E.P.A. Blog



            Members of Fairview’s NetZero club have spoken several times at Boulder, Colorado City Council’s Open Comment to push forward a ban on plastic bags and a fee on paper bags. Through the process, we have gained insight on how to create a concise and specific speech and deliver it successfully to the city council members.

            Each person has a time limit of how long he/she can speak, so the speech should not repeat itself. It is best to arrive at the session early (unless you already know the order of speakers) and having practiced a few times. Dress appropriately for the session (no jeans or T-shirts), address the council members as “Mr./Ms. Councilmember,” and speak with a cooperative tone rather than accusatory. Be specific with what it is you want them to change, for example, “We want Boulder City Council to address the bag issue in the 5 Year Update for the Master Plan of Waste Reduction” rather than “We want you to ban bags.” The more detailed your proposal is, the easier it is for them to make changes.

            If you’re pooling in a group of people, again, make sure that the points in the argument don’t repeat. Assign specific topics to each person so that the group can be concise with time.

            Speaking at City Council is a great way to let the city know about problems you wish to change. If done correctly, the city council members will be glad to help if possible.

Vivian Chen, Fairview Net Zero




          I recently attended Making Waves in Colorado Ocean Symposium, an event promoting the conservation of the world’s oceans, which featured presentations by many of today’s leading advocates. While I learned a lot about ocean acidification and the world’s marine protected areas, the most important take-aways for me were presented by Sylvia Earle, an oceanographer and “explorer-in-residence” at National Geographic, and Louie Psihoyos, a photographer and director of award-winning documentary “The Cove”. When I asked Sylvia Earle what young people could do to advocate for the oceans, she told me to simply “keep learning”. As tomorrow’s policymakers and activists, today’s youth need to be fully educated about the state of our oceans and small daily changes they can make to reduce their own impact. While discussing his purchase of an electric car, Louie Psihoyos was not worried about what the car cost him; rather, he reflected on what it could cost to our planet if people don’t start taking action to reduce their carbon footprint. By learning more about the oceans and taking small everyday steps to reduce their personal impact, youth across the globe can advocate for the 70% of our earth that is water, and can become tomorrow’s effective environmental leaders.

Emma Hutchinson, Fairview Net Zero




Grants. The word sounds very outdated, or at least like a project forbidden to anyone outside of the workforce. However, youth can readily access this often overlooked form of revenue, as a means of funding their ideas for positive change. Grants allow one to avoid countless hours spent making cupcakes, in order to develop a valuable skill. Bake sales for the environment may raise money, but at the same time they create childhood obesity. One problem is solved, while another is created. In turning to grants, those hours can be spent learning an ability that is useful forever, one that allows access to large reserves of money waiting for those dedicated enough to pursue them. There are many small grants available for projects, especially for youth, so it is important to gather information for a good idea. The hardest part about grant writing is finding the time to sit down and work, that is why there is so little access to this rich resource. The rewards of several hours are great: to the order of hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, much more than could be gleaned from several hundred cupcakes. So the next time you have a great idea, or just need a little extra funding for your organization, think grants!

 Kira Headrick, Fairview Net Zero




Many grants require a video application: the Green Makeover Contest was no exception for the Fairview Net Zero club. We made a ten minute video to apply for an award of $65,000: but how could we create a plan of action to green our school and portray it effectively in a video? We decided to address three solutions and integrate them into our budget proposal: Efficiency, Visibility, and Involvement. From these, we created ideas to impact the community through our proposed purchases: placing solar lights in highly visible areas such as the parking lot rather than just a few classrooms, purchasing trees for students to plant, and buying environmental documentaries for teachers to show students. We structured our video exploring our three solutions and explaining how our budget proposal reflected these goals. Several students showed interest in our green initiatives; we filmed them expressing their excitement and interviewed important administrators and environmentalists about our ideas. For the technical aspects of video making, we teamed up with the film teacher and one of his students to facilitate video production. By enlisting their help, interviewing, and finding three simple and broad solutions, we were able to create a highly effective video application as well as envision future goals for our club and community.

