This low-profile staff position can save districts millions each year

Sustainability directors on average save their districts $1 million each year, which is roughly 10 times their annual salary. But how exactly do they serve their districts?

Staff layoffs and budget cuts seem to be the talk of the town this time of year, especially considering that leaders are bracing for the inevitable fiscal cliff once their ESSER funds dry up. But what if there was one position designed to help your district save money, money that could be allocated where it’s needed most?

School districts have the potential to save millions by hiring administrators, otherwise known as sustainability directors, who focus solely on energy-saving and sustainability solutions, according to a new report from the Center for Green Schools at the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council. Included in the report are findings based on responses from 59 sustainability directors that represent nearly 6% of the nation’s K12 students.

According to the report, districts’ efforts to hire sustainability professionals at any level paid off significantly. Based on survey responses, sustainability staff helps districts save on average $1 million, which is roughly 10 times their annual salary. These savings come through strategic endeavors including energy and water conservation and waste reduction through policy implementation that help to regulate districts’ harmful emissions.

However, sustainability in K12 is still an emerging concept, one that will require the embrace of leaders and administrators. Yet, there are already large urban districts utilizing at least one sustainability employee, including New York and San Diego.

Additionally, most districts’ transitions to sustainability required advocacy and support from key stakeholders, including help from administrators or their local school boards, the report suggests. But what exactly do they help districts achieve?

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For clarity, here’s some insight into what sustainability professionals say are the most important areas of responsibility in their school districts on a scale from 1-5:

Data retrieved from the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council.

While there’s still much to understand in this area, those who are making strides are doing so with great influence as most respondents said they have “high confidence” to influence their direct supervisor, in addition to having the power to influence the district’s strategy and communicate their sustainability efforts.

“For many school leaders, sustainability is a new concept, and the many strategies for leading green schools are outside of their current knowledge base,” the report reads. “Therefore, school district superintendents and school boards across the United States are following the lead of industry and higher education by hiring sustainability professionals to both define their sustainability goals and help facilitate organization-wide progress toward actions that will benefit the schools and the broader community.”

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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