Schools Measure Footprints (CJN April 2011)

This "Sustainable Jew" column originally appeared in the Canadian Jewish News, April 14, 2011

Ontario EcoSchools is an environmental education program for kindergarten to Grade 12. Developed and run by school boards,the program allows students to acquire ecological literacy and learn about practices that will make them environmentally responsible citizens. In addition, Ontario EcoSchools helps to improve operations within school buildings in order to reduce environmental impacts. (

Several Toronto Jewish day schools participate in the program including the Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School, the Toronto Heshel School, Bialik Hebrew Day School and the Associated Hebrew Schools, Kamin Branch.

Many of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) public schools are part of the EcoSchool program. ( TDSB schools have recently added a quantitative element to their efforts using the Zerofootprint Challenge, a program which encourages schools around the world to measure, compare and change their environmental footprint. (

TDSB gathers monthly data about electricity, water and natural gas consumption from many of its schools. The key is to visually benchmark performances against each other. Data can be manipulated in order to compare usage per student or per square foot of the school. With this information students and teachers can select specific elements of the EcoSchools program to help improve energy conservation measures, the impact of which could be measured over time.

The York Catholic District School Board measures and displays electricity consumption in near real time. Its Eco Champions program enables students and teachers to act when consumption gets too high and to see the impact of their actions within two minutes. (

What about Israel? Sviva Israel, a leading environmental education organization for school-aged children, develops and implements programs that promote environmental literacy while exploring the connections between Judaism and the Environment. Its website does not have a quantitative benchmarking capability. A session at the recent Eilat/Eilot renewable energy conference, was on how schools in Israel teach environmental responsibility with a focus on renewable energy. Curriculum development in Israeli schools has begun, but has not yet reached the level of Ontario EcoSchools curriculum integration.

Eighteen schools in Eilat are considering a pilot, using the same application that TDSB is using to make their energy consumption visible. Over time, the information gathered would allow the staff in the Eilat schools to implement exercises for energy consumption reduction and the effects could be quantifiably measured. (

Unlike the Ontario Public, Catholic and Eilat schools approach, there is no centralized ability for the Toronto Jewish day schools to measure, compare and change their energy consumption. Perhaps the Eilat Schools and the Toronto Jewish Day Schools should partner with each other.

Elements of Ontario EcoSchools which could help accelerate the curriculum development and link environmental and conservation ideas. And the Toronto Jewish day schools could get a better understanding of the value of making energy-consumption data more visible to its community through a centralized effort. This would give them the ability to measure, compare and reduce energy consumption and apply operational savings to educational needs.

Sounds like a possible community engagement project to bring the twinned cities of Eilat/Eilot and Toronto together in joint purpose. Anyone want to help?

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