I was halfway done with the application before my coworker had finished telling my company about the USGBC Northern California Impact Committee’s latest initiative. In early 2018, the committee began looking for consultants willing to volunteer their time and skills to develop a sustainability baseline for local schools and churches that couldn’t afford the services otherwise. As a new San Francisco resident, this presented a unique opportunity to do what I loved while positively impacting the community of which I had just become a part.
Motivating the next generation
I was paired up with Valerie Ziegler at San Francisco Public Schools (SFUSD)'s Abraham Lincoln High School. She was instrumental in establishing the high school's Green Academy, a multi-year program that “strives to teach students to discover and implement new solutions to environmental issues.” Because this curriculum encourages hands-on, real-world experiences, Valerie suggested that we enlist the Green Academy students to collect data to benchmark their school.
Over the course of 2018, I was lucky enough to work with dozens of students to use Arc to collect data on energy, water, waste, transportation and indoor environmental quality. I was continually impressed by the students’ knowledge and curiosity, as well as the breadth of the Green Academy curriculum, which includes courses in engineering, economics and science.
While the data we collected is useful to the school administration, the truly invaluable part, to me, was the interactions and experiences this program fostered for all involved. I came away with the optimistic realization that our youth is now more educated, empowered and motivated to take action than any previous generation.
This experience also served as a reminder that although great strides have been made, our industry needs to continue working toward equitable access to sustainable and healthy buildings. Valerie Ziegler noted at a recent event that “there is often a disconnect between what we study and what students see in their real lives. Green architectural design isn't accessible in public schools or public housing, so it often seems an abstract concept that is reserved for the wealthy."
A call for rapid action
Due to the success of this program, USGBC invited Valerie and me to share our experiences and learn from community leaders across the country at the Communities and Affordable Homes Summit, hosted a day before Greenbuild 2018 in Chicago.
While we were there discussing success and challenges, we were struck with a poignant reminder of the realities of our climate crisis: San Francisco schools had been forced to close due to smoke from the Camp wildfire. The health warning and school closure notifications flooding Valerie’s phone underscored the need for immediate action toward our common goal: ensuring that everyone, present and future, has access to a safe, healthy and sustainable world.
Make an impact—volunteer today
This experience opened doors to many other volunteer opportunities within SFUSD, such as judging green building design projects, inviting students into our office to job shadow and sharing experiences on a career panel. If you’d like to volunteer with SFUSD, please reach out to Valerie Ziegler. Also, please consider joining the USGBC Northern California Impact Committee by contacting Tatiana Gefter.