This week thousands from around the world are gathered in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit to share solutions for mitigating climate change. I am proud to lead the school district with the most robust climate action plan in the nation.

San Francisco Unified School District is no stranger to ambitious environmental initiatives. Since 2008, we have reduced our energy use by 22 percent, our natural gas usage by 28%, and our water use by 29 percent.

The SFUSD has been recognized as a Green Ribbon district by the U.S. Department of Education and received the Green California Summit’s Leadership Award, the Green Culture Leadership Award at the CA Green Schools Summit, and the “Best of Green Schools” award for industry transformation from the USGBC’s Center for Green Schools.

Our Carbon Reduction Plan

Last fall, the San Francisco Board of Education passed a Carbon Neutral Schools resolution that commits us to phasing out fossil fuels — in the buildings we operate and vehicles we own — by 2040.

In order to accelerate our efforts, the SFUSD Sustainability Office is implementing a Carbon Reduction Plan that calls for new buildings to be designed to use no more energy than they can generate on site. All new SFUSD vehicles to be emissions-free where electric options exist.

Aging, natural gas-fired equipment to be replaced with clean, efficient heat pumps. And, for our school bus fleet to be converted to renewable diesel, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds.

But that’s not all. We are committed to having the district generate all of its own power on-site by 2050.

Some of these important changes will take a long time, but we are doing all we can now. We are currently designing five Zero Net Energy (ZNE) ready schools and replacing natural gas heating systems at an additional six. Last year, we purchased our first plug-in hybrid vehicle for the Custodial Department. And, with the help of the SF Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), we are installing up to three new Solar PV systems every year.

As a result of these efforts, we expect to reduce our gas usage 30 percent below 2008 levels by 2020 and 50% below by 2030. While we already power our schools with 100% greenhouse gas-free electricity from the SFPUC, by 2050 we plan on meeting all of our energy needs on site.

For and with our children and youth

  • We must do all we can to protect our students’ future and we also want to engage them in the process of creating a more sustainable way of life. That’s why our sustainability efforts also include:
  • Providing standards-based, environmental education at our own Environmental Science Center in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
  • Teaching students how to recycle and compost. Thanks to our collaboration with the S.F. Department of the Environment, our district currently diverts 66% of our waste from the landfill.
  • Promoting sustainable transportation for the commute to/from school via our Safe Routes to School program. Middle-school biking is up 600 percent over the past six years and over 60 percent of San Francisco high schoolers take public transit.
  • Encouraging staff and students to incorporate environmental stewardship into their lesson plans and into their homes through our Earth Day Every Day Challenge.

I am proud of our school district and the many teachers and students who are part of the solution every day.

Vincent Matthews
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Vincent Matthews

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