Teacher Liz Bullock with students at Green Acres School. Photo by Darren Higgins.
IN TUNE WITH NATURE
IT’S PROBABLY NO surprise that a school with “green” in its name and a heavily forested campus puts an emphasis on environmental stewardship.
But lately, Green Acres, a private school of about 275 students in North Bethesda, has stepped up its green game. In May, the school was awarded Maryland Green School status by the Maryland Association for Environmental & Outdoor Education.
Liz Bullock, who teaches fifth-grade science and sixth-grade math, says the honor was a culmination of the school’s long history of having a nature-based curriculum. A group of newer teachers including Bullock recently added ways to stress the importance of sustainability in other subjects.
“The environmental curriculum was already very well integrated in science and math,” Bullock says. “What we were able to do is inject some lessons into language arts, social studies, even Spanish class.”
Geography and topography are woven into discussions about cultures from around the world. Students in Spanish classes, for example, are asked to consider how environmental issues impact Latin America.
Signs of environmental awareness are visible all around the school. In September, sixth-graders mapped the entire 15-acre campus by tree type, labeling the trees with colored ribbons before cataloging each. Everyone on campus participates throughout the school year in a composting program. Last school year, third-graders ran a farmers market with vegetables grown on campus as part of Green Acres’ gardening program.
“Being outside is a big thing,” says Green Acres’ seventh-grader Alexandra Orenstein. “You just really feel connected to the environment.”
The school’s annual four-day outdoor education trip sends fifth-graders and teachers to Echo Hill Outdoor School on the Chesapeake Bay to study water and air quality, learn about the history of fishing and crabbing, and identify animal species.
Seventh-graders head to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia or to The Mountain Institute, where they learn about the importance of preserving mountain ecosystems at an educational facility on Spruce Mountain, West Virginia’s highest peak. On a trip to The Mountain Institute in September, students were tasked with creating a shelter, and counselors challenged them to reach the top of the mountain with only a map and a compass.
After the students return to school, teachers assign projects that reinforce the lessons learned. “We want to make sure it’s not just an event,” Bullock says. “We want the students to see the planning ahead of time and reflect afterward.”
JBG employees (standing left to right) Buji Tallapragada, Jessica Long, Debra Linowes, Heather Howard and (seated left to right) Amanda Lorch, Afi Edim, Alex Bonaparte
BUILDING SUSTAINABLE SPACES
EACH DESIGN DETAIL was considered from a green point of view when Chevy Chase-based developer The JBG Companies planned the new Rockville headquarters for the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
With two eight-story towers and nearly 580,000 square feet of space, NCI’s new headquarters has movable partition walls that eliminate the need to tear down and throw away building materials should floor plans change. Green roofs are staggered on lower levels of the building, allowing for views of the lush plantings from inside.
Enclosed offices are on the interior core of the building, rather than along the windows, allowing light to flow into open workspaces. It’s a far cry from the traditional office layout, where the best views and sunlight are reserved for executives in corner offices.
“The National Cancer Institute was a big driver in wanting to have a happy and healthy building and have that live, work, play attitude within their campus,” says Jessica Long, JBG’s sustainability manager.
Long is JBG’s resident expert on LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), the U.S. Green Building Council-sponsored program that rates how sustainable, energy-efficient and green a building is.
At JBG, one of the region’s largest property owners and building developers, the goal is to incorporate best green practices into everything the company does, Long says, whether it’s a new apartment project, an office building renovation or a property close to existing transit that encourages workers or residents out of their cars.
“A lot of what we’re doing is understanding our energy use, our water use, the way people come to and from our buildings,” Long says. “We have a ground-up approach and internal training so that we actually have people who understand the LEED program.”
The result is a LEED Gold certified building (the second-highest certification level after LEED Platinum) such as the NCI’s headquarters, which is also outfitted with an energy-saving lighting system that uses dimmers and motion-activated sensors, a stormwater retention pond, and two living green walls covered in ferns.
JBG’s portfolio boasts 41 buildings that are LEED certified, with another 68 such projects in the pipeline. Twenty-seven employees hold LEED accreditation.
“We’re different than many real estate developers because we try to make sustainable operating practices our standard,” Long says. “We’re not changing what we do based on the property. This is the way we operate our buildings.”
POPE FRANCIS’ JUNE ENCYCLICAL on the perils of climate change provided a welcome new voice for environmentalists. To those who know the Rev. Jacek Orzechowski, leader of St. Camillus Catholic Church in Silver Spring, the pope’s words sounded very familiar.
