Pittsburgh, host city of the 2016 Green Schools Conference, was the perfect example of the power of “greening.” Mayor William Peduto welcomed the 2016 conference attendees by sharing his city’s story of renewal and transformation—from the “City of Smoke” to one of the most livable cities in America. Seventy years ago, Peduto’s predecessor, Mayor David L. Lawrence stated his intent to restore the city to health: “I am convinced that our people want clean air. There is no other single thing which will so dramatically improve the appearance, the health, the pride, the spirit of the city.”
The David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which honors Lawrence’s legacy, housed a similar spirit of optimism through the belief that “where we learn matters.” The shared vision of attendees made the conference an inspired event of collaboration, conversation and reflection. One aspect that makes the Green Schools Conference unique is the presence of students, whose energy and enthusiasm remind us of who and what we are working for every day.
This year acknowledged the need to raise the bar even higher—from recycling to zero waste, from energy reduction strategies to creating net-zero energy buildings, from understanding detrimental health effects of poor indoor environmental quality to showcasing data on successful changes we can implement in our schools. The week was filled with celebration of how far the green schools movement has come, while acknowledging the challenges still in need of solution.
Some of the inspired speakers related their own philosophies in facing these challenges. Greg Christian, CEO and founder of Beyond Green Sustainable Food Partners, shared his mission to “honor all” by striving to meet schools where they are in their individual school food journeys, as opposed to telling them where they should be and how they should get here. Barry Svigals, managing partner of Svigals and Partners LLP, gave a talk on compassionate listening, which he undertook while working on the new Sandy Hook Elementary School. Svigals spoke about the importance of listening, and how working with the Sandy Hook community was a transformative experience for his firm. He reminded us of the power of the “boundless resource”—that the minds of a group of creative, committed individuals could be change agents for the world. We take home Barry’s powerful wisdom that “if we do not support and save ourselves, we cannot save the Earth.”
Sara Teaster is the sustainability manager at VMDO Architects, a Thinker Sponsor for the 2016 Green Schools Conference.