A student's thoughts on advocating for net zero schools

Published on: 
22 Oct 2021
Robert Kats

The leading issue on the minds of students today is undoubtedly climate change. According to a 2020 survey, 97% of students want to be taught about climate change and other global issues, but only 40% of schools include these topics in their curriculum. Another recent poll found that most students feel angered and scared by the potential impacts of climate change. So, why aren’t schools doing more to help? And more specifically, why aren’t schools helping prepare students for our future by: 1) demonstrating sustainability by adopting practices that reduce their carbon footprint (while also saving money) and 2) preparing us for the jobs and economy of the next decade and beyond?

Like most in my generation, I’m aware that we face an existential threat unlike anything in human history. Having observed creeping deforestation while I stood atop an observation tower in the Amazon forest and trekked through smoke from a wildfire that was, at least, exacerbated by climate change, I have also personally observed the impacts of our changing climate. We’ve all seen urban sprawl and read headlines about the now regular 100-year storms and torrential flooding in New York City and German cities. There is no denying it—climate change is here.

Schools should do their utmost to help students understand the issue, make decisions and feel confident about what our future holds. Schools can start by making changes in their operations and maintenance to demonstrate the sustainability values needed to meet this issue head-on.

Yet in Virginia, where I attend high school, only 3% of schools have gone solar—a cost-effective step toward climate mitigation. Data does show that the solar trend is growing in schools, however. While only 13 Virginia schools installed solar panels in 2014, 89 Virginia schools installed solar panels in 2019—a 500% increase in solar energy in Virginia schools in just five years. Schools teach responsible citizenship to their students in every other way; why not with respect to climate change?

It is with this idea of helping schools commit to demonstrating and imparting sustainability values in their students that I started the Net Zero Club at my high school and why I advocate for fellow students who are concerned about climate change to take action at their own schools. As part of this effort, I built a website to support anyone interested in greening their school.

The website provides guidance on specific and cost-effective methods of reducing a school's carbon footprint, such as solar installations, smart surfaces, ground sources heat pumps, energy-efficient appliances and purchase power agreements, as well as the language to persuade school administrations to embrace them. Most important, it’s written by a student for students and includes a step-by-step guide to help students effect change in their communities. My hope is that students speak up and create momentum in schools across the country.

This fall is a busy semester for anyone enrolled in or working at schools. We have work to do, and juggling traditional stresses with a much larger one can feel overwhelming. It’s this larger concern that we can overcome together by making the case for sustainability values to our respective schools. If students communicate our values and concerns clearly to our schools, I believe, they will understand and prepare us better for our future.

View Center for Green Schools resources on advocacy.

Explore the Net Zero Your School site