Lizzy Dresselhaus, Fairview Net Zero

November 23, 2011



The main concept behind an energy audit is evaluating the energy use in a building to find the best way to reduce energy consumption and optimize savings. A proper audit can be complicated, especially if you are not a professional. However, the Fairview Net Zero Club has found that a simplified version may be just as effective in achieving the basic goal reducing energy use. We walked through Fairview High School and recorded the appliances and other electronic equipment in every single room. Using a Kill A Watt, we measured the wattage of each device. In the end, we discovered wasteful uses of energy. For example, we counted a total of 51 refrigerators in the entire school. It gets worse. Most were empty and left running during the summer, some were from the 70s, and none were Energy Star rated. Our proposed solution was to replace the 51 refrigerators with fourteen larger Energy Star refrigerators. We could pay for the new appliances with the energy savings in less than two years. Also, we invited the school district’s sustainability coordinator to join us for part of the audit. Partly as a result of our findings, she is coordinating an energy reduction challenge at fourteen of the district’s largest schools, getting employees to turn off appliances over breaks. Overall, the process of walking through a building and identifying unnecessary uses of energy can be done anywhere—at home, at an office. Solutions to reduce energy use are often quite obvious and one doesn’t need to be an expert to figure out how to make your home or office more efficient. 

Cindy Zou
Fairview Net Zero Club

November 24, 2011


Single-Use Bag Issue and How to Bag It! 

            The Fairview Net  Zero Environmental Club has a goal to reduce the use of single-use shopping bags in Boulder, Coloado.  We are influencing city council to pass an ordinance to put a fee or a ban on single-use shopping bags. City council has the ultimate decision, however, more than two thousand Boulder citizens have signed petitions to reduce the consumption of single-use shopping bags in Boulder. Several months ago, we asked the Boulder City Council to have the staff  look into the issue of single-use shopping bags. After that success, we went back to City Council and requested that the issue be addressed in the city’s five year update of the Master Plan for Waste Reduction.

Hundreds of millions of single-use bags are used in Boulder each year.  To increase our effectiveness we formed alliances with New ERA Colorado, Boulder High Net Zero and Summit Net Zero.  We speak about the issue at City Council meetings twice a month, addressing different concerns and giving information on the negative impacts of paper and plastic single use bags.  We have been told the issue will be addressed in the five year plan so now we are asking City Council to put the issue top of the 2012 agenda at the city council retreat in January.

            We are also raising awareness in the community. The Fairview Net Zero and,  Summit Netzero Clubs, and New ERA brought the issue to the well-attended Boulder Creekfest with a booth and by collecting petition signatures.  We also have written letters to the editor of our local paper.  Our efforts have not gone unnoticed.  An article in the local paper about us was picked up and published throughout the country and a Denver news station 9News, did a story on our club’s efforts.  We have gained more and more supporters.  Keep an eye on Boulder and don’t be surprised if you see an ordinance with fee or ban on single-use bags go into effect in Boulder in 2012.

 By Josh Brown, Fairview Net Zero Club

 September 27, 2011

EPA Blog #1

How to Revamp the Recycling System at Your School, Business or Organization in 6 Steps

At Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado, the recycling system was inefficient and ineffective. We were able to revamp the entire system. Now we know that week after week the changes we made cause tons of recyclables to be diverted from landfills and enable our local recycler to receive recyclables that are not contaminated with garbage. We also know that our efforts will continue to make a difference long after we graduate. We had can recycling bins, paper recycling bins and garbage cans were scattered at random throughout the school. Contamination of recyclables in garbage bins and garbage in recycling bins was high as the high school students often could not find the right bin to dispose of recyclable items and ended up throwing them in the garbage. That is, until the Net Zero Club decided to do something about it. Here is how we revamped our system permanently and how you can do the same for your school, business or organization:

1. Go dumpster diving! Yes, this means putting on your raggedy, old clothes and sorting through the contents of the garbage dumpster and recycling dumpster outside your building in two separate audits (make sure to do recycling and garbage separately!). Lay out a tarp and empty the dumpster of its contents. Sort the dumpster’s contents into piles of can/bottle recyclables, paper recyclables, materials that should go to the landfill, and if you wish, compostable materials. Make sure you have reviewed your local recycling regulations beforehand to make sure you know exactly what materials are recyclable! Estimate the percentages in each pile and write this information down. Doing this step will help you get an idea of the amount of contamination (recycling in trash cans and trash in recycling bins) that is happening in your building. (Preferably, the audits are performed just before the dumpsters are emptied by the garbage/recycling company, so that an accurate representation of the garbage/recycling is audited. Feel free to perform the audits several times for both garbage and recycling to get a better idea of the amount of contamination.) The data gathered, if as dreadful as Fairview High’s, will enable you to present evidence that will show the need for action. It will also enable you to later determine the effects of your actions.

