Case studies on the 2018 winners of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC)’s Greenest School in Canada competition.
Demonstrating long-term commitment towards sustainability and making their communities greener through a variety of environmental projects and activities, this year’s winners of Greenest School in Canada competition are nurturing the next generation of green building leaders.
First Place Winners (Tie)
Lacombe Composite High School in Lacombe, AB
A key goal for Lacombe Composite High School, an 850-student school located in a small central Alberta city, is to cultivate student leaders and provide them with the opportunity to make a difference for the environment, their school and community. With this in mind, the school offers green programs as part of its curriculum and encourages students to create their own innovative, sustainable projects.
Incorporating green projects into educational initiatives
Sustainability is woven throughout the school’s programming, including several large-scale projects planned and implemented by students who are part of the EcoVision environmental club. Over the past 15 years, the club’s members have researched, led and raised funds for initiatives such as:
- 32 solar arrays totalling six kW, along with a portable solar array and solar cars for the classroom;
- A 42-foot, energy-efficient geodesic tropical greenhouse with geothermal heat storage;
- Outdoor gardens with 40 raised beds, 125 fruit trees, 10 picnic tables, birdhouses, bat houses and evergreen trees;
- A Smart Drip irrigation system for all the school’s gardens that helps to reduce water use;
- A commercial aquaponics system for tilapia in the greenhouse, and another portable aquaponics systems in the common area;
- Several indoor gardens, including EarthBox container gardens in two classrooms, a tower garden, and Urban Cultivators growing herbs for the school’s food programs;
- Thermal and vermicomposting; and
- An urban beekeeping program with three hives and 20+ Lacombe residents.
Lacombe Composite High School also provides many other green activities and programs, including:
- A 10-12 agriculture program;
- A Beekeeping Green Certificate 16+ credit program;
- Use of the greenhouse and gardens by classes and for tours, health and wellness workshops and conferences;
- Field trips to Earth University in Costa Rica, Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton, and Journey 2050 on the Calgary Stampede grounds; and
- Utilization of the food produced by the school’s gardens in its food classes.
Reducing, reusing and recycling
The school has successfully reduced its waste, water and energy consumption and fossil fuel use through efforts such as:
- Complete composting of about 25 kg of organic waste from its kitchen per month, using three thermal composite systems and half a dozen vermi-composite systems;
- Decreased fossil fuel use with solar panels estimated to be around five per cent of electric energy use;
- Reduction of natural gas heating in the greenhouse with the use of geothermal heat storage, evacuated tubes providing solar heat to the fish tank, and four-layer polycarbonate panels providing R5 insulation;
- Usage of low-flow toilets, sensor-activated sinks and water bottle refill stations;
- Recycling of fish waste in the aquaponics system;
- Recycling of paper and cardboard, and juice, pop and milk containers, with funds from container recycling used for special education programs such as Skills Alberta;
- Deep garbage bins that allow waste to compost and are only picked up once a year, decreasing collection costs and fossil fuel use;
- Installation of automatic lights in the bathrooms and some classrooms; signage to remind teachers to turn off lights; and
- An auto shutoff computer program.
Getting the community involved
With all of its projects, Lacombe Composite High School partners with the community on building and implementation, and to share training and advice. Through an Adopt a Garden initiative started by its agricultural program, the school gets community members to help take care of its gardens over the summer months, and local groups are invited to speak about environmental topics in classes.
These programs feed into Lacombe’s larger goal of providing an environment that fosters mental, physical and emotional growth while encouraging responsibility, respect and understanding.
Trinity College School in Port Hope, ON
Trinity College School has made it a priority to provide opportunities for students to develop the knowledge and skills that foster sustainability literacy as part of academic and co-curricular activities for its 450 students in grades 5 through 12. It’s all part of a five-year Sustainability Plan focused on reducing environmental footprint and the creation of a healthy, sustainable community.
The “three Cs” of a green school
For Trinity College School, a green school is embodied in three ways: campus, curriculum and culture. As such, the school offers many opportunities for students to learn more about sustainability, from studying examples of green cities to offering outdoor education classes and environmental studies courses. Its Junior School outdoor classroom has conducted activities such as seeding a pollinator meadow, building bee hotels and planting vegetable gardens to learn about sustainable food practices. In order to plan for even more improvements beyond what is required by the Ontario Ministry of Education, it is currently in the process of benchmarking its sustainability curriculum for all of its classes and subject areas.
