The Montgomery County school board is considering updating its sustainability policy, with an “extremely aggressive” goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in five years.

The target would align with the county’s “climate action plan” unveiled in June by County Executive Marc Elrich.

The county plan also aims to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions completely by 2035, another marker the school district’s policy would adopt, if the changes are approved in May.

MCPS Director of Facilities Management Seth Adams told the school board last week that the goals are attainable, but will “have a big fiscal impact.”

“In full disclosure to the board, a policy with these goals will impact everything we do in this school system and school district,” Adams said.

He said that not only will committing to such goals “drastically increase” the cost of some building projects, it will also change the district’s approach to things like snow removal and procurement.

Advertisement

“Is it doable? I think absolutely, but it would change a lot of the current practices we have today, and it would do it in a pretty aggressive manner in order to meet these goals,” Adams said. But, he added, county officials have committed to providing the additional financial resources needed.

MCPS’ strategy would include using technology to manage water and energy consumption; designing buildings to “increase sustainability and resilience;” possibly collocating schools with other government facilities; using tree canopies to minimize heat islands; and increasing its emphasis on sustainability and climate change in its curriculum.

“We, as a school system, can make this mark and we can make a difference in climate change,” Adams said. “We’re going to have to challenge the status quo and we’re certainly prepared to do that.”

Advertisement

The school district’s proposed policy changes will be released for public feedback in February. Final action by the school board is expected in May.

In an interview on Monday, Elrich said MCPS’ buy-in to the county plan is “essential” to its overall success.

“If they’re not on board, we can’t get there,” Elrich said.

Advertisement

He said the district has been receptive from the beginning, but it had concerns about “how to get there” because the timeline is so tight.

“You need to set a goal to reach for,” Elrich said. “Then all of the work you do starts to reflect the thinking of ‘How can you reach this goal?’ You start looking for solutions. It’s important to put yourself in a position where you have to go find solutions to reach a goal.”

When announcing the county’s climate action plan, Elrich admitted that its goals are ambitious. It has many key areas, including:

Advertisement

• Provide affordable carbon-free electricity throughout the county
• Decrease the carbon footprint in buildings by supporting carbon-neutral building design
• Transition to 100% emissions-free public transportation through electric vehicles and encouraging less use of personal vehicles
• Sequester carbon by protecting and increasing forests and green spaces and by conserving land
Protect vulnerable communities through infrastructure improvements and prioritizing those most affected by climate change
• Educate county government officials on how to address climate change
• Keep a focus on the plan and its goals through community partnerships and by empowering young people to educate the public.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com