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Envisioning a Green Future:
Thousands Attend Schools Summit

by Racquel Palmese

Call them sustainable, environmentally friendly, healthy or high-performance. The greening of California’s schools is well underway, and a growing number of the state’s 6.3 million students and 307,000 teachers are increasingly feeling the benefits. The largest green schools conference ever, the Green California Schools Summit & Exposition, which took place in Pasadena
, California last December, captured the essence and spirit of this rapidly growing trend.

Guided by an advisory board co-chaired by Rosario Marin, California Secretary of State and Consumer Services; Dr. David Long, California Secretary of Education; and David Thorman, State Architect, the event provided three days of networking, learning and planning. It brought together the widest possible range of attendees, representing all sectors of the education community – from local school districts to state educational regulators – as well as hundreds of innovative companies with green products and services.

From the onset of the event, it became obvious that interest in green schools has reached a new level. As David Thorman took the microphone at a welcome reception in the Gold Room above the historic Pasadena Civic Auditorium to outline the goals of the next two days, he looked out at an overflow crowd from education, industry and government.

"For a first event it was a roaring success. It was the right time, the right environment, the right audience, very nicely orchestrated. The events were thoughtfully placed and informative. There’s so much new technology, so much information out there that needs to be simplified and communicated. It is extremely valuable to have a conference that focuses just on green schools." 

Setting the Stage

At the opening general session, attendees filled the Civic Auditorium for keynotes and the first Green California Schools Awards. Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, one of Southern California’s leading advocates of sustainability, opened the event expressing pride that his city was hosting the largest green schools event ever convened.

Dr. Long, David Thorman and Secretary Marin, each from their perspectives, urged the movement forward for the sake of the environment as well as the health of California’s students.

Secretary Marin oversees all funding and construction planning for California’s public schools. In an opinion piece published just before the Summit, she noted, “At a time when Californians from both public and private sectors are grappling with the prospect of climate change and the need to better manage resources, schools are assuming an additional significance. Increasingly, they represent an opportunity to model sustainability, to provide students and communities with their first experience of a well-considered, restorative relationship with the environment.”

“I was excited to see the great interest in California’s green schools movement generated at the conference. The panel discussions our staff participated in, as well as the many discussions held by other state and national experts, provided attendees with important perspectives and lessons on green schools.  We look forward to putting the ideas into practice as we build schools for the children of Los Angeles.”
Guy Mehula
Chief Facilities Executive
Los Angeles Unified School District


The opening session also brought the first Green California Schools Hall of Fame Awards, established by the Summit Advisory Board to recognize individuals and organizations for pioneering efforts in developing green schools, for contributions and commitment to the green school movement, and for innovative ideas and successful implementation of these ideas and inspiration to others.

Charles Eley, executive director, and Bill Orr, board member, of the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), received the Pioneer Award for CHPS’ creation of certification standards for high-performance schools. The second award of the day went to innovative green school designer Scott Shell, principal and director of sustainability at EHDD Architecture, who won the Industry Award.

Remarks by California Public Utilities Commissioner Timothy Simon and Secretary Marin preceded an opening keynote by celebrated environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr. Like those who spoke before, Commissioner Simon spoke of progress: “When I look out into the audience I see a tremendous opportunity for all of you, members of the education community, to further the accomplishments of Los Angeles and the state in curbing global warming and achieving a bright, healthy, clean, and prosperous future for all of California’s students.”

While noting the real problems we now face, Ed Begley Jr. told attendees he was “filled with hope” by the growing green movement.  Mixing humor with hard facts about energy savings, he challenged his audience to embrace green in every aspect of life.


Over 2,600 attendees and providers of green products and services filled three separate indoor and outdoor exhibit areas of the Pasadena
Convention Center. They learned about green products and services from more than 200 exhibitors showcasing an array of products, from non-toxic paints and carpets, state-of-the-art recycled paper, fuel cell and solar system technology, to eco-friendly, recycled, playground equipment, school gardens, sustainable design concepts and environmental curriculum.

Bouma Construction took on the challenge of building an actual working model green school building in the middle of the exhibit hall. It provided an opportunity for attendees to touch, experience and learn from experts about the many aspects of a green school. A complete classroom with advanced lighting concepts, an energy efficient HVAC system, sustainable furniture, wall and floor coverings provided a space for educational sessions. The outside of the building offered a range of sustainable design and structural components.

"The Summit, as the first large-scale green schools event, was forward thinking, cutting edge.  It provided Bouma with exposure to the green school movement at its earliest stages and an opportunity to interface with like-minded businesses that share the same interest in the green movement."
Dennis Johnson
Chief Marketing Officer
Bouma Construction


Running parallel to the professional program was the Green California Schools Student Summit, which took place at the Pasadena Sheraton on December 5. Organized by Educator Michael Winters of Gabrielino High School and John Zavalney from LAUSD, with assistance from Michael Haro of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, teachers and students of Southern California high schools were brought together to discuss the same educational topics that were being covered at the actual Green California Schools Summit next door. Green-focused student projects were on display in the lobby of the convention center.

