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Protecting the planet, one world-class school at a time

Over the past two weeks, all eyes were on world leaders as they convened in Glasgow for the 2021 Climate Change Conference; the health of our planet has never been more critical. At Success Academy, our standard for excellence includes an investment in sustainability and an environmentally responsible approach to our operations and physical spaces.   

There are so many ways that we can adjust, innovate, and create when it comes to energy efficiency and minimizing our impact! Across the Success Academy network, there are dozens of initiatives planned or already in the works, from upgrading air conditioning systems in our classrooms to donating and repurposing old classroom furniture. Our objective is to minimize or offset both our operational carbon footprint — the energy used through daily building use — and our embodied carbon footprint — the types of materials and energy used in our buildings and supply chain practices.

Here are three of our particularly exciting efforts that deserve a shoutout:

Progressive Playgrounds  

Photo credit: TW2M and Seth Caplan


In true Success Academy fashion, we’re paying attention to the details when it comes to building and renovating the playgrounds of the future. For example, at SA Washington Heights, our most recent renovation, we’ve installed surfaces that are designed to minimize disruption to tree roots, carefully sourced materials that are particularly durable so that they won’t have to be replaced too often, and selected native plants that are low maintenance. Playgrounds and open spaces are actually the first line of defense when it comes to flood resilience, so we’re incorporating effective drainage systems into the designs as well. Finally, we want to maximize space in the most efficient way possible, so we’ve reconceptualized outdoor areas to serve as classrooms as well as great places to play tag — and we are using this approach with each new playground project. 

Paper Waste: Be Gone! 

We realized that eliminating paper waste is one of the biggest win-wins in terms of making a positive environmental impact while maximizing the efficiency of our classrooms. By establishing a completely digital approach to collecting and grading assessments, we’ve saved our teachers hours each week and reduced printing to 11.5 million pages per year — which will result in a reduction of 2.27 million pounds of CO2 equivalent and 3.19 million gallons of water!

The other key source of paper-related waste involved copiers, so we redesigned our copier footprint to match our school design; lesson plans don’t revolve around paper materials and teachers no longer need to spend the time producing hundreds of copies each week. So far, we’ve achieved a 50% reduction in copiers across schools. Our schools are also taking a more thoughtful approach to color printing and color copying; black-and-white printers are 88% cheaper than color. 

Don’t worry — we aren’t eliminating paper entirely! We just choose wisely. Books, and book-shopping, and lots of other non-digital activities like, read-alouds and “turn and talks,” number stories and math problems, hands-on science experiments, art class, and other electives ensure that screen time is moderate. 

No More Toxic Technology

Ever wonder what happens to your laptop or cell phone when it’s seemingly broken beyond repair? Most e-waste ends up in a landfill, contributing excessive amounts of toxic pollution to the environment. With every SA teacher and scholar equipped with their own laptop, it’s essential that we minimize our contribution to the ever-growing e-waste crisis — so we’ve piloted a system to recycle e-waste by donating to other organizations that can make use of it. SA’s Technology team is expanding their partnership with Revivn, a public benefit corporation that helps recycle or repurpose outdated technology. Older Apple iOS devices, out-of-spec Chromebooks, and damaged keyboards, mice, and cables can be repurposed or recycled; materials have been donated to Digital Girl, Inc., Refugee Transitions, and the Women’s Prison Association instead of just thrown away! 

In addition to these three areas of focus, we’re excited to initiate multiple other projects in the coming months, including eliminating single-use plastics, reducing food waste across our campuses, decommissioning old furniture in an environmentally friendly way, installing energy-saving technologies in our older buildings, and purchasing or retrofitting schools with certified green carpets, adhesives, cushions paints, and flooring. Our scholars deserve our best efforts to help the planet, and we’re proud and excited to hold this leadership role as an enterprise.  



Written by Success Academy November 12, 2021

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