The next generation in sustainable, energy-conscious thinking

by Richard Donnelly, Strategic Planning Manager

Twenty years ago, not much was taught in schools about energy and building science. Today, energy challenges and solutions are taking center stage in classrooms across Vermont, from elementary schools to graduate schools. We recently spoke with people at one of them, and what we learned was encouraging.

At Saint Albans City School, students lead the way

Eighth grader Gabbi Ward of Saint Albans Middle School is accustomed to collaborative problem-solving. As head of her school’s energy committee, she has seen what effective teamwork can accomplish. Over the past five years, students have transformed the way their school uses energy. They made the case for a new energy-efficient heating and ventilation system, lighting, and other improvements that have made a real difference in energy consumption—and comfort—at the school.

Data-tracking shows that energy efficiency pays off

Since the students began tracking their work in 2012, as part of Efficiency Vermont’s Whole School Energy Challenge Pilot, they have reduced their school’s energy load by a total of 2.5%, even though a substantial construction project increased the school’s consumption in the spring and summer of 2012.

More recently, the students began implementing a  “Hibernation Vacation” initiative: an encouraging call to action for students and teachers to turn off equipment before leaving for weekends and vacations.

Innovation through inquiry: empowering students to think beyond what is known

Gabbi’s teacher Peter Deslauriers tells his students there are two ways of tackling the energy supply versus demand problem: “We can look at alternative energy sources—and certainly there may be more out there that we haven’t discovered yet. Or we can save the energy we already have and use it wisely, through conservation.”

Says Peter, “We encourage our students to be clever and imaginative. Study what everyone else has done, yes, but don’t stop there. Think of new ways to solve problems. The kids aren’t looking to what their teachers know. They’re building on what we give them and going beyond it. That’s what science is. It’s going beyond what’s known.”

How have you made the “invisible” visible?

Energy efficiency and conservation opportunities can sometimes seem invisible; especially compared to renewables like solar and wind. By inspiring students and others to think creatively and as innovators, the success they have will not only reduce energy use, but also help change the way the see their world.

“You can learn more about how Vermont schools are saving energy through Project Green School,  a statewide collaboration led by Efficiency Vermont and the Vermont Superintendents Association’s School Energy Management Program (VSA-SEMP) to help all schools meet the standards for energy efficiency. But we’d like to learn from you. In what ways have you tapped into the power of imagination and made the “invisible” visible, related to energy or not?

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