There are also a number of co-curricular activities focused on sustainability, including:
- A “Farm Field Forest” initiative that runs three days a week, enabling students to build a greenhouse and shed and work on a half-acre farm that harvests vegetables for the school’s dining room and the local community health centre;
- Programming to help with the local outdoor education centre and a poverty coalition garden;
- An annual student tree-planting campaign adding hundreds of shrubs and trees each year in honour of veterans;
- Environmental “Service Saturdays” encouraging students to participate in activities such as shoreline cleanups;
- A year-round competition among the 10 Senior School houses that awards points towards a “Green Cup” trophy for taking eco-actions; and
- Annual sustainability awards for students who demonstrate significant leadership and service towards the environment.
In addition, the school promotes sustainable food production by sourcing 100 per cent of its beef and in-season vegetables locally, and it works to create a greener habitat by preserving chimneys for endangered chimney swifts, removing invasive species such as garlic mustard, and inoculating a 300-year-old ash tree to save it from the emerald ash borer.
These initiatives have helped the school achieve 106 of the 144 objectives outlined in its five-year sustainability plan, with one year left to go. Meanwhile, building a sustainable future continues to be a core pillar of Trinity College School’s overall strategic plan. To this end, the school has established a Green Revolving Fund using the savings from its retrofits that can be applied towards future projects.
Driving results in energy and water savings and waste diversion
Over the past five years, Trinity College School has decreased its natural gas consumption by 23 per cent, an achievement it attributes to window replacements and upgrades to its building automation systems and boilers. More technology improvements are in the pipeline to further reduce its natural gas usage, which currently accounts for 60 per cent of its 2,000 tonnes CO2e annually.
The school is also making significant efforts to manage its annual energy consumption through the following measures:
- Regular electricity audits;
- Power-down campaigns;
- A major lighting retrofit involving the switching over of 80 outdoor lamps, all indoor gym bay lights and all arena lights to LED;
- Equipping all new buildings with passive solar lighting systems;
- Usage of light occupancy sensors; and
- Planned installation of a 400 kW solar photovoltaic array, 220 kW of which has currently been completed.
The annual waste diversion rate has improved to 70 per cent from 40 per cent. To reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, the school sends its kitchen waste to a farm, unused food is turned into soups and sauces, and composting occurs in Trinity’s Junior School and farm program.
Lastly, water consumption has been reduced by about 11 per cent through water device audits and replacements, and rainwater is collected and used in the school’s garden programs. The school also works to reduce its footprint by purchasing carbon offsets on some trips taken overseas and by its headmaster, promoting carpooling, and by encouraging students to cycle more often and teaching them how to repair their bicycles in a bike shop started by teachers and students.
Making health and wellness a priority
The school’s facilities demonstrate a clear focus on providing a healthy environment for both students and teachers, beginning with its location on a 100-acre campus with naturalized areas featuring high biodiversity, offering inspiring views from large, openable windows in all classrooms. Air quality is tested regularly and the school has made efforts to improve lighting quality, with staff testing lumens in each area to ensure sufficient brightness for productivity and wellness.
Trinity also features a significant amount of greenery throughout the campus, with a green wall that filters rainwater and improves air quality, plants growing in all of its Junior School classrooms and some of its residence rooms, and native plant gardens created by students.
Students are encouraged to go outside through mandatory fitness programs and a weekly outdoor classroom throughout the year, with wellness weeks organized in the winter.
Among the students themselves, the 30-member Trinity Environmental Action Club takes the lead on developing sustainability solutions to lower the school’s footprint. From fundraising for a bottle fill station to help eliminate plastic water bottles on campus, to organizing themed assemblies on recycling, water and energy conservation such as a “Polar Bear Day” highlighting the issue of climate change, the club exemplifies the school’s commitment towards providing ways for students to demonstrate environmental responsibility and leadership.
