Students at schools within the Chesapeake Bay watershed will be learning about environmental sustainability with on-campus rain gardens built by the Youth Environmental Coalition (Youth ECo), a subcommittee of the Green Building Institute (GBI) in Jessup.
One of the newest rain gardens will be built at River Hill High School (RHHS) in Columbia. The rain garden — a form of low-impact development strategically placed to reduce and purify runoff rainwater from impervious surfaces — will potentially improve the condition of the schoolyard.
In March, YouthECo was awarded a $5,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust to help implement the rain garden.
Connie Chen, president of YouthECo, said she feels fortunate to be involved with the rain garden project.
“The garden is a new and exciting way to get students thinking about and discussing about what we can do for the environment,” she said. “We want this project to be a conversation-starter, encouraging many students and community members alike to be more interested and involved in saving the bay.”
GBI Youth ECo has attracted partners from both the public and private sectors, including the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS), River Hill High School administration, Phase2 Architecture, www.OurTask.org and www.CapitolGreenroofs.com.
HCPSS science teachers hope to develop a curriculum that will focus on the rain gardens as “living laboratories,” said Mary Weller, HCPSS coordinator of secondary science.
Weller is working with MdBio, a division of the Tech Council of Maryland, and the University of Maryland to begin writing and developing such a curriculum. “The intention is to measure the impact of rain gardens on runoff and support the environmental literacy standards,” she said.
Construction of the garden will be supervised and executed by a professional landscaping company, Oaklawn Landscaping, and other professional volunteers associated with GBI, including architects and engineers. Students and community members will plant native plants upon completion of excavation and site preparation.
Once planted, a rain garden is a low-maintenance addition. In the first few months, it may require routine check-ins, but after the garden has taken root, it will remain almost self-sufficient, said planners.
Next Wave of Technology
The rain gardens — including the one at RHHS, which is a $7,000 project — will be funded by grants from the public and private sector.
Youth ECo is actively seeking corporate sponsors, and has already caught the eye of Elicere Inc., a company that is developing a pro bono “app” for Youth ECo. Though its specific function is still being determined, the application will be part of an expansion of Elicere’s information technology service offerings into a new Environmental Solutions practice.
“Elicere will participate in projects which can help transform lives by developing innovative wireless technology solutions to drive change and help advance our ability to predict the impacts of our actions on the environment,” explained Dennis Ruggeri, president of Elicere.
Youth ECo, educators and businesses are all on a quest to monitor the next wave of technology that focuses on the environmental sector. For example, sensor-equipped mobile phones are expected to revolutionize environmental monitoring.
Expanding Student Involvement
The convergence of business involvement, public sector support and the passion of young people has created a momentum that GBI leaders believe will work to expand YouthECo statewide and beyond.
At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), the student environmental club is in the process of developing a “Chesapeake Bay Life and Livelihood Conference” for the fall. The forum will be open to participants from all schools within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
“We could have a really incredible gathering,” said GBI Executive Director Heather Szymanski. The students at UMBC are also planning to build an “edible garden” outside the campus dining area. “They’ll be planting organic foods,” said Szymanski.
GBI is also focusing its education and outreach efforts on veterans. With a new “Military to Green Jobs Initiative,” GBI plans to help simplify the process for veterans in search of “green jobs.” The initiative will focus on providing support for job training, volunteer-to-learn opportunities, and connections with companies and organizations that have green jobs available.
Communicating the Rationale
Businesses that partner with GBI or take advantage of training opportunities may be able to build better communication with customers regarding their green practices.
It’s important not to label as “green” practices that actually aren’t environmentally friendly, a practice known as “greenwashing,” pointed out Frank Hazzard, cofounder of Sustainable Growth and also a board member of the Howard County Green Business Council.
“There is a real issue when people mislead customers with their claims, and it hurts the genuine green business that’s going on out there. I understand they’re trying to get sales.”
But today’s savvy consumers are increasingly able to see through “greenwashing” and, if environmental concerns are important to them, they’ll take their business elsewhere, Hazzard said.
When businesspeople adopt a green practice, they need to honestly communicate their reason for adopting it, he recommended.
“What I wish is that people would consider communicating the rationale behind what they’re doing because, chances are, that green initiative is very important, and people could learn from it.”