Wissahickon Charter School
By Natalie Pompilio
A Philadelphia charter school that aims to educate the next generation of “environmental stewards,” a New Jersey city transforming an abandoned strip mall into a viable town center, and a Chester County community considered a model for ecological living were among the winners Monday night at the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s second annual Sustainability Awards.
The awards, given by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, honor people and organizations that strive to live in the present without damaging the future. Someone called the awards the “Environmental Oscars,” but “sustainability” can also extend to the economy and social concerns
“It’s a hard word to define,” PEC Communications Manager Jessica Anderson said of ‘sustainability,’ “but we hope people will begin to understand it through these organizations.”
Julie Carroll, one of Wissahickon Charter’s founders and the director of development, said the six-year-old K to 8 school weaves environmental lessons throughout the curriculum. For example, the school grows sprouts that are sold at the Weavers Way co-op, seemlessly giving students lessons in planting, marketing, math and language, she said. And during a recent lesson about good food and healthy eating, the students bought lunch at the grocery store and then discussed the healthiness of their purchases and how making those items had affected the planet.
“These are kids that don’t normally consider their neighborhood to be an environment,” Carroll said. “We’ve given them lenses to see their own world.”
Besides Wissahickon Charter School, the City of Willingboro and partner Croxton Collaborative Architects, and Camphill Village, the other winners were: TreeVitalize, a Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources project that has planted 20,000 trees in southeast Pennsylvania; Neighborhood Bike Works, a nonprofit organization that recycles bicycles, puts refurbished bikes back on the road, and encourages bike riding as an alternative to driving; and homebuilder Don Bradley, who uses environmentally-friendly building techniques and who has constructed the first market-rate zero-energy solar community.
Philanthropist Hal Taussig, president and founder of the travel company Untours, was honored for Lifetime Achievement. Through his foundation, Taussig, who is committed to shrinking the gap between rich and poor, promotes the Fair Trade movement, builds low-income housing and gives low-interest starter loans. Friends who presented Taussig’s award recounted how he rode his bicycle every day no matter what the weather and even stayed in a NYC youth hostel while in the city accepting an award because the money wasted on hotels could be better spent helping other people.
Green is big in Philadelphia these days – and not just because the Sustainability Awards were given at the city’s annual flower show. After taking office in January, new mayor Michael Nutter pledged to establish Philadelphia as “the greenest city in America, from an emphasis on green construction practices to a national leadership role in the recycling movement.” He aims to put his money where his mouth is, increasing funding to Fairmount Park and to the city’s recycling program.
Harrisburg is thinking green, too. Gov. Ed Rendell has crafted a budget that includes money to fund alternative energy methods and helping Pennsylvanians reduce their energy costs.
At Monday’s awards ceremony, PNC President Bill Mills jokingly told the crowded Convention Center audience that “as a banker, green is a very important color to me.” Then, more seriously, he noted that PNC has more “green-certified” buildings than any other world corporation.
“It’s the right thing to do for our employees, our customers and our shareholders,” Mills said.
He was addressing a receptive crowd. About the half the crowd raised their hands when asked if they’d traveled to the event on foot, on bike or via public transportation. About half also identified themselves as gardeners or tree planters. Organizers didn’t hand out programs for the event.
“There’s a lot of green momentum in this room,” noted Channel 6 meteorologist Erica Grow, who MC’d the ceremony.
About 50 groups were nominated for awards this year. A panel of judges that included past winners like Philadelphia CarShare and government and business leaders chose the six winners.
The “People’s Choice Award,” which went to Campbill Village, was decided by online voting.
Accepting the award for TreeVitalize, DCNR Secretary Mike DeBerardinis noted that it is no longer an option to move towards sustainability. “It’s an imperative,” he said. “We have a limited amount of time to reduce our Greenhouse gases and if we don’t do it in 10 or 15 years there will be no turning back.”
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