Taking it to the Class:
Alabama Center for Sustainable Energy

single-meta-cal November 16, 2016

They have been teaching the teachers, and for that, their good work has been rewarded.

The team at the Alabama Center for Sustainable Energy has created a number of initiatives for schools, communities, the private sector and non-profits, each leading to a more rapid acceleration to sustainable energy in the state.

The Center’s work was recognized recently with its first Achievement Award for environment education, as presented by the City of Huntsville’s Air Pollution Control Board.

The board has been recognizing local companies since 1997 for their voluntary efforts to reduce air pollutant emissions. The winners of this year’s Achievements Awards were Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation, PPG Aerospace Transparencies, Sanmina Corporation and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama. It was the 10th such award for Toyota, the fifth for Northrop Grumman, the fourth for Sanmina and a second consecutive award for PPG Aerospace.

Daniel Tait, chief executive officer for the Alabama Center for Sustainable Energy, said his company was “excited about the award,” and that it “validates some of the hard work we do every day, trying to educate folks about sustainable energy. It’s a nice honor.”

The educational outreach is geared toward students, as early as the elementary school level.

“It told us we needed to go back to the drawing board, to make sure the teachers had the resources to teach effectively, or we were hitting only half the equation.”

“We try to put technology or stuff, whatever that stuff might be, into their hands as young as possible to have them build something or problem-solve with some sort of equipment in their hands,” Tait said. “It’s not enough to talk about it on a whiteboard.”

The Center is working with Appleton Learning and is partnering with Huntsville City Schools to become part of the program for extracurricular science programs.

In doing so, Tait and his staff realized that educators needed to be brought up to speed. The subject of sustainable energy is a relatively new one. It’s not something included in much college curriculum for future teachers.

“We started hearing from teachers when we doing the piloting programs, ‘Heck, I don’t know much about this. It wasn’t around when I went to school,’” Tait said. “It told us we needed to go back to the drawing board, to make sure the teachers had the resources to teach effectively, or we were hitting only half the equation.”

The Center has signed an agreement with Marshall Space Flight Center through which it will be jointly providing education curriculum and professional development.

Beyond teaching the teachers and teaching the students, The Center provides information and assistance as companies seek to use more sustainable energy in their workplaces.

The Better Buildings Challenge encourages companies and organizations to participate and commit to 20 percent energy reduction over the next 10 years. According to Tait, there is $50 million in potential savings in Huntsville alone with relatively simple changes. There are more than 70 buildings, encompassing more than seven million square feet, involved now.

Tait sees the Huntsville community as an ideal leader across the region in terms of sustainable energy.

“When we get out there and do something as a city, a lot of people look to Huntsville to see what’s coming,” he said. “We’ve always been on the technology edge and we should take that role and run with it.”

The city itself, simply by honoring companies with these awards, demonstrates leadership and interest in relying more on sustainable energy.

“When Mayor (Tommy) Battle and the city leadership say this is important to us, this is where we want to go, it sends a very clear sign to the community and the businesses involved that we view this as possible,” Tait said. “It’s very basic goal-setting, a visionary status. That makes a huge difference. For us, we’ve already seen a big impact of that.”

Mark McCarter is a regular contributor to City Blog