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River Falls: Looking for a cleaner future

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Reduce, reuse and recycle -- we all learned about this in school. But what does it mean and how do we implement these ideas?

The Sustainability Environmental Education Committee (SEEC) is seeking to answer these questions.

As part of the school district's Strategic Plan, the SEEC, formed in March 2011, was asked to come up with a sustainability framework.

The committee is made up of a diverse group including: the local school district, public-sector, private-sector and university employees.

The SEEC has developed guiding principles to implement strategy III: "Instill in every student a respect for our world and its resources so they become responsible and productive global citizens."

River Falls Municipal Utilities Conservation and Efficiency Coordinator, Mike Noreen, views the committee as a way to create a "common language and common vision."

"I find it important that we have all three larger powers (the city, school district and university) agree," he said. "It will help with joined projects."

When each entity is making purchases or doing capital improvements, Noreen would like to see everyone on the same page.

As committee member and Rocky Branch School Principal Chuck Eaton put it: "We need to all be connected in making the community strong and sustainable for the future."

Said Noreen: "We are trying to look out for the best interest of the community."

Putting into practice

On Jan. 16 the school board approved a proclamation developed by the SEEC.

The proclamation is a guiding principal to help with decisions on "resources, personnel and appropriate academic considerations."

The principals include:

  • Eliminate our community's contribution to fossil fuel dependence and to wasteful use of scare metals and materials.
  • Eliminate our community's contribution to dependence upon persistent chemicals and wasteful use of synthetic substances.
  • Eliminate our community's contribution to encroachment upon nature, land, water, wildlife, forests, soil and ecosystems.
  • Meet human needs fairly and efficiently.

According Eaton, the guidelines are a "...way of thinking -- we are all connected."

"We will never eliminate everything, but we can reduce our use of petroleum products," Eaton said.

For example, "We need to consciously make decisions to make sure chemicals we use and that are lost don't end up in the Kinni."

The committee is trying to emphasize doing "...what is right even when no one is looking."

According to Eaton, sustainability goes further than being mindful of our waste and use of natural resources. "It also entails sustainable relationships."

Use of family or pride groups at the local schools is one way that this premise is being introduced. By putting groups of kids from different grades together, relationships are being created.

What's the future?

Now that the guiding principles are in place, the committee will switch to action mode. Ideas are in the works to put the guidelines into practice at the schools and within the community.

Eaton points to the eco-village, solar energy use at the high school, Greenwood community gardens and the green certified City hall as all steps towards the SEEC's sustainability goals.

Other projects in the works or expanding include:

  • Paper reduction programs emphasizing electronics
  • Food composting, a joint project with UWRF
  • Community-wide bike share program and increased bike trails
  • The school forest project.

Not only does this committee have a sustainability and stewardship agenda, but they also have a financial one.

River Falls school district maintenance specialist and committee member Andrew Johnson said: "I would like to see our school district go green to save green."

Added Eaton: "Everybody on the committee is passionate about environment education and sustainability. By making a conscious attempt, we are moving forward in a sustainable way for the future."

Jillian Dexheimer

Jillian Dexheimer has been a copy editor and reporter for the River Falls Journal since 2011. She previously worked for the River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. Dexheimer holds a sociology degree from UW-River Falls.