Sandy Spring Friends honored for being green
Piles of compost, a community garden, biodiesel fuel and a little faith went a long way in helping Sandy Spring Friends School being named one of the most environmentally friendly educational institutions on earth.
In April, the Earth Day Network, the official organizing committee for Earth Day in the U.S., recognized Sandy Spring Friends as one of the 40 greenest schools in the world.
On its website, www.earthday.net, the Earth Day Network praises the institution founded on Quaker principles for its "forty year tradition of embracing environmental education and sustainable practices."
Green initiatives can be found all around the school's campus. Biodegradable cups and utensils are used in the dining halls, and all-natural cleaning products and additives are used to maintain buildings and campus grounds. When available, biodiesel fuel made from cooking oil and other fats power school buses. Locust wood collected from dead trees is used to make benches and fences.
One of the school's hallmarks is its award-winning compost program.
Sandy Spring Friends School's director of operations, Laura Miyoshi, said all recyclable waste from the campus, including food scraps, wood chips and horse manure, are composted and used in the community garden to grow vegetables that are then harvested and served in the school's dining hall.
The program, which earned a Smart Organizations Reduce and Recycle Tons award in 2006 from the Montgomery County Division of Solid Waste Services, resulted in a reduction of waste output by one-third.
An environmental education is instilled early at Sandy Spring Friends.
Students in the Lower School, beginning in preschool and kindergarten, begin depositing leftover food scraps lunches into their own compost piles and planting vegetables in their own garden.
The science curriculum in the Middle School sixth to eighth grades is devoted to the study of alternative energies, oceanography and ecosystems, while the Upper School students ninth to 12th grades have the option of taking a geology course that focuses on the physical study of the school's campus.
An Energy Garden was created in 2007 to grow sunflowers to be made into a biodiesel fuel to power the school's buses. The garden was created as part of the school's Roots & Shoots program, a youth-driven organization guided by the principles of the Jane Goodall Institute to foster respect and compassion for all living things.
Some of the seeds are roasted to eat while others are ground to make meal, and the oil is extracted to make the biodiesel fuel, as well as soap.
"In reality, the students are way ahead of us," said Ken Smith, head of Sandy Spring Friends. "Many of these great ideas come from them."
A cleaner campus isn't the only green Sandy Spring Friends School sees. In 2009, the installation of LED lights, ductwork and heating and air conditioning controllers on campus resulted in a 26 percent reduction in utility usage and an annual savings of $100,000, Miyoshi said.
"There's [a rate of return] on everything. We got our payback in six months when salespeople said it would take two to three years," she said. "The expense and savings were substantial."
Despite the savings, the school's green movement is not for financial incentive; it is instilled in the religious teachings of Quakerism. As a school affiliated with the Religious Society of Friends, students are taught the six guiding testimonies of the Quaker faith: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship.
"One of the tenets of Quakerism is being a good steward to the environment," Miyoshi said. "Before [going green] was trendy, before everyone was doing it, the school was doing it."
Area Quaker schools joined together April 28 to 30 on the campus of Sandy Spring Friends for the Friends Environmental Education Network's annual Environmental Education Conference, which is devoted to teaching eighth-graders about service and sustainability.
Quaker schools such Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C., employ green initiatives on their own campuses, Smith said.
After 14 years as head of the school, Smith will leave Sandy Spring Friends to retire in Colorado with his wife, Jan. The couple recently devoted their time and energy to establishing a green initiatives fund that will be used to enhance the school's community garden and other green projects in the future. Thanks to the efforts of the Smiths and others, more than $100,000 has been raised so far.
"I remember my dad saying you should be ashamed to leave any place unless you've left it better than when you came," Smith said. "I'd like to think the kids leave Sandy Spring Friends better than it was when they came."