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San Francisco Schools Aim for a Zero Carbon Footprint by 2040

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A San Francisco Unified School District administrative building at 555 Franklin St. (Wikimedia Commons)

The San Francisco Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night in favor of a plan to achieve carbon neutrality -- the phasing out of fossil fuel use entirely -- by 2040. Board officials say the San Francisco Unified School District now has in place the nation's most aggressive carbon reduction goal of its kind.

“The old mantra of sustainability is, 'How can we be more efficient? How can we be slightly better?' " says Nik Kaestner, the district’s sustainability director. “The new mantra is, 'How can we get to zero? How can we do it in a way that, in the end, we won’t have anything else to improve upon?"

The plan aims to reduce fossil fuel use in two major areas: school buildings and the district’s fleet. Schools will be designed or retrofitted to generate enough energy to cover demand, and to collect enough rainwater to meet half of water demand. SFUSD aims to reduce its natural gas use by half by 2030 and stop burning natural gas entirely by 2040. All district-owned vehicles are scheduled to be emission-free by 2030, and buses will switch to renewable diesel over the next three years.

The 103-year-old John Yehall Chin Elementary School has been extensively retrofitted for energy savings.
The 103-year-old John Yehall Chin Elementary School has been extensively retrofitted for energy savings. (Dana Cronin/KQED)

SFUSD claims it has already cut its energy use by 22 percent and its water use by 29 percent.

“One of the things that we always tell our students in our schools is, ‘Lead by example,’ ” the resolution’s co-author, Matt Haney, told a Tuesday gathering at John Yehall Chin Elementary School, a World War I-era building that has been extensively retrofitted for energy efficiency. “That is something that we’re trying to do here today with this policy.”

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District officials say the money will come from already existing school bonds.

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