ILSC, a private English as a second language school in Vancouver, British Columbia, has set its sights on becoming 100% waste-free by 2015. The five-campus Vancouver branch of the international language school is host to 1,400 students from around the world. “We’re on track to meeting this goal,” explains Erin Brown, Administrative Services Manager. “We know that green leadership is important, and at ILSC we are taking steps in the right direction.” As one of the many creative green initiatives and educational activities adopted at the school, ILSC started systematically using refillable markers for their whiteboards in August 2012. The widespread use of refillable markers for classroom instruction, instead of the regular disposable kind, has diverted 1,500 pounds from the landfill over the last year and a quarter.
“It’s incredible,” says Brown of the amount of markers that the school is no longer throwing out. “This all started when one teacher calculated he was throwing out 6 markers a week, so he started recycling the lids.” After finding out about EcoSmart Products, a local company that distributes non-toxic, refillable markers made of recycled aluminum, the school’s Green Team tested the markers out. The teachers were given sets of EcoSmart’s markers and refill inks, and the idea caught on – a significant green initiative in a school with 110 classrooms, 12 computer labs and 200 faculty and staff.
“Everyone benefits from EcoSmart’s markers and refill inks: the teachers, administrators and students,” explains Brown. “The teachers feel better using a product that is not toxic like the other markers. They felt that it wasn’t healthy to constantly be breathing in the [vapours from] regular markers. I also see that it is empowering for a teacher to have his or her own set of markers and refill inks, which will last for months and months at a time.” Fred Huston, one of the teachers at ILSC, explains in a nutshell, “For teachers, the pens are easier to hold, they lack chemical smells and they decrease waste.”
While the product choices at ILSC are driven primarily by the school’s commitment to the environment, Brown acknowledges that using a refillable product saves money. Rather than constantly buying new markers, the teachers are refilling their own for about 70% less than buying new ones. But there are other, indirect cost savings too. Brown explains that businesses downtown Vancouver use a waste removal company, paying by weight and frequency for their garbage to be hauled away. “We have cut our garbage costs by 50% through a variety of green initiatives, and using EcoSmart markers has been a major part of that cost cutting,” says Brown. “It’s money that we reinvest in the Green Team. And we’re having so much fun with our initiatives.”
For instance, ILSC has implemented an extensive recycling and composting system throughout their campuses, which has come to life through a colour-coded system for the bins, student-led projects like a Leaning Tower of Recycling, and compost and recycling mascots. The educational component is key at a school which draws students from diverse countries with a variety of environmental practices and experiences. Pop eco quizzes in the student lounge, with fun prizes, engage the students and show the passion of the teachers and students for all things green.
When asked why ILSC is taking such measures to be more environmentally responsible, Brown explains that the inspiration comes initially from the leaders of the school, who are green in their personal lives. “As well, we actually get the feel from the city,” says Brown, referring to Vancouver’s audacious claim to become the world’s greenest city by 2020. “It has had an effect on Vancouver business in general.”
In the ESL classroom, using an eco-friendly marker is important since language instruction makes such heavy use of the whiteboard. But it is also in keeping with the vision of school, that learning at ILSC is life-long. “All these students are going back to their home country,” explains Brown. “They will take their learning in green leadership back home with them. At ILSC we have a global community feel, and it is a green feel. We’ve come a long way since that one teacher collected everyone’s marker caps to recycle,” says Brown. With regards to the school’s goal to be waste-free by 2015, they’ve already hit their mark with their whiteboard markers.
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