Arroyo’s SLZUSD Climate Action Plan Proposal

Earth Team Arroyo has drafted Climate Action Plan demands for the San Lorenzo Unified School District.

Earth Team Arroyo recognizes the need for immediate climate action in all sectors of our economy. Though our school district represents a small part of the total climate impact of our society, a more sustainable SLZUSD is necessary for the health of our community and the globe. Without a plan for sustainability and generally reducing the environmental impact of our schools, we could very well see extensive damage to our community and high costs going forward. Globally, people are already experiencing the significant impacts of climate change, which include changing weather patterns, rising sea level, excessive pollution from plastics, and more extreme weather events. Here in San Lorenzo, members of our community face immediate risks from wildfires and associated smoke impacts. Additionally, the long-term impacts of sea level rise will impact our community and potentially some schools in our district, including Arroyo High School. In our work collecting litter on campus and in our community, we have recognized many items our school provides as commonly found litter. Though we do not know exactly where this litter originated, there is no doubt that Arroyo High School and SLZUSD are in some way contributing to litter problems in our community and beyond. 

Earth Team Arroyo proposes that SLZUSD adopt a comprehensive climate action plan similar to plans adopted by other school districts in an effort to save money in both the short and long term, build resilience in our community, and contribute to a global effort to protect the environment. This plan would take long to draft and implement, so additional easy to implement, short-term solutions are also included that could reduce the environmental impacts of SLZUSD almost immediately. 

A map of sea level rise showing the potential for flooding in San Lorenzo.

There are multiple financial reasons to prompt the San Lorenzo Unified School District to adopt environmental measures within a climate action plan. By reducing the amount of energy consumed through energy efficiency, the San Lorenzo Unified School District can reduce its cost expenditure in energy and fuel sections of its budget. Additionally, global climate change is not only an environmental threat to our society, but also a financial one. And the figures are not small. As expressed in a report by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) , “four global warming impacts alone—hurricane damage, real estate losses, energy costs, and water costs—will come with a price tag of 1.8 percent of U.S. GDP, or almost $1.9 trillion annually (in today’s dollars) by 2100.” Instituting environmental actions and goals today will have an extreme impact in reducing global warming’s future consumption on funds if action were to be implemented later. According to a 2020 scientific report by climate scientist Benjamin Sanderson of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, “each additional year of delay in implementing mitigation [costs] an additional 0.3–0.9 trillion dollars in total discounted future mitigation costs, if the 2C target is to be ultimately met.” These impacts and associated costs are spread out over the entire US, and will inevitably lead to additional costs here in San Lorenzo as homes are already threatened by an increased wildfire risk. San Lorenzo Unified School District is a core part of the San Lorenzo community. Any impacts felt by members of the community affect our schools and should be mitigated before they can cause damage. 

We recognize that drafting and implementing a comprehensive Climate Action Plan is not cheap, though there are some potential short term savings in energy use. Most of the cost savings would come in the form of long term resilience and not having to rebuild and retrofit buildings in the future. With this in mind, multiple funding resources are available for current environmental projects in multiple areas and concentrations (compiled from reported funding sources of other school district climate action plans):

  • Private Foundations:
    • Captain Planet Foundation
    • State Farm Youth Advisory Grants
    • Kids in the Game Youth Advisory Grants
    • Mazda Foundation grants
    • Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grants
    • Target Field Trip grants
    • Project Learning Tree grants
  • Government Funding:
    • Bay Area Air Quality Management District 
    • California Energy Commission 
    • PG&E or Alameda Clean Energy 
    • Low Carbon Fuels Standard credi
    • U.S. EPA Regional Funding 
    • Coastal Commission Whale Tail grants 
    • Office of National Marine Sanctuaries 
    • CA State Coastal Conservancy Grants 
    • NEA Foundation Student Achievement Grants 
    • DEA Professional Development Grants
    • California EPA

San Lorenzo Unified School District can easily help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term in numerous ways and at low costs. In the process of adopting and implementing a comprehensive climate action plan, there is a lot SLZUSD can do in the short term to create more environmentally friendly campuses. Some suggestions that Earth Team proposes for Arroyo High School and other campuses include:

  • Increasing the amount of recycling and compost bins accessible to students to make it more likely for students to sort waste properly. As of now, there are little to no recycling or compost bins available outside of classrooms, so by making proper sorting more convenient, SLZUSD will inspire students and staff to do so.
  • Having informational videos about correctly recycling and composting to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills. Many students are unaware of which materials belong in each bin, which is one of the main reasons why so many recyclable and compostable items end up in garbage cans. These videos can be uploaded to the district and campus websites and social media, and shown at school assemblies or during class.
  • Offering the option of online assignments to students to greatly reduce the amount of paper used. Rather than wasting paper by giving each individual student pages of worksheets, they can complete coursework using technology if they so choose to. Additionally, students may find it easier to type on electronic devices to do homework than to write on paper, therefore increasing student productivity as well. This is especially important to consider as our schools reopen in the Fall as staff and students are already used to using online assignments. 
  • Replacing standard incandescent light bulbs with low-emitting diode (LED) lights to decrease the amount of electricity used. This can reduce the cost of the electricity bill since LED light bulbs are more energy-efficient and longer-lasting than incandescent bulbs.
  • Installing rain barriers and storage capacity across SLZUSD school campuses to reduce the amount of water consumption and spending on water. The water caught can be used to water the field and the plants in the garden, and to clean outdoor surfaces and tools. This is especially important in the light of the current drought affecting our community and the increasing intensity and frequency of droughts in California that are predicted to occur in the near future. 
  • During assemblies encourage students to walk, bike or use public transportation instead of driving and talk about the benefits it has on the environment and on their heath.
A typical three bin waste system.

These are just a few examples of easy-to implement strategies that could be adopted in the short term. Preparing for and adapting to a changing climate will require creative solutions and additional consideration of the specific needs of the school district. This will require additional knowledge and analysis of the way the school district is run and would have to be created by the school district itself. As students enrolled in this project and members of the San Lorenzo community, we think it is very important for us to transition to a more sustainable system at our schools, at home, and in the community. 

Below are some climate action plans adopted by other school districts that inspired our research and could be used as a model for San Lorenzo Unfied’s plan. In addition, many other resources exist to assist with the process of adopting a climate action plan. 

Berkeley Unified School District Climate Action Plan 

San Francisco Unified School District Climate Action Plan

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