A look inside the District 65 Green Team and the Community of Conservation

According to Becky Brodsky, connection, collaboration, and community-member participation are all core elements necessary to make a local (or national) organization successful.

Brodsky is the founder of Evanston School District 65’s district-wide Green Team. The group, according to its mission statement, seeks to create healthier and more environmentally sustainable school communities through education, awareness, and action, with an ultimate goal to foster the next generation of environmental stewards.

While several schools throughout the district have their own independent Green Teams with their own sustainable initiatives, the teams’ methods of implementing such initiatives aren’t always consistent. Here, Brodsky said, is where the District Green Team steps in.

“We serve as a resource for the schools,” she said. “So we can not only let them know about these initiatives, but also help them implement, so they all aren’t having to reinvent the wheel every time they want to do something. We have instructions, we have guidelines, we can provide support physically, as well, if they need people there to help. It’s really like letting people know we’re here and they’re not alone.”

Brodsky said the district’s Green Team does as much it can to ensure that each school can successfully carry out its own initiatives. It also works to bring the projects conceived and practiced by an individual school to the entire district.  

“Our goal is that all schools be doing the same thing,” she said. Right now, the Green Team is working on what Brodsky calls a six-school pilot composting program, where students compost their food and sometimes even their lunch trays. A couple schools, she said, had already started their own PTA-funded composting projects, however when the district decided to foot the bill for the project, the Green Team decided to bring the initiative to a few more.

“And hopefully, we’ll add a couple more schools next year, with the goal being all-school composting within the next few years,” she said. However, even with the assistance of the D65 Green Team, initiatives like pilot composting program still will look quite different from school to school.

“Each school has its own personality, it’s own strengths and weaknesses, so we’re really trying to tailor a program that works for each school,” she said. “What works at one school is not necessarily going to work at another, because you’ve got staff of different interest levels and different personalities.” Additionally, Brodsky said the key to successful program implementation is a staff full of individuals--whether they’re the administrators, the custodians or the lunchroom supervisors--who are willing to put in the necessary work to build its momentum.

Staff involvement also determines  how quickly these initiatives can become autonomous after they’re introduced. Even so, it’s up the the D65 Green Team to provide each school with the resources they need in order to independently accomplish the projects the team introduces. For the six-school pilot composting program, this means having district Green-Team members present during the early stages of implementation.

“We are the boots on the ground.,” Brodsky said. “We train the staff. We educate the students. We’re physically in the lunchroom to get it started, to get it going. When there are problems, when they have questions, any kind of issues, they really come to us. We’ve been the point people for the whole program.”

Of course, the Green Team doesn’t stand alone in its efforts to enact such changes across the district. Brodsky, for example, works for Collective Resource, the composting service that collaborates with D65 for its six-school pilot initiative, and she said another Green Team member is on the board of Citizens Greener Evanston.

According to Brodsky, partnerships with other community organizations play a vital role for the Green Team, not only because they help ensure that initiatives are implemented smoothly, but because they increase the legitimacy of the organization. Collaboration, she said, also serves as an important tool to foster growth.  

“You can learn from other people’s successes and challenges, and where they’ve encountered resistance,” she said. “And also I really think there’s strength in numbers. We have a much louder voice. The more of us that band together, the more people will listen. And they will see this is a valid, worthy cause.”

Of course, Brodsky acknowledges that the environmentalist movement, at the local and the national level, would have no voice if it weren’t for the regular people who were willing to take that extra step in promoting sustainability--whether through joining a community organization like the D65 Green Team or simply through developing environmentally conscious habits. The impact of an individual action cannot, and should not, be discounted.

“Even if just a handful of people do just one thing, it makes an enormous difference,” she said. “I'm a firm believer [that with] just even doing one thing, it all adds up to equal a lot. And if everybody said I'm just one person, then of course, we would get nowhere and nothing would happen.”

Brodsky said it’s up to each and every person to take responsibility of their actions and pursue a greener lifestyle.  

“We all share the planet, and you can't say, ‘Well, it's not my problem,’” she said. “Because if it's not your problem, then whose problem is it? We all live on the same Earth, and there's only one.”