2. Count up those bins! Go through your whole building, top to bottom, end to end, and count up the recycling bins and garbage bins in each room. This includes the little trash cans that people hide under their desks! Make sure you write down the number of bins in each room. Next, laminate a map of your building and buy three colors of small stickers. Assign one color to can/bottle recycling, one color to paper recycling, and one color to trash. Place stickers on your map to reflect the actual number of bins in each room. This step is very tedious, but if we did it for Fairview, the most oddly-shaped high school in the nation, you can do it! Once this step is done, you can get a great visual representation of the state of affairs of your recycling system. This map is also needed for a later step.

3. Investigate! Investigate both the contamination in the building and the behavior of the people in the building. If you’re walking down the hall on your meeting, take a few seconds to take the lid off of the nearest can recycling bin and check out its contents. Are there a lot of rotten banana peels and half-eaten burritos in there? If so, the findings of your audits performed in Steps #1 and #2 could be reaffirmed. Interview your colleagues and/or students (if you are in a school): Do they always throw items away in the correct bin, or do they just throw items in the nearest bin? Do they know the local recycling regulations and what goes in which bin? This is a step that can be spread thoughout the whole process of revamping your recycling system, but it is instrumental in understanding how to meet the individual needs of the people who are using the recycling system. Generally speaking, we found our school was filled with people who had good intentions but were a bit lazy. If we made it easier for them, they would take the time to recycle appropriately.

4. Interview! Talk with the principal, custodial staff, food service staff, teachers and students. Find out what their concerns are and if they can be your allies in making systemic changes in the waste and recycing system. If not you will need to address their concerns in your proposal for change.

5. Make stations! After much data collection and information gathering, the Fairview Net Zero Club found that the most effective way to reduce contamination and still accommodate the needs of the people at Fairview was to create stations of bins: each station includes one can recycling bin, one paper recycling bin, and one garbage bin, and recycling/waste guidelines no more, no less. This solution worked extremely well at Fairview: every time someone had to throw something away, they had to go to a station, where they were presented with all three options, as well as signs listing recycling regulations to help guide their decision. Our behavioral investigations also led us to believe that when the right decision is convenient and easily accessible, people will tend to make the right decision. To make stations, pull out your map that you made in Step #2 and decide how you could use the bins that are already there to form stations. It is a good idea to put one station in each room (make sure that the bins that comprise the station are the only bins in the room) and stations at well-spaced intervals in the hallways. We found that at major intersections in our hallways, which tended to get very busy during passing periods, it was helpful to have two or three stations. The idea is to not have any stand-alone bins in the building; if there is a garbage can somewhere, there is a can/bottle recycling bin and paper recycling bin to go along with it. A problem that arose when we were performing this step at Fairview was that we had way too many garbage bins and not enough recycling bins. Our solution? Convert some of the garbage bins to recycling bins the cheap way, using spray paint, Sharpies and Exacto knives to cut and paint the lids of the converted bins. In our classrooms, we used small, multi-purpose bins instead of the large recycling bins. This step will take the longest out of all the steps in this process, but it is by far the most important and the most unique to your own school, business or organization. Make sure you are smart and resourceful about where you place stations in your building: Where are people likely to meet in large groups? Where are people more likely to recycle cans or bottles, rather than paper, or vice versa? Don’t forget to make signs or get some from your local recycling company to post by the stations informing people about what goes in which bin.

6. How much did all this work reduce contamination? Once all the stations are in place, you can sit back, relax, and pride yourself on all your hard work. But you’re not done yet! One to three months after all the stations are in place, it’s time to go dumpster diving again. Repeat Step #2 and compare your new data to your old data. How much did all this work really reduce contamination? Hopefully a lot! (At least, that’s what happened with our revamp!) Keep performing dumpster audits and checking out the contents of the bins in your hallways and rooms periodically. The bins inside should be considerably less contaminated, as long as they have managed to stay in stations (we had some trouble with staff moving bins out of stations). But most of all, stay active in checking on the new recycling system and pat yourself on the back for permanently revamping your system and doing your part to change the world! We were able to reduce contamination 83% and increase recycling over 40%. We received an additional recycling dumpster and we replaced a big garbage dumpster with a much smaller one because of the effectiveness of the changes.

