It’s not easy being green.
But officials at Billings School District 2 are convinced that the effort to be more environmentally friendly is paying off.
“This district is focused on being green,” said Joel Guthals, a trustee on the SD2 board.
Over the past 17 months, the district has saved more than $654,000 by reducing its energy consumption and has recycled more than 70 tons of paper, cardboard, plastic and aluminum cans, said Rich Whitney, SD2’s facilities director.
The push to be more green came from the district’s involvement with the UnCommon Sense Project, a program with the Yellowstone Business Partnership that encourages area businesses to become more environmentally friendly.
The school district completed the two-year program earlier this month and received a plaque from the Montana Department of the Environmental Quality recognizing its efforts.
“I believe that our schools are more energy-efficient than these LEED Platinum buildings going up around town,” Whitney said, referring to the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, an internationally recognized green-building certification system.
Much of what the district has done isn’t necessarily visible from the street level, but it’s had a significant benefit to the district’s bottom line and the environment, Whitney said. The $654,000 in saved energy costs is equivalent to 3,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide or removing 538 cars from the road, he said.
“It’s totally remarkable,” he said.
Carrie Miller, who spearheaded the district’s “Green Team” — the group of SD2 staff that helped organize the district’s green efforts — spoke at length with board’s budgeting committee, detailing all the progress it had made.
The project involved making and meeting goals in eight different areas, including waste, energy and water management, responsible purchasing and transportation efficiency.
Miller, the associate director of planning an development for SD2, took the project “as far as resources allowed,” she said.
Her team coordinated recycling districtwide to reduce or eliminate duplication. Maintenance staffs helped reduce energy consumption, and Miller’s team even installed signs at all district schools reminding parents and bus drivers to turn off their engines while they wait for students.
They’ve also gotten businesses to partner with the district to help in the efforts, sponsoring recycling stations at each of its elementary schools.
Having completed the UnCommon Sense program, the district now plans to move forward with the momentum it has built.
“We want to continue to get better,” Whitney said.