By. Tim Cole, Sustainability Officer for Virginia Beach City Public Schools and Green Schools National Network Board Member


It’s been a tumultuous year in politics and the rhetoric around the election has provided us with… let’s just say, a multitude of “teachable moments.”


In a recent news story on titled “Post-election comments prompt principal’s letter to embrace shared values in Virginia Beach,” Dr. Alex Bergren, Principal at Princess Anne Middle School in Virginia Beach, recently sent a letter home to parents addressing an increase in what he described as “disrespectful and at times hateful comments.” Dr. Bergren did a great job addressing the issue in a thoughtful and non-partisan way. You can read the full letter here.


In his letter, Dr. Bergren talks about respect and inclusion. These are subjects that are prevalent in any meaningful discussion around sustainability. Furthermore, by discussing sustainability in the context of the Triple Bottom Line, balancing social, economic, and environmental outcomes becomes part of our daily decision making process and allows us to explore the interconnectedness and interdependencies that we not only have with one another, but with everything within our universe. Expand this perspective and our discussion begins to explore larger issues around equity, inclusion, and empathy.


Recently, there was an interesting discussion between David Brooks (Columnist, New York Times) and E. J. Dionne (Columnist, Washington Post) on Sinfulness, Hopefulness, and the Possibility of Politics. David Brooks mentioned the following piece of advice that was sent to him:


DR. BROOKS: I was once writing in a newspaper column. I was griping about how hard it was to get people to be good by my lectures to them in my classroom, and I got an email from a guy named Dave Jolly who is a veterinarian in Oregon. He said, “What a wise person says is the least of that which he gives. What gets communicated is the small gestures and the whole totality of their being, that is to say the small gestures of kindness, of grace, of honesty, of hard truth-telling.” And then he says, “Never forget the message is the person.” And those words rang in — because we deal in the words all the time, but those sentences, “What a wise person says is the least of that which he gives,” and, “The message is the person,” struck me as profoundly true.


As we head into the holidays, consider how you can integrate the Triple Bottom Line into your sustainability efforts, be they in the classroom, the school building and grounds,  or in the decisions you make to improve the health, well-being, and culture of your school or district. No effort is too small. Others will follow your example. It starts at the level of the individual. “The message is the person.”


Tim Cole is the Sustainability Officer for Virginia Beach City Public Schools . Tim was instrumental in the promotion and development of the first LEED certified elementary School in Virginia — Hermitage Elementary– as well as the first K-12 LEED Platinum Transportation and Maintenance Facility in the country. Under Tim’s leadership, Virginia Beach City Public Schools has constructed over 1.6 million square feet of LEED building space and was selected as the “Best Green School District” in the United States by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2012. Tim is an ex-Navy SEAL and holds a Bachelors of Architecture from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.