Westwood Community High School in Fort McMurray, AB
As the prototype for a sustainable school in Fort McMurray, Westwood Community High School is the first in the city to launch green initiatives such as solar panels, greenhouses, rainwater harvesting and a pilot program for school recycling.
Featuring an environmental club with a mandate of grant-funded experiential environmental projects and an overarching goal of demonstrating the net zero principle, Westwood Community High School has taken a leadership role in challenging other schools in the area to up their ecological game.
Here are some key elements of its green school story:
- Environmental club: Since 2012, the school’s environmental club has raised more than $70,000 through grants and contests towards projects ranging from urban farming to climate leadership to sustainable environmental technology.
- Farm to Table program: Produce grown by students from spring to summer in two teaching greenhouses and an outdoor garden is then used as theme ingredients for cooking in the fall.
- Composting: Vermicomposting is utilized to reduce waste, and the school recently acquired five digester cone composters for large-scale composting. Food scraps from the Farm to Table program are also composted next to growing crops.
- Solar: Westwood Community High School’s solar array has produced 1.77 MWh of energy since 2014. The school has four rooftop photovoltaic solar panels, generating power for several solar-powered projects including its automatic water bottle filling stations, and a living wall and aquarium for urban farming in the classroom. Solar-powered irrigation pumps are used for its crops, and a system using only solar and wind energy has been constructed for its geodesic dome greenhouse.
- School recycling pilot project: In 2018, the school began a partnership with the municipal government as the city’s pilot school for collection of paper, cardboard, plastic, glass and packaging waste, which is anticipated to become available to other schools by 2019.
- Water bottle filling stations: The first school in the city to have automatic water bottle filling stations, Westwood has had more than 25,000 fills since installation of the units.
- Rainwater harvesting: Since 2014, the school has eliminated all dependence on municipal water for its gardens and greenhouses through the usage of harvested rainwater.
- Health and well-being: Air quality has been improved through an overhaul of the central air circulation and filtration system, and most classrooms have outward-facing windows to maximize natural daylight.
- Giving back:The school has partnered with the municipal teen sustainability mentorship program, and students contribute regularly to a provincially sponsored climate leadership youth network tasked with weaving sustainability into the language of the provincial curriculum.
Churchill Community High School in La Ronge, SK
Churchill Community High School is a Grade 7-12 school located in the boreal forest region by Lac La Ronge. Environmental sustainability, stewardship and respect for the land is a core priority for the school as part of its focus on First Nations and Métis culture, with land-based education and traditional indigenous teachings about nature featuring prominently in its programming.
Here are some key elements of its green school story:
- Northern Lifestyles class: A locally developed Northern Lifestyles course provides students with land-based education that utilizes the local boreal forest and teaches them traditional First Nations skills such as learning about medicinal plants, sustainability and how to treat nature with respect.
- Waste reduction: The school has saved 73,050 plastic bottles with the installation of filtered water bottle filling stations, and at lunchtime, students set up a recycling centre to collect and sort recyclables and compost.
- Plants and gardens: Food waste is composted to create soil for the school’s garden, which produces food that is cooked and served to students. One of the classrooms has an indoor greenhouse where students learn about horticulture and grow plants for fundraisers, and construction will soon begin on an outdoor classroom and traditional/medicinal plant garden.
- Green building features: Renovations in the past few years have included the installation of solar panels to help offset hot water production, dual-flush toilets, motion-sensitive taps and lighting.
- Health and wellness: The majority of classrooms have access to natural light through windows or skylights, and students’ needs are accommodated through the availability of standing desks, Hokki stools, pedal desks and tread desks. The physical education program makes year-round use of the school’s location in the boreal forest region.
- Eco-Conferences: The school hosted its first-ever Northern Saskatchewan Student Eco-Conference in March 2017 for grades 10 to 12, providing workshops on community gardens, invasive species, composting, indoor gardens and solar energy. It also held an eco-conference to allow its Grade 7 to 9 students to learn about topics such as garbage sorting, forestry and wildlife, carbon footprint, recycling and wild rice plants.
- Community involvement: Local First Nations Elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers are an important source of knowledge for students. Both staff and students participate in spring community cleanups.