"Waste Not, Watt Not" Brings Energy Savings to Light

March 21, 2011

As public and private school teachers helped themselves to refreshments before a recent event at Twigg-Smith Pavilion, it soon became obvious that there were no garbage cans in which to dispose of the paper cups and napkins that accumulated.

The lack of trash receptacles was intentional, Luke Center for Public Service Director Carri Morgan explained as she invited the assembled educators to take a seat at Punahou School's 8th annual Service Learning Teacher Institute, held Feb. 10, 2011. A trash audit was among the Institute's hands-on activities — in keeping with the theme of "Waste Not, Watt Not" — so the teachers hung on to their rubbish, mindful that each piece would be accounted for by the end of the evening.

"I like how they got us thinking from the moment we walked in the door," Lyra Giorgio, a teacher at Kauluwela Elementary School, said as she sat at a round table suited for group collaboration. "Everyone was looking around for a garbage can, but now we know why there aren't any!"

Presented by Luke Center, Kokua Hawai'i Foundation and Sustainable UH, the free seminar brought together about 100 educators and conservation advocates from across O'ahu to learn ways to reduce energy use and waste at home and at school, and how to create engaging, useful lessons on those topics.

The annual Institute's goal is to provide a variety of resources for public and private school teachers to help them develop curricula related to service learning, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

Among the speakers at this year's event were Shanah Trevenna, coordinator of the student group Sustainable UH and author of "Surfing Tsunamis of Change." In a fast-paced presentation, she described how energy-saving strategies implemented at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa are spreading to schools throughout the state.

"There's always this idea that sustainability means sacrifice, but we were spending a lot of money to make people uncomfortable," Trevenna said, explaining how an energy audit revealed that lights were too bright and air conditioning too cold in some UH buildings.

After a break for dinner, the group heard from Sunset Beach Elementary School teacher Laura Cummings, whose sixth-grade class conducted a cafeteria waste audit that inspired numerous ways to reduce the volume of trash going from the school to the landfill. Students conducted the audit with help from Kokua Hawai'i Foundation, and Cummings and the nonprofit's Dexter Kishida replicated the audit at the Institute, lining up buckets and instructing the educators to separate their rubbish into bins designated for plastic, paper, liquids, recyclables, compostable food and noncompostable food. (In the Sunset Beach audit, there also were separate receptacles for milk and milk cartons.)

"It's quick and not as messy as you might expect," Cummings said as teachers lined up to scrape their plates.

Later in the evening, Punahou teachers and students presented experiments that illustrated the use of energy kits — comprised of electricity, light and temperature monitors — in high school science classes.

Institute participants got a jump-start on their own classroom energy kits with the gift of a "Kill A Watt" electricity usage monitor, and some also received compact fluorescent lightbulbs as prizes, which were awarded during various activities.

"This has been just great. I'm going back to school with so many useful projects that we can get started right away," said Pat Kahler, a third-grade teacher at St. Andrew's Priory School. She exited Twigg-Smith carrying not only an electricity monitor and 10-pack of lightbulbs, but also illuminating ideas to share with her school and community.

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