With support from followers at his church and area faith leaders, Orzechowski has become an outspoken advocate for environmental issues in Maryland and beyond.
In January, as part of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s Polar Bear Plunge, the Franciscan priest raised money for the group and jumped into the Potomac River in his clerical robe. He has lobbied lawmakers in Annapolis on allowing power-producing wind farms off Maryland’s coast (a bill eventually passed in 2013). In 2011, he was among a group of religious leaders arrested in front of the White House while protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. (He was later fined.)
“One reason I feel so passionate about protecting God’s creation is because of my own experiences and my love for the beauty of nature,” says Orzechowski, who enjoys hiking. “What I do in large part comes from a sense of gratitude about how precious it is and how valuable it is. But it is also recognition that, collectively, we are destroying God’s creation. It is a profound moral issue.”
As pastor of a church that celebrates Masses in three languages, Orzechowski says he’s most proud of his work with the parish’s large number of Hispanic worshippers, some of whom started a Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation committee that organizes an annual “EcoFest.” The event, held close to Earth Day, highlights sustainable living. Last year, an exhibit dedicated to healthy eating habits encouraged less reliance on red meat and more openness to vegan dishes.
Joelle Novey, the director of the local branch of Interfaith Power & Light, a national group that organizes religious leaders to fight climate change, has worked with Orzechowski on many state and local environmental issues. Novey says he regularly references St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century Catholic friar known for his teachings on nature and the environment—especially his message about the interrelatedness of creation and the responsibility of human beings to be mindful about the natural world.
“Father Jacek has definitely taken St. Francis out of the birdbath,” Novey says, referring to birdbaths often adorned with St. Francis’ image. “He’s determined to get that legacy out there because I think he feels there has been a diminishment of that message.”
WHEN LEADERS of large corporations want to transform portions of their properties into conservation areas, they’re likely to turn to a Silver Spring-based nonprofit that has helped orchestrate 827 such projects over its 27 years.
The 30 employees at the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) work with major companies across the country, including ExxonMobil and Lockheed Martin, to develop conservation projects—such as the installation of pollinator gardens and the construction of nature trails— and guide them through the process.
Two years ago in Dresden, Ohio, WHC helped Oldcastle Materials, a building materials company, convert a former sand, gravel and stone mine into a 96-acre wildlife habitat. The space has lakes, restored grasslands and carefully managed areas that are now home to herons, ospreys and bald eagles. WHC worked with the company and local leaders to open up the land to the community for educational projects and offer access to a trail and boat dock.
“Our perfect project is at an intersection of conservation, community and employee well-being,” says WHC President Margaret O’Gorman.
The group advised Pepco on its WaterShed Sustainablity Center in Rockville, a 900-square-foot home designed by University of Maryland students that won first place in the U.S.
Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon. Boy Scout troops use the facility to learn about water conservation and energy use.
WHC has also helped businesses with smaller projects, such as using rain gardens to collect stormwater before it hits sewer systems and using bee boxes to attract pollinators. Since major conservation can seem daunting, WHC encourages companies to start small and grow their project, O’Gorman says. It’s a strategy that has given new life to huge swaths of land
THE WASTE TRIMMERS
After starting a compost pile in his mom’s backyard, Flores had researched successful compost collection services for everyday food waste in Europe and on the West Coast. He saw an opportunity to do something similar in Montgomery County. “People here tend to see the value in paying extra to do the environmentally and socially right thing,” Walter says.
The business was established in 2011, and the two have grown the collection service to about 2,000 homes. The company hit the milestone of 1 million pounds of collected food waste earlier this year.
The Compost Crew does weekly pickups throughout the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore region for customers who are outfitted with an airtight 5-gallon bucket and compostable bag liners for their food waste—egg shells, produce peelings, spoiled leftovers—and contaminated paper products. The service costs $32 a month or $352 a year. The company takes the materials to a composting facility in Upper Marlboro, and every six months customers are offered the opportunity to take up to four one-cubic-foot sealed bags of the compost to use in their garden or yard.
Bethesda resident Doug McManus says his family received the service as a gift on a trial basis a few years ago. “It gave us more awareness about how much food we were wasting,” McManus says. “It’s amazing how much food you end up throwing out. We fill a 5-gallon bucket each week. Over a year, that turns into a lot of good organic material.”
Aaron Kraut is a senior writer for Bethesda Beat, the magazine’s daily online news briefing.