula is energy (in particular the role of energy efficiency and renewable energy), but these can be tough ideas to teach. Energy brings together complex concepts, from the science of electricity to broader questions of how our energy use impacts the environment. In the face of this challenge, schools have a unique opportunity to educate through real-world application of concepts and hands on projects. Schools are in a unique position to become public leaders in taking advantage of new improvements in technology and growing renewable energy markets. Schools have predictable electrical consumption, teachers who are able to take advantage of new educational tools, and generally have enough real estate to install new energy systems.