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The Power of Youth

The City’s High School Advisory Group is helping to lead the way to a sustainable future.

By Diana Simeon

Who better to explore long-term sustainability initiatives in Shaker Heights than high school students? After all, it’s their generation who will be living and raising families in Shaker in the decades to come.

That’s exactly what the City’s Sustainability Committee decided when it tasked its High School Advisory Group with strategizing how the City could improve on its LEED certification five, 10, even 20 years from now.

“We will hopefully get a base level of LEED certification this year,” says Julianne Potter, a Shaker resident and senior sustainability consultant with ERM, who works with the students. “But the idea is that over the years, the City can improve its performance on the LEED criteria and achieve higher levels of certification.”

Zoom meeting of the High School Youth Advisory Group

Members of the High School Youth Advisory Group presenting to City Council during a recent Zoom meeting.

The students presented their goals and recommendations to the Sustainability Committee in July. The report sets out a road map for two major environmental and social achievements: to make Shaker Heights carbon neutral by 2050 and to ensure housing and transportation costs are at 45 percent or less of Shaker residents’ income by 2030 (Shaker is currently at 65 percent). LEED certification for cities covers sustainability measures across environmental, social, and economic topics. In addition to environmental factors, LEED awards points for meeting certain social and economic performance, like a reasonable cost of living.

The students proposed both short- and long-term ways to achieve these goals. For carbon neutrality, this included more solar installations and broader adoption of renewable electric programs in the short term; in the long term, the students recommended the City explore the installation of an Archimedes Wind Turbine, which is specifically designed for urban environments.

Recommendations around housing and transportation costs included adding more infrastructure for alternative modes of transportation, like bicycles and electric scooters, while also exploring how to increase the amount of affordable housing available in the City.

“The students are coming at this with a blue-sky angle,” says Potter. “This ability is one of the most powerful things about bringing youth to the table.”

The Advisory Group is made up of members from Shaker Heights High School, Laurel School, Hathaway Brown School, and University School. Students meet once a month. Potter is joined by Torrey McMillan, the director of Hathaway Brown’s Center for Sustainability, and staff members from the other area schools in helping to guide the students. But all the work is done by the students alone.

“We want to make sure that young people have a voice in the conversation,” says Potter. “This is not just giving them a seat at the table, but also the autonomy to execute on objectives.”

Next up for the High School Advisory Group: participating in the Climate Youth Summit, which is in Cleveland in October, and exploring ways to develop a composting program for Shaker-area schools, in collaboration with Rust Belt Riders (see sidebar page 69).

Including young people in the work of the Sustainability Committee is not only rewarding, it’s important, says Potter. “The work of the Committee should consider the priorities of the next generation,” she says. “They see the work of building a sustainable community as increasing our use of low carbon energy, as well as improving access to transportation, racial equity, and social justice.”

Originally published in Shaker Life, Fall 2020 as part of the feature The Greening of Shaker.
2020-10-05T16:47:51+00:00Schools, Sustainability|