Breaking New Ground

An atmosphere of excitement and newness pervaded the event, as many of the more than 80 workshops and breakout sessions were filled to overflowing.

The guest speakers and lineup was perfect and very well received. The breakout sessions were amazing. I only had a chance to do one, and it was standing room only. I have been to so many trade shows, and this is probably the first time that I have been in that situation where there was that big of a turnout.
Nichole Lowe, the Hon Company

Each session was carefully crafted to fully embrace an aspect of green schools with multiple presenters who are experts in their respective fields. A pre-summit half-day workshop on funding strategies, for example, was presented by Rob Cook, executive officer of the California state Office of Public School Construction, the agency which approves funding requests (and administration of Proposition 1D funds).

"The Green California Schools Summit was quite a treat!  With so much buzz regarding Green and Sustainability, it was very helpful and effective to attend an event full of the experts, sharing actual methods and practices specifically for school officials in California.  I walked away with tons of ideas and work. The networking alone was worth the price of admission.”
J. William Naish, CEM, LEED AP, CEP, CSDP
Energy/Utility Management Section Coordinator
San Diego Unified School District

A panel from LAUSD, moderated by Ying Wang, who is in charge of the district’s green building program, shared lessons learned over seven years of setting up and implementing a massive green building program.

The US Green Building Council estimates that a green high school can save as much as $100,000 a year in energy expenditures. With the average life of a school at 42 years, a single school can potentially save $4.2 million over its lifetime. The growing acknowledgement of these savings make a business case for green schools, and several sessions shared ideas about not only building new energy efficient schools, but how to get the most efficiency from existing schools.

USGBC announced its new LEED for Schools rating system during a presentation at the Summit.  “This was one of the first opportunities for us to come to California and start a dialogue about LEED for Schools,” said Rachel Gutter, schools sector manager for USGBC.  

“I thought it was a very unique conference.  I go to a lot of conferences that address the subject of high performance schools, but this one was unique in that it brought together such a wide variety of stakeholders - architects, school boards, people in green schools design, construction, and maintenance.  I saw parents there, I met teachers.  I don’t know how you pulled together the outreach, but it was very well done.”
Rachel Gutter
Schools Sector Manager


In other sessions, attendees had opportunities to learn from and dialogue with the widest possible range of green schools leaders, from architects to indoor air quality experts to energy efficiency technologists.

Green schools are about more than buildings, they are also about land reclamation, landscaping for water retention, recycling, and using the school itself as a tool for teaching students about sustainability and the environment. Several sessions showcased the high-performance schools built by districts with explanations from architects, community members and others involved on how they met the design and funding challenges and the resulting benefits they have achieved.

“The most powerful aspect of the conference for my company was the mixture of participants.  Along with the vendors who were offering services and products for school buildings, there were teachers, administrators and agencies interested in curriculum issues.  Consequently there was an opportunity to create new relationships that you don’t get in conferences for strictly vertical markets, where everybody already knows each other.  I found business development opportunities with partners that I never would have seen in one place anywhere else.”
Dave Hendry
Real Curriculum


On the evening of December 5, the Disney Environmentality Challenge hosted a reception at the Castle Green, an historical landmark in Old Town Pasadena.  Environmentality award-winning teacher Bob Comlossy from the Lake Tahoe Environmental Magnet School spoke of the importance of building an awareness of environmental challenges among young students like his fifth graders.  

Following a second day of packed workshops, the closing general session on December 6 included keynotes by the lovable and quixotic Bill Nye the Science Guy, whose television series won 28 Emmys in five years, and An Inconvenient Truth producer Laurie David. David spoke, along with co-writer Cambria Gordon, about their new book, The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming, which offers suggestions on ways kids can help combat climate change.  

Michael Winters was surrounded by his students as he accepted the Green California Hall of Fame Educator Award for his unique, student-run research and development program at
Gabrielino High School.

Guy Mehula, chief facilities director at LAUSD, along with
Julie Korenstein, LAUSD Board Member, and Angelo Bellomo, Director of LAUSD Office of Environmental Health and Safety, received the District Award on behalf of LAUSD, which won for its $20 billion New School Construction and Modernization Program.

“I thought the event was really phenomenal, a great opportunity to discuss new ideas.  It was refreshing for me to run into folks who were not familiar with the school bond program (ID) at all. I look forward to bringing the State Allocation Board meeting to the next event in December and exposing board members to the sustainability dialogue. I walked around with some people that I had released school funding to, and who had actually built their schools, and they were impressed with what they saw at the Summit. That was the acid test for me.”
Rob Cook
Executive Officer
California Office of Public School Construction


As the last of the exhibits were broken down and loaded into trucks, stragglers still gathered outside the Civic trading business cards. Mud Baron, who works with LAUSD’s Department of Health Education as a school garden specialist, posted himself along the thoroughfare surrounded by batches of flowers.  As people passed by, they received roses in homegrown bouquets and gathered to hear stories of the many gardens Mud and LAUSD students care for – and to make plans to meet again at the Summit in 2009.



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