By Fairfax County School Board member Karl Frisch
This is a historic week for Fairfax County. The Board of Supervisors and our School Board have officially adopted the recommended goals of the Joint Environmental Task Force (JET) to achieve zero waste by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2040.
To get there, we are committing to aggressive action. Here are just a few examples:
- Transitioning our enormous diesel bus fleets to electric by 2035.
- Decreasing total energy usage from all County and school facilities by 50% by 2040.
- Making major renovations and new construction projects net-zero beginning in 2021.
- Improving options for safe biking and walking to and from school and work.
- Reviewing recycling efforts and expanding composting.
- Helping students and adult learners to pursue “green” career paths.
By taking these and other steps, we are embarking on a “Green New Deal” of sorts and acknowledging that waiting for others to act is not an option. We are demonstrating our collective resolve that every level of government must do its part to address the climate crisis and chart a course for a sustainable future.
Accomplishing these goals will not be easy, but we, quite literally, cannot afford to maintain the status quo. Because of our school division’s current and past energy efficiency efforts, Fairfax County Public Schools saves an estimated $8 million annually.
Imagine the taxpayer dollars we can reinvest in classrooms and student success by going even further. These changes will also help combat climate change, clean our environment, improve public health, and enhance student and staff performance.
The technological landscape is changing fast. Costs are coming down, efficiency is going up, and companies are getting creative with their willingness to partner with local school divisions and county or municipal governments.
Earlier this year, Montgomery County Public Schools approved the nation’s largest procurement of electric school buses and charging infrastructure and, this is a critical fact, the deal will be budget neutral, not costing anything more than they would have paid to continue maintaining their dirtier, diesel fleet.
Our own school division recently commissioned a report on the feasibility of making major renovations and new construction projects “net-zero.” The experts we consulted found such projects would be less expensive over 30 years of operating and maintaining the buildings.
In approving the JET’s recommended goals, we are also directing the Superintendent and staff to work with our County partners each year to assess our progress on each goal. Additionally, we are directing the Governance Committee to work with the Superintendent and staff to update our Environmental Stewardship policy so that it fully aligns with these goals.
Our community partners and advocates have been a critical force behind this work — especially students seeking Solar on the Schools, Mothers Out Front fighting to transition our diesel bus fleet to electric, and countless others pushing us toward a carbon neutral future.
This achievement would not have been possible without the collaborative leadership of then School Board chair Karen Corbett Sanders (Mt. Vernon) and former Board of Supervisors chairman Sharon Bulova who helped establish the Joint Environmental Task Force (JET). Elaine Tholen (Dranesville) and I have had the pleasure of representing the School Board on the JET with Supervisors Dan Storck (Mt. Vernon) and Penny Gross (Mason) since January of last year – following in the footsteps of former School Board members Pat Hynes (Hunter Miller) and Dalia Palchik (Providence). It has been an honor serving beside them and working with members of the community – especially our students – to develop these recommended goals.
This week’s votes are the culmination of countless hours of hard work and advocacy, but it is not the end. We will continue partnering with the County to ensure these goals are implemented effectively and expeditiously as we explore other ways to protect our environment and enhance climate resiliency – our students and taxpayers deserve nothing less.