Other Notes: We weren’t able to perform these steps in a short amount of time; it took us about a year to complete the entire process, and of course we are still checking up on the system and promoting recycling in our school community. Have patience throughout the whole process and make sure you have all the necessary permission to undertake each step. We had to go through multiple layers of bureaucracy in the school system before we could even get a map of our school! Be sure that your custodial staff is on board with every step; at the end of the day, they are the ones who need to know where the bins are, and they will keep the system permanent once the process is completed by emptying the bins on a regular basis. Also, make sure that you keep your school community informed about what you are doing to revamp the system. Give frequent presentations at staff meetings, and remain positive and active on the issue. Encourage others to get involved, and if you are revamping the system at a school, get hard-working, passionate students involved. The more you know about the issue and the more passionate you become, the more people will care about the issue, support you in your initiative, and want to help. Good luck!

by Emma Hutchinson
Fairview Net Zero Club
Boulder, Colorado

June 11, 2011

EPA Blog #2

Tree Planting

To take advantage of opportunities, you have to react quickly and effectively when they arise. Unfortunately, many people do not do that because it involves changing plans. The Fairview Net Zero Club is the opposite and that is the key to our success. Nearly all of our accomplishments can be traced back to taking advantage of something happening outside our club.

In 2009, Boulder County bought a bankrupt tree farm and announced it would give away its trees to local non-profits for the cost of digging and transporting. We estimated that it would cost about $100 per tree to have professionals plant them and only $60 if we used the widely available child labor from our high school.

We had to accomplish two things and we had to do them quickly. We had to get permission from the red-tape generating bureaucracies of Boulder Valley School District and Boulder County.  This hurdle stopped nearly ever school in the district from taking advantage of the tree giveaway. Then, we needed to raise money to plant the trees.

If you push through red-tape successfully and do something that is really cool for your school and make the district and the county look good, then the next time you need to get through red-tape, it will not be there. People will want to be part of your next success. People are doing their jobs and will cut red-tape for you or speed up decision making, it is important for you to recognize they are doing you a favor. They need to be thanked for that. Thanking people who help you is the most important thing you will do if you ever want change in a bureaucracy.

So we got permission from the district, the gas company, the high school administration, and the county.

If you ever want to get a big project done, form alliances. Chances are someone else wants to accomplish the same thing. In our case, the Fairview Parents Organization wanted to do this and they had a landscape architect who was creating a master plan for the school. They had the master plan and we had the labor. The only thing we now needed was the money.

We created the “Adopt a Tree, Leave a Legacy” program, where parents donated $60 for a tree and their student’s name would be on a plaque. We initially planned on planting 25 trees, but the program was so successful, we ended up planting 59 and the FPO did not need to spend any of the money they allotted for tree planting. We raised $3440. We not only save the FPO money, but we were able to plant more trees. Oftentimes raising money is harder than saving money, so we reduced the cost per tree. We got Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) to provide transportation for the trees and dig half of the holes and we used some of the money we raised to have the rest of the holes dug by a professional landscape company. Then, Western Disposal donated the mulch necessary for planting. We got BVSD to loan some stakes for the trees. Home Depot donated tree straps, buckets, stakes, rope, and wire.  Finally we recruited students to do the heavy lifting.

During the planting, we tried to include as many people as possible. There were about 150 students involved in the planting with 11 Net Zero supervisors. The students came from gym classes, the Special ED program, Student Senate, the Teen Parents Program, and many more. Our favorite group was the weightlifting class because those kids carried a lot of the heavy water that we had no desire to lug. People started getting a little silly during the tree planting and two Student Senators made a double dare, so both ate worms while digging. Other people had water fights to cool off. The whole day was a lot of fun and it was cool being able to include people that we didn’t interact with on a typical day.

We were able to plant 59 trees: 4 Apple, 6 Ash, and 49 Spruce and Austrian Pine. We hope that the apples will be used for the Farm to Table Program. When the trees grow a lot taller, they will also make a great wind shield so that freshman do not get blown away while walking to school in the intense South Boulder winds.

We were able to not only plant 59 trees, involve 150 kids, but most important, we were able to prove that kids can do great things when given the opportunity.

Shannon Burke

Fairview Net Zero Club