OPRF is working toward a sustainable future

Did you know that Oak Park and River Forest High School has a plan to make its operations more environmentally sustainable?

I recently sat down for an interview with Superintendent Greg Johnson, who also happens to serve on the Sustainability Committee he created in 2021 alongside Ron Anderson, the former executive director of operations. Anderson will be missed at the table, but I’m excited to see what he goes on to do.

I asked Johnson a few questions relating to the plan.

I started off by seeing if the rumors were true that he stopped the handout of plastic silverware to meet our goals. It turns out he did but only in the staff cafeteria.

I also asked him who is involved in the committee, and let me tell you, it’s a lot of people: me and other students, such as sophomore Connor Zerniawski and junior Kate Wallace, and faculty including Cindy Wong, our fearless leader of the Environmental Club.

The committee also includes division heads and administrators such as Laurie Fiorenza, Ed.D, and Cynthia Sidor, chief financial officer for our school district.

Some outside organizations are also involved, like FGM architects and Seven Generations Ahead, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building sustainable communities. Board members are always welcome, but usually there is only one in attendance, Board President Tom Cofsky.

I asked Johnson why he thought it was important to include outside groups, and he said because we need their experience on our team. For example, we don’t have a geothermal expert in-house.

OPRF’s Board of Education approved the sustainability plan in July 2022. It states students, in addition to staff and outside technical experts, will be part of the committee and get to review all the data. Learning about what it takes to become a sustainable school is also a key principle. The sustainability plan has seven goals.

The first goal is to develop a “sustainability scorecard.” That measures how much energy we use, how much food waste we have and things like that. There are creative ways to measure it, so we’re going to get it as creative as possible.

OPRF enviro club was handed the baton by the committee to create this scorecard. Impacted areas will report to us about how much energy they’re using, and we hope to share that information soon.

The second goal is to educate students about sustainability across the curriculum.

The third goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2030, 80 percent by 2040 and 100 percent by 2050. The year 2030 is coming up quickly, and we are nowhere close to our goal. A geothermal system could be installed by next summer, and if not the district is considering installing solar panels on top of the new student resource center roof. (Sadly, the rest of the building’s roofing is too old or has stuff like air conditioning units on it.)

The other goals are to right-size water use; reduce non-energy waste in landfills by 80 percent by 2030; increase healthy, local and sustainable food options as part of the school lunch program; and follow a sustainable purchasing policy.

If you want to read about any of these in more detail, the plan is available on our school website. I believe this plan is a step forward for our school, and students should be aware of it. So, that is what I set out to do in this article.

This will really set us on a path forward, and one way to step forward is by spreading awareness about the plan.

Please scan the QR code below to make your voice heard on sustainability at OPRF.