Task Force Overtakes Enviro Club in GDS Sustainability Efforts

The Environmental Task Force meets during lunch. Photos by Sawyer Thompson.

On Dec. 8, the Enviro Club met during lunch in room 203 for a planned conversation about the role poor and wealthy countries should play in addressing climate change. The next day, the Environmental Task Force (ETF) gathered at the same time one floor below to discuss its accomplishments so far this year and its upcoming projects.

The first group discusses global environmental issues and advocacy outside GDS; the second, a part of the Student Action Committee, focuses on promoting sustainability at school. The ETF, which was founded in the fall of 2019 to translate students’ environmental activism to changes in the school community, now exceeds the more longstanding Enviro Club in participation.

“The ETF is now the main group focusing on improving sustainability efforts within GDS’ walls,” senior Annabel Williams, the two organizations’ only overlapping co-head, said. “So Enviro Club has embraced its role as a place to continue conversations on environmental current events while also continuing the advocacy and outer-school commitment.”

The ETF works to implement tangible improvements at GDS in three subcommittees focused on education and art, food and waste and connecting with nature through “green wellness,” respectively. Chris Oster, one of the ETF’s faculty advisors, said the group’s goal is “to get to net zero in terms of our carbon footprint at GDS.”

The Education & Art subcommittee is planning to work with lower/middle school students to create a mural in the lower/middle school cafeteria using eco-friendly materials such as bottle caps.

The Food & Waste subcommittee is working to conduct a waste audit of all three divisions to determine how to reduce that waste, according to Luke Cohen, a co-head of the subcommittee. And already, it organized a system for leftover snacks from the cafeteria to be donated to the local nonprofit One More Plate.

The third subcommittee of the ETF, the Green Wellness group, concentrates on inspiring GDS community members to lead more sustainable lives. Its current focus is on creating an interactive workbook for students in the LMS “to encourage kids to go outside and learn about the nature that surrounds them,” junior Asha Adiga-Biro, the subcommittee’s head, explained. 

The Enviro Club, meanwhile, is meant to allow students to learn about environmental issues outside GDS and actions they can take to lobby for action against climate change. This year, the Enviro heads had planned for members of the club to protest outside of the White House on Columbus Day but canceled the outing due to rumors that demonstrators might be rowdy or even get arrested, according to Williams. The Enviro Club has not participated in any advocacy beyond GDS this semester.

The recent Enviro Club meeting.

Before the pandemic, Enviro Club took part in volunteer activities in the D.C. area. This year, Williams said, “we haven’t found time to work on that yet. I think next semester we want to do more of this community service and volunteer work.” Last school year, Enviro met with sparse attendance over Zoom, which contributed to the decline in enthusiasm for the club, according to Williams.

Although the two environmental groups she leads have distinct approaches and members, Williams said she hopes for them to collaborate. “We have discussed doing an environmental lobbying project, which would be a larger effort in which the ETF and Enviro Club would work together,” Williams said. “But that is still something we have to figure out.”

In addition to the ETF and the Enviro Club, C.A. Pilling’s Research in Environmental Science class conducted another sustainability effort last spring. Her students worked to find ways to implement changes in the high school by collecting and analyzing data on GDS’ carbon footprint in three main areas: energy use, transportation and waste. 

After calculating the carbon emissions, students in the class presented the data to the administration, along with proposed solutions such as a school-wide composting system, which Pilling said the maintenance team has begun exploring.The school did not flinch at trying to make those things happen,” said Pilling, who also advises both the ETF and Enviro Club.

Oster emphasized the importance of GDS students devoting time to sustainability efforts. “We need to remember that, with our commitment to social justice,” he said, “environmental stewardship matters.”