Ghita Carroll, PhD Sustainability Coordinator, Boulder Valley School District (Boulder, Colorado)

This blog post is the last in a series of Q&As that feature GSNN partners describing best practices and lessons learned on topics tied to each of the impact systems in the GreenPrint. This Q&A focuses on the Facilities and Operations system.

Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) is a national leader in sustainability practices. What role has the district’s sustainability management system played in advancing BVSD’s commitment to sustainability at the facilities and operations level?

The combination of having a comprehensive sustainability plan and board-level support has been key to the success we’ve had in integrating sustainability into facilities and operations. We implemented our initial Sustainability Management System in 2009 and established a Board of Education policy that supported the plan’s goals and action steps. The plan included aggressive long-term goals, including one to be carbon neutral by 2050, at the time a huge step for a public school district to take. The board policy directs the superintendent to “monitor, evaluate, and report on the district’s progress toward sustainability.” This board-level support was also unique at the time and has been a critical component to the plan’s success, helping maintain sustainability as a priority through leadership changes.

Our sustainability plan is comprehensive and integrates sustainability into our practices operationally and educationally. The plan includes goals around zero waste, transportation, environmental literacy, professional development, partnership work, and more. The goals stated in the plan have been articulated and embedded into planning and decision-making for facilities improvements and day-to-day operations. Having the plan in place with stated goals, particularly around energy efficiency, put us in a solid position for integrating sustainability into planning for our recent major capital improvement program. Our energy efficiency goals led us to use an integrated design process for larger renovation projects and new construction, making energy efficiency a design priority from the beginning. All sustainability priorities have been embedded into technical specifications that are used for construction projects. Sustainability goals are articulated to project teams and tracked throughout every project, holding each project and all team members accountable.

One area where BVSD shines brightly is in waste management. Describe some of the district’s innovative waste reduction programs and initiatives.

BVSD hit an impressive goal of 50% waste diversion over the past five years. We hope to maintain or improve on our 50% waste diversion rate over the next five years. Our long-term goal is zero-waste practices at all sites, and in the next few years we want to streamline a data collection system that will enable more specific interventions to increase our diversion rate. For example, we are piloting a sensor project with our waste vendors that will help us measure dumpster capacity upon collection and identify contamination issues.

Having partners like Eco-Cycle is invaluable to the work we’re doing. Eco-Cycle is not just our compost and recycling hauler. They work with our schools to train, educate, and maintain excellent zero-waste programming and offer an array of presentations and training on other environmental topics. This is such a critical component that we built it into our request for proposals for waste processing services. We know that we would be missing the mark in our sustainability work if educating our students about it wasn’t at the core. Teaching students how to live sustainably on the planet through example is the biggest impact we can have as a district.

Reducing food waste is also an important goal at BVSD. What steps are foodservice staff taking to accomplish this goal?

Since 2017, the School Food Project has installed LeanPath food waste tracking systems in their production kitchens and in ten school cafeterias. LeanPath systems track pre- and post-consumer waste in various parts of our operation and provide real-time feedback to those generating the waste. The machines also provide data about what’s being composted in the district’s kitchens and cafeterias. From trimmings to overproduction, the machines give foodservice staff a better idea of where food is being wasted and how to make improvements in waste reduction along every step of the production process. These program improvements allow them to reinvest the cost savings into procurement efforts and offer higher quality school meals to the district’s 30,000 students. You can find more info here about this program.

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is receiving renewed attention in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. What steps has BVSD taken to strengthen its IAQ efforts over the last several years?

BVSD created a District IAQ Team in 2016 to act as an advisory committee to the Board of Education and superintendent. The purpose of the team is to disseminate information, register complaints and direct responses, and communicate air quality issues and status at district schools to school administration, staff, students, and parents. The team has an impressive list of accomplishments that has established BVSD as a leader in protecting IAQ in schools and yielded results that have improved learning environments. Thanks to the team’s work, BVSD Operations has institutionalized practices and protocols for responding to IAQ issues in district buildings.

BVSD has improved IAQ by making renovations to HVAC systems and commissioning all bond and construction projects, which ensures that all systems are operating to maximize comfort and efficiency. Before and after all bond-funded projects, the district, along with Dr. Richard Shaughnessy of the University of Tulsa Indoor Air Program, collects data on thermal conditions, ventilation adequacy, and cleaning effectiveness. Visual inspections review 26 items, including odors, trash, carpet conditions, pest infestations, and pets and plants in classrooms. Surveys distributed to faculty and staff have identified potential issues that may negatively impact IAQ in classrooms. BVSD also collects health data as part of absentee notices and reviews that data for any correlation between IAQ and health. The purpose of collecting this data prior to renovation is to establish a baseline and provide guidance on how to improve overall IAQ. As part of the 2014 Bond Project, BVSD provided new schools with guidelines (recommended by the IAQ team) for maintaining good IAQ, including restricting personal furniture, plants, and pets in the first year to minimize allergens, dust, and mold.

During the 2019 – 2020 school year, the IAQ team created policy and standard operating procedures around IAQ and integrated pest management. The language was finalized and incorporated into board policy in June 2021. In addition, the IAQ team developed standard operating procedures that were put into practice in 2021 that included recommendations for non-toxic school supplies and ensuring that green cleaning practices and non-toxic products are used throughout the district.

Of course, COVID-19 was a shock to everyone’s systems. We learned along with everyone else how to respond and create healthy spaces for students, teachers, and staff. Much of what we put in place through the bond program and with our IAQ work over the years helped us to prepare our response. During the 2020 – 2021 school year, IAQ team meetings focused on updates around reopening and plans to address IAQ in light of COVID-19. The team was very supportive of this work and the plans BVSD had in place, including increasing ventilation, continued measurement of CO2, enhanced cleaning, expanding use of the outdoors, and adding air purifiers throughout the district.