CHCCS Wins Two Awards for Sustainability Practices

Sustainability isn’t a word most students hear day-to-day in elementary, middle or high school. But in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, it is.

The school district won two awards this past month: one from the US Green Building Council and another from the National Recycling Coalition for its compost separation program.

“It’s all about habit. And all that schools are fundamentally designed for is to educate students on things they will need to know now and later in life,” said Dan Schnitzer, Sustainability Coordinator for CHCCS.

Schnitzer said most of the composting program responsibility falls on the students of the different schools.

“I’m only one person who can organize information, get the information out there and help make the changes happen,” he said, “But it really requires the people on the ground.”

Dan Schnitzer spoke last week with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


Every school in the district has different bins in the cafeteria labeled: recycle, land fill, compost and liquid. Schnitzer said students learn how to sustainably dispose of their lunch waste by asking different questions.

“What goes where? Why? Oh, I didn’t know this was compostable. And so it opens up the opportunity to educate further by sparking their interest.”

After two years of the program’s implementation, it’s diverted about half a million pounds of waste from the local landfill.

But that’s not the only program Schnitzer oversees. He said his job is making a financial, economic and environmental impact throughout other projects too. One of those is energy management.

He said most of this project is finding cheap, yet sustainable energy alternatives for schools, but it’s also about teaching the students what this means.

“We’re showing kids through very kinesthetic learning what energy efficiency means,” Schnitzer said.

He has in the past done projects with students that demonstrate the energy-saving difference between LED light bulbs and CFL and halogen ones. Changing energy practices for CHCCS has saved the district $1.4 million so far.

Schnitzer said this is money they can then go back and spend on the students.

“So it’s really just taking these ideas, expanding them correctly but quickly,” he said. “And then using all of them as learning tools for all of our students.”

Schnitzer is also currently overseeing projects such as an energy managers forum in conjunction with Durham County. He is also constructing a landscaping program that will create healthy ecosystems and habitats around CHCCS.

CHCCS Wins National Recycling Award

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools has been named the national district winner of Keep America Beautiful’s Recycle-Bowl, according to the school system.

A release says Recycle-Bowl reaches nearly 700,000 students and teachers in 1,266 schools across 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Dan Schnitzer is the Sustainability Coordinator for CHCCS, and he says, “Winning this competition is a testament to the dedication of our teachers, administrators and students to care for their environment, reduce waste and ensure a healthy future.”

The competition was held over four weeks last fall culminating on November 15 – America Recycles Day.

Four million pounds of recyclables were recovered during the 2015 competition. Officials say that prevented the release of more than 5,700 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, and the reduction in greenhouse gases is equivalent to the annual emissions from more than 950 passenger cars.

While CHCCS won the District Division in the national competition, Egg Harbor Community School in New Jersey was crowned the national champion. Egg Harbor recycled 50 pounds of material per student and teacher during the competition.

Egg Harbor City Community School of Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, was crowned national champion of Recycle-Bowl, recycling 50 pounds of material per student and teacher during the competition.

Keep America Beautiful president and CEO Jennifer Jehn said in a statement:

“Recycle-Bowl provides teachers with a great opportunity to integrate concepts of sustainability and waste reduction into classroom curricula through experiential learning as well as a way to introduce recycling into a school’s general operations. CHCCS exemplifies the goals and mission of Recycle-Bowl. It’s inspiring to see students across the country becoming so enthusiastic about recycling and conserving our planet’s natural resources.”

A Bright Idea

Forgive me for the title.  I do love a pun but when it’s particularly apt, well, I just can’t resist.

This post is about some of the work being done by the Town of Chapel Hill to cut costs during this difficult budget time.  But, as explained by Energy Management Specialist Brian Callaway, it’s cost-cutting in a way most of us won’t necessarily notice.

Callaway works in the town’s Office of Sustainability and he’s been working on various projects where cutting costs doesn’t mean simple and overt maneuvers like turning down the thermostat; rather he searches for ways of using new technologies (or old ones in new and different ways) to stretch the town’s energy budget. 

Aside from the budgetary benefit, which I’ll outline in a moment, you may have already experienced the first large scale change in our public facilities if you park in the Wallace Deck.  The lights there are always on and in May of last year, the town switched the stairwell bulbs to LED’s, which use less energy but also give off a crisp, white light.  While the LED bulbs cost more to buy, they last longer so replacement cost is down, as is the maintenance cost because they need to be replaced less often.  Callaway says the town is on track to be paid back for this investment within seven years thanks to that savings.  And, if we do notice the difference, it will be the better quality of light.  

Not all of his work is that glamorous because some of what Callaway does is review the energy bills for the town’s various facilities and optimize the available rate structures to suit the facilities’ needs.  This is more necessary now than ever before not only because of budgetary constraints but because the price of energy is rising and the town’s consumption has been increasing also.  Those are two arrows pointing in the wrong direction and if Callaway can’t change their direction, perhaps he can slow their rate or even nudge their trajectory a bit. 

Where else can we expect sustainable, energy-efficient change?  Certainly, we’ll see more switching of outdoor lighting around town facilities and inside some as well, including the Aquatics Center.  The town is also investigating the feasibility of battery-operated electric buses.  I got instantly excited at the prospect of buses practically gliding along our streets but Callaway brought me back to reality reminding me that switching the town’s bus fleet wouldn’t just be expensive in the initial equipment cost.  The town’s transit infrastructure would have to change to provide upkeep and maintenance of vastly different vehicles.  

There’s another project being studied that might have just the right kind of trickle down effect (apologies to all economists everywhere): the town is trying to find a way to support solar investment for residents.  Stay tuned for details on that.

I’m about to sound like an old fogey (sp?) with my conclusion.  What I found to be the brightest hope out of my conversation with Brian Callaway, was his own energy and enthusiasm for his work.  He is personally invested in it and passionate about it in ways that will benefit us as taxpayers and human beings.  It’s bright lights like his that offer the hope of a luminous future. 

Do you know any bright lights working on ideas for our future?  I’d like to know about them so please share below or write to me at  Also, leave a comment with any energy-saving ideas large or small.