SMMUSD Sustainability Coordinator Caroline Coster Wins Scholarship to Study, um, Sustainability.
"We needed to figure out what sustainability means," she said. "And we had to put boundaries around what was feasible."
November 27, 2019
It should be no surprise that the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has a Sustainability Coordinator. This is Santa Monica (and Malibu). Of course we would employ someone to focus on sustainability (whatever that means) in the school district.
What surprised me was to learn the Sustainability Coordinator had no staff.
"I'm the only one," Caroline Coster, SC for the SMMUSD told me. "And I have no budget."
Without dedicated funds and, perhaps, lonely, Coster applied forand wona prestigious Green Schools Scholarship. The scholarship is endowed by the U.S. Green Building Council, the nonprofit organization that certifies buildings using its LEED green building rating system. Santa Monica is one of only 5 school districts internationally that obtained a scholarship this year. Valued at $20,000, the scholarship pays all expenses for the winner to attend four school sustainability-related conferences throughout the coming year. It also provides complimentary access to curriculum and training resources, such as the Learning Lab.
Coster said she applied because "the best way to learn is to meet other schools and speak to people in the field doing the same things." She will be both learning and presenting at the conferences regarding educating about and achieving sustainability for schools.
The dedication of the school district to sustainability is relatively new. According to Coster, community members showed up in force at a school board meeting sometime in 2017 and demanded they do something about making the school facilities more sustainable. (Apparently, these were not parents of school kids - who would be more likely to demand things like additional teachers or dumping Common Core.)
"We were really, really far behind," Coster said regarding the district's actions toward sustainability.
She was hired soon after to take on the task of getting more sustainability in the district. "We needed to figure out what sustainability means," she said. "And we had to put boundaries around what was feasible."
Coster came up with a sustainability plan that now involves hundreds of strategies, such as "reduce landfill waste by 45 percent." Coster's job is to make sure these strategies are carried out. She manages waste education and makes sure the appropriate waste bins are set up to allow for appropriate recovery and food composting. She coordinates with the purchasing department to make sure they are buying recycled/recyclable paper.
Coster, who has degrees in environmental science, says her personal goal is to make sustainability no longer an "extra." She doesn't want to hear "When we have time or funding, we'll get to it." She would like to see sustainability fully integrated into the district's operations and facilities, with everyone in the mindset of doing the necessary things to make the district run as environmentally sustainable as possible.
She said that in a very short time, SMMUSD has become "recognized as doing great things with sustainability and school districts are turning to us as an example. We're becoming a leader in sustainability. That was recognized in the scholarship."
Beyond that, I suspect she would like a budget.