Nature's Voice Project fosters compassion and community in green schools

Published on: 
5 Mar 2015
Anna-Bell Hines

The Nature’s Voices Project is an initiative of the Green Schools Initiative that combines the power of environmental education, storytelling and youth voices to build support for a sustainable, resilient and equitable world. We amplify the voices of young people by collecting, sharing and showcasing their environmental inspirational stories with decision-makers, educators, our allies and the general public through online and community platforms.

Read below to hear from the 2015 Nature's Voice Project contest winner Anna-Bell Hines.

Every child deserves a healthy place to learn. It doesn’t sound particularly divisive; a lot of people would even say it’s obvious. However, the use of the phrase “green schools” seems to flip on a switch in the minds of many Americans, bringing to light opinions framed by words like “unnecessary”, “expensive”, and my personal favorite: “hippy nonsense” (thanks grandma!). While almost everyone can agree that education is important, many do not fully understand the essential relationship between the environment and education. Where we learn and what we learn really does matter. What is truly ironic is that so many problems can be solved or avoided through the environmental activism so many are vehemently opposed to: green schools.

Born and raised in New Orleans, La., I watched Hurricane Katrina drown school after school from a grainy television screen powered by a generator. The question on the newscasters’ lips was not when, but if the city would rebuild. Schools in nearby cities like Baton Rouge were filling up and my parents were becoming increasingly worried about the status of my education. I started second grade three times that year, at three different schools—quite the lesson on the importance of education for a seven year old that didn’t want to learn her multiplication tables.

Ten years later, New Orleans has rebuilt and schools have reopened. Some of them are LEED certified, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It means that the building is environmentally responsible and uses resources efficiently. These new and improved schools have had an incredibly positive effect on the kids in attendance, which is pretty great for a city with an historically poor public school system. The kids feel at home again and they matter to the community, and are performing better as a result. The success of these sustainable schools, and the fact that something as positive and significant as a child’s education can emerge from a disaster like Katrina, even better than it was before, is living proof of the importance of Green Schools.

Because my mother is a LEED-accredited architect, I am fortunate to have been educated on the importance of my environment from a young age. Other people are not as lucky, growing up in communities where the environment is not a top priority. Green technology can initially be expensive and it is reasonable to think that the environment shouldn’t be a top spending priority. I think the most important step in being proactive towards the environment is education. The idea that little things like recycling can make a big impact should be taught to students from an early age, so as to make recycling the default course of action for waste. Many people also do not realize that being environmentally sustainable actually saves money. While energy efficient facilities may initially be expensive, they save money on your energy bill in the long run. Gardens are also a great way to get fresh healthy food inexpensively, all the while promoting a sustainable lifestyle.

Right now, I work with the USGBC Louisiana Chapter as its Youth Ambassador, going from school to school to help educate kids and move towards a greener education, as well as promote sustainability through social media. We have a program called the Louisiana Green School’s Challenge that allows schools all over the state to promote green schools at no cost. By working with the Louisiana government, school board members and product manufacturers; we’ve been able to reach over 70 schools and 15,000 students, teachers and faculty for the Challenge.

Last October, USGBC Louisiana was the host chapter for the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo. Sustainability leaders from around the world visited New Orleans to see firsthand what environmental stewardship, green building and resiliency have done in rebuilding one of America’s great cities. We helped to organize a group of 60 students and teachers from New Orleans to attend conference events and the trade exposition. Seeing all of the green innovations now on the market and hearing sustainability success stories was incredibly motivating and inspiring for many of us high school students.

I’m lucky enough to go to a school with a “Green Society,” an environmental club that allows us to work together to make our school a better place, as well as share opportunities for green-related services. Led by dedicated teachers, the Green Society is an incredibly positive place to learn and share information about the world we live in. I think every child deserves an opportunity to have a similar experience.

Simply put, the environment is my generation’s problem. Years of industrialization have polluted the air and atmosphere, and the issue of global warming is a very serious one that will create consequences that most likely come into effect at some point during my lifetime. Oil and other fossil fuels are finite resources that are quickly depleting, and there will need to be a serious shift to alternative energy in the coming years. These problems are very real and very much a burden for young people to bear. It will be the scientists, engineers, and activists of my generation that will get us out of these difficult situations or else suffer the consequences for problems we didn’t create. It’s not fair, but it’s the way it is. This is why green schools are a necessity, not an interesting footnote. We need to be proactive and being proactive starts with young people. If kids spend five days a week for eighteen years in a sustainable environment, not only will they emerge happier and healthier, but sustainability will become the norm because it is all they have ever known. It starts with education, and it starts with schools. That’s how you solve problems.