Ownership. Understanding. Responsibility. Those are the three major concepts behind greeNEWit's Our Schools initiative, and lessons students at Forest Ridge Elementary School in North Laurel took to heart last week as they celebrated Earth Week.
Seated in the cafeteria, students learned about sustainable energy, ways to reduce their carbon footprint and what they could do to make the Earth a better place.
"Being sustainable means something's built to last," Josh Notes, co-founder of greenNEWit, told the students. "Not last for one year, or 10 years, but for your kids and your kids' kids."
GreeNEWit is an energy solutions firm based in Columbia. Through the Our Schools program, the company hopes to neutralize the carbon footprint of Maryland schools within 10 years.
Notes and other greeNEWit representatives spoke to Forest Ridge students Tuesday, April 23, and have been to several other Howard County schools since the initiative launched last fall.
"In some ways, kids are a lot smarter than adults," Notes said. "That's what I've seen. The common sense side of things — they get it. If you ask them to turn off a light bulb when they're not using it and explain why, they will."
It's never too early to start teaching children the importance of green living, said Susan Langley, a gifted and talented resource teacher at Forest Ridge.
"We want them to take responsibility for themselves and their carbon footprint and their influence on the next generation," Langley said. "We want them to have the knowledge that they will need to take care of our earth."
Julie Roby, greeNEWit's director of residential energy solutions, said the majority of "energy problems" can be traced back to human behavior and attitudes. It's easier to break through to a child, she said.
"Kids today, they know that and it's easy for them to understand," she said. "They'll grow up and they'll become policy makers, and those decisions will be inherent and easy. It'll lead to better choices and more sustainable choices."
Students at Forest Ridge already are environmentally friendly, assistant principal Carol DeBord said. The school has received a Green School certification from the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education, with eco-friendly features like a comprehensive recycling system and a rain garden. DeBord said students are constantly approaching staff and administrator with more ideas to reduce, reuse and recycle. Notes said he hopes that passion continues throughout their lives.
"At the basic level, I hope the kids remain energy conscious, and curious," he said. "Hopefully, sustainability is something they'll really explore as they grow up into whatever they're going to become. But if the basic message of common sense is conveyed, I think we all win."
The greeNEWit representatives also brought along lesson plans, so when students weren't at the assembly, they were in class learning about wind and solar energy.
"Before today, I never really knew what caused wind, but I do now," said fourth-grader Tom Berkheimer. "So what happens is, the wind spins the big wind turbines, which spins a gear inside of it, and that gear turns a generator to make the energy."
Tom said pollution makes for an ugly environment.
"There'd be a lot of yuckiness in the air and yuckiness in the water," said Tom, 9. "It's not going to look pretty and it's not going to be good for the animals or for us, either. It'd be no good."
Camryn Johnson, a fourth-grader, said saving energy was "an important way of life to learn" because otherwise "the world is going to get messed up.
"Nothing will look nice. Nothing will be nice," said Camryn, 9. "We won't have a nice place to live hundreds of years from now."
There's lots of different ways to help the environment, said Quinn Gibbons, 11, a fifth-grader, like using the "swirly" CFL light bulbs and taking shorter showers. Liya Kebede, 11, a fifth-grader, said she could also turn off lights when she's not in a room and use re-usable water bottles.
"The earth's resources are running out," she said. "Some things aren't replaceable."