West Hollow Models the Climate Neutral Now Pledge for US School Communities
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West Hollow students sought to create a model that other US schools could follow by identifying the greatest contributions to the school’s carbon footprint and taking measures to reduce it.

In addition to contributing to SDG 13 (climate action), efforts have been made to advance SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) and SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production).

Schools in the US, the UK, Mexico and Finland have agreed to take the Climate Neutral Now pledge using West Hollow’s story as guidance.

The Climate Neutral Now (CNN) pledge of West Hollow Middle School has allowed students and faculty to not only become aware of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but understand how we can actively work towards reducing them. In addition, our school was able to spread the message throughout the community by engaging in a social media campaign to help drive enthusiasm and raise awareness.

West Hollow students wanted to create a model that other US schools could follow. To do so, we looked at the greatest contributions we were making to our carbon footprint. We contacted our central administration to generate our electric usage for the previous academic calendar year and found this number to be 1.2 million kWh. This was a staggering number that caused us to begin looking very closely into our building’s energy efficiency.

In addition to contributing to SDG 13 (climate action), efforts have been made to advance SDG 7 as we hope to incorporate clean and affordable energy at West Hollow. Since our original calculations, plans have been put in place to equip classrooms with motion detected light switches that will shut off the lights when the room is not in use. Our school’s thermostat has been altered to modify the temperature at which the air conditioning operates, and staff has been notified to ensure that all windows remain closed during the hours of operation. We have also decided to cease the operation of the air conditioning during the hours that the building is not in use. This is a new practice that is a direct result of our efforts to decrease our emissions.

Our building principal, Steven Hauk, has begun work on laying the foundation for equipping the roof of our school building with solar panels to offset our electric usage. This will be a major endeavor as funding this project will require a large amount of outside contributions. It is our hope to pursue this front as part of engaging in a number of international partnership programmes. West Hollow would become one of the first to incorporate such practices in our part of New York State.

SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) is another area of emphasis of West Hollow students and faculty. Our school building has engaged in a major upheaval in our sustainability practices related to the collection and recycling of plastics and paper. To help raise funds for the purchase of our certified emission reduction (CER) credits, West Hollow students sold reusable water bottles during lunch periods. This was in combination with the installation of water bottle filling stations in heavy traffic areas of the building. A final measure taken was to strategically place plastic bottle and paper collection bins around the school building. Students and faculty volunteer their time at the end of each week to consolidate and bag the material for pickup. Due to the fact that our local waste management contractors do not pick up or sort plastics and paper, we had to seek out businesses within the community to pick up and dispose of these materials in a responsible manner.

While the CER purchase through student fundraising was what allowed us to become climate neutral, the most successful part of our effort has been in spreading the word throughout the community and to other school districts around the world. Our students led a live broadcast to introduce the concept of our pledge to the entire student body and staff of nearly 1,500 people. This sparked amazing support and enthusiasm which was then chronicled using a social media campaign on Instagram under the hashtag #TinyActsAddUp. Our school community documented and shared their sustainable acts with one another while tagging and challenging others to do the same.

Our three student climate change ambassadors, Mason Herman, Konadu-Yiadom “Tiny” Boadu and Edward Grimm, then shot and edited a brief promotional video that was sent to the UNFCCC. Using the footage of our broadcast and promotional video, West Hollow’s work was celebrated through an article shared on an international stage via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For this effort, they have since been honored with proclamations from local government legislators that recognize their pursuit of climate neutrality.

Our first official community outreach opportunity has come in the form of a local rabbi from Temple Beth Torah, requesting guidance on how to become more sustainable and potentially signing the Climate Neutral Now pledge for themselves. When successfully implemented, West Hollow and Temple Beth Torah intend to lead a charge in which religious leaders from other houses of worship within the community come together for an interfaith climate neutrality project. This could be an excellent first step in achieving our goal of reaching our community and becoming a model that directs the efforts of other institutions on a number of levels.

West Hollow was afforded an opportunity to turn their work into official curriculum that can be accessed by any group interested in becoming a part of the UNFCCC CNN pledge for themselves. Our efforts were recently shared at an International School Linking conference held in Cardiff, UK, where schools from around the world were able to see the results of our programme. Schools in the US, the UK, Mexico and Finland have agreed to take the pledge themselves using our story as guidance. While there, we were also introduced to and extended our scope to participate in the UN’s #Beat Plastic Pollution campaign. West Hollow is hopeful to have an opportunity to share our journey at the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 24) to the UNFCCC in Katowice, Poland, later this year. In all, this has been an outstanding opportunity to give our students the ability to think globally and act locally.

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Mason Herman, Konadu-Yiadom “Tiny” Boadu and Edward Grimm co-authored this article with Christopher Regini, science teacher at West Hollow Middle School.

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