Verde Valley School is now a Certified Sustainable Business at the Innovator/Silver level
January 25, 2021
Verde Valley School was first certified in 2016 as a beta tester for the certification process. Their core values include environmental stewardship and community service, so sustainability has always been a priority. Despite the pressures of running a small, international boarding school, they continue to push forward on sustainability efforts. In 2020, they earned second place in the Sustainable Entrepreneur Award competition for their project to turn organic waste into electricity and fertilizer through an anaerobic digester. That effort got delayed by Covid, but they’ve made great strides in other areas.
Over the years John Chorlton, Sustainability Coordinator, has gathered a range of data tied to the school’s sustainability plan. (But finding time to keep it all up to date is an ongoing challenge since sustainability is only part of his job.)
Thanks in part to a generous donation from graduates, Verde Valley School embarked on a multi-year process to upgrade their old, drafty buildings. They’ve replaced many windows and roofs, while improving insulation. New heating systems have cut propane use in half. Thermostats are locked in the dorms, and students are reminded to turn off lights. They’re phasing out propane swamp coolers for electric mini-splits. “It’s important to teach staff to use the mini-splits efficiently,” Chorlton said, “For example, we tell them not to shut the units off overnight.”
Materials (not Waste)
Few things go to waste on the campus. They reuse desks and beds. Dorm furniture is reupholstered instead of being replaced. Chorlton once saw road contractors working in front of the school and arranged to take their excess dirt for projects. They branded their International Baccalaureate program “IB+Dirt” for a reason! Concrete from demolition is saved for future use. Swamp cooler motors and pumps are stockpiled for future repairs. “Sedona Recycles is a key partner,” Chorlton explains. “They provide data on our recycling and help us recycle odd items like scrap metal from our shop. We have a system, both in our kitchen and outside, for efficient recycling, including cleaning, separation, processing and pickup that is used by all members of the community. Recycling is one of the popular student work teams.”
One of the programs they’re most proud of is farm-to-table. They grow a lot of their own produce for the staff and students. Some produce they sell to local restaurants and use the proceeds to help donate food to those in need. Food waste and horse manure is composted, which nourishes the farm. Farmer Mike Speilman has been refining heirloom varieties over the years. They collect seeds each fall and store them in a seed bank inside a used shipping container. The garden is used as a classroom twice a week so the students can learn about sustainable agriculture. Soon they hope to water the crops with rainwater from nearby buildings.
Verde Valley School can be an intense place to work. With students and staff on campus, it’s 24/7. But even entry level employees get paid above minimum wage. The school develops staff and promotes from within to create living wage jobs and retain employees. While teachers get the summer off, they keep kitchen staff working year-round for stability. They offer a retirement program but the matching funds were suspended during Covid.
Students are required to give back, either at the school or to the wider community. “Food security is huge for us,” Chorlton explains. “We fill backpacks for kids on school lunch programs to take home on the weekends. And once a month, students can choose to fast for one meal and we donate the money to the Food Bank. We also take a group of students to Malawi each year where we have built classrooms and distributed eyeglasses for the Lions Club. Some of our field trips are service trips to places like the Navajo Reservation.” At the end of the school year, they gather up clothes the students don’t plan to take home and donate them to a shelter.
See who else is certified by the Sustainability Alliance.