2021 Carbon Neutral Hero

Environmental Sustainability

Students Initiate School Plan for Carbon Neutrality

Upper School students from the Environmental Interest Group (EIG) believe The Northwest School can be leader in climate action and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. To that end, they developed a proposal for the school to adopt a goal of meaningfully going carbon neutral by 2030 and presented it to the Board of Trustees Facilities Committee. With support from that committee and school Administration, the students created the NWS Carbon Neutrality Task Force to develop recommendations and assess the feasibility of the carbon neutrality goal.

Students cited the Northwest School’s core values and mission as driving the needs for institutional change and climate leadership.

“It is a complicated and complex process to figure out carbon neutrality and it is big enough to have an impact in the Seattle area and on other independent schools,” says junior Annika W. “If Northwest can accomplish this feat, we are setting a bar and providing a blueprint for others to follow.”

The Northwest School has long identified environmental sustainability as one of the most significant existential issues of its time. More recently, in the context of the 2018 United Nations IPCC report that demonstrates the need to dramatically reduce GHG emissions by 2030 to stave off the worst of climate change, and in parallel with its participation in the 2019 Global Climate Strike and moving the endowment to Environmental, Social, and Governance Screened investments, the school has emphasized climate change as one of the biggest social justice issue of our time (the global and local impacts of climate change disproportionately effect already marginalized communities, particularly Black, Indigenous, and people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and young people). “While a single school cannot tackle climate change alone, the hope is to inspire other schools and organizations to take action and lead on aligning operations and business practices with contributing to a more just, equitable world and stable climate,” says Jenny Cooper, Director of Environmental Education and Sustainability at The Northwest School, who is supporting the student effort to forge a path to meaningfully reducing GHG emissions.

The EIG’s carbon neutrality proposal specifically calls for the school to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions within its direct control (such as school buses or natural gas to power the school) to zero by 2030. To achieve this goal, students propose focusing on reducing emissions as much as possible onsite and using certified, verifiable carbon offsets when a viable option for emissions reductions isn’t yet available. A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. The students stress that the focus is on directly reducing the school’s emissions rather than so-called green washing, which is maintaining carbon neutrality by relying solely on offsets. The reason for this focus is that offsets can have serious and complex negative impacts on social and racial justice. According to the EIG proposal, offsets would still be used but only as a temporary approach to address GHG emissions that the school has less control over and for which there aren’t viable options to directly reduce emissions. For example, the proposal calls for all emissions from student programs and administrative airplane trips to be offset by 2022 and all international student travel and domestic commuting offset by 2030.

“It is a lofty goal, but if we don’t start now, when are we going to start it?” says senior Iliana G. “For me as a senior, knowing we have younger members in the EIG who are able to continue the project and make it into something concrete ensures that our work will bring results.”

The Carbon Neutrality Task Force had its first meeting in late April and plans to meet monthly through Fall 2021. To launch the Task Force, EIG students put out an open call for students, faculty, parents, guardians, and alumni to express interest in being a part of the group. The group is currently comprised of seven Upper School students, two parents and guardians, and four faculty, including representation from science, humanities, facilities and transportation, and environmental sustainability. The objectives of the Task Force include:

  • Develop a comprehensive plan of strategies and actions that would enable The Northwest School to meaningfully achieve carbon neutrality by 2030;
  • Assess the physical and financial feasibility of such a plan;
  • Create opportunities for meaningful engagement in the process (input, feedback, and evaluation) for The Northwest School community;
  • Effectively share the story of this work with our school and broader community to inspire action at other schools and organizations.

The carbon neutrality proposal is inspired by a project completed by Northwest School alumnae Jena Utaski ‘20. Working with Director of Environmental Education and Sustainability Jenny Cooper and other Northwest faculty members, Jena completed a greenhouse gas emissions inventory of The Northwest School. You can view the conclusions of her project here.

To learn more about the Carbon Neutrality Task Force, or to express interest in joining it, please contact Jenny Cooper.