Taking Action on the Climate Crisis

Poly recognizes that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. The school is reducing its climate impacts through a multi-faceted approach. Passionate students are taking charge and advocating for commitments to renewable energy as well as implementing initiatives that reduce greenhouse gasses through food waste diversion. As an institution, Poly is assessing its carbon contributions and mapping out a path to move toward carbon neutrality. 

Poly's flagship renewable energy project will be completed in summer 2024, adding more than 400 solar panels to gym rooftops while also fully electrifying gym HVAC systems. The school ultimately plans to install rooftop solar campus-wide, generating most of its electrical power needs with renewable energy. 

Educating students about climate change is also a priority for Poly, as is providing ways for students and employees to take action and positively impact the climate crisis every school day.

The Climate Emergency

The climate crisis is arguably the greatest threat facing humanity. Warmer temperatures over time are already causing record heat waves, wildfires, sea level rise and more powerful storms with devastating destruction. The risks posed by climate change are life threatening to all living beings on Earth. This record rise in temperatures is human-caused and stems primarily from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat and transportation. The gasses emitted by these activities trap heat in our atmosphere and are called greenhouse gasses. Globally, the greatest concentration of greenhouse gasses come from carbon dioxide (76%) and methane (16%)[1]. Without urgent action to reduce greenhouse gasses, this dire situation will only get worse.

[1] https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data

Student Passion into Action: Becoming Change Makers

Poly students are at the heart of the school’s climate action initiatives. Climate change tops the lists of global worries for young people today and taking action to mitigate global warming is a priority for many of the school's student sustainability clubs. Students are channeling their passion into action and effecting change on campus.

An Upper School club that advocated for a renewable energy pledge from the school led Poly to conduct a campus energy assessment to help map out a path to carbon neutrality. Another Upper School club studied how Poly manages the organics generated from campus activities and proposed a way to reduce greenhouse gasses through on-site composting. Poly now has four aerated-static-pile composting bins in one of the school’s gardens.

A Middle School Sustainability club created and piloted waste sorting stations to divert food waste and reduce methane emissions. The clubs’ combined efforts led to the implementation of effective waste sorting systems campus-wide, and since 2021, students compost several tons of organic waste in Poly's on-site bins each year. Finished compost is used as a natural fertilizer for school gardening projects, closing the loop on Poly’s organic waste.
Poly students’ passion to make a positive impact on climate change has helped them to develop leadership skills, become active in civic issues and to work collaboratively both within and outside of Poly.

How Students Are Taking Action

Developing as Leaders

  • Presenting climate action proposals to school leaders
  • Leading sustainability assemblies
  • Teaching and training our youngest students about sustainable practices
  • Educating peers about sustainability issues through publishing newsletters, creating videos and speaking at class gatherings
  • Researching complex problems and seeking participation from all stakeholders to brainstorm solutions
  • Delivering persuasive speeches on actions students want the school to take to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions
  • Inspiring new climate action-focused curriculum
  • Proposing and integrating projects such as composting into science curriculum

Becoming Civic Activists 

  • Researching city approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Interviewing city leaders to understand decisions and propose more sustainable alternatives
  • Attending City Council and Committee meetings, learning how city government functions
  • Speaking at City Council meetings to advocate for clean energy policy
  • Writing public comments for City Council agenda items that address climate action

Seeking Collaboration 

Poly students have met with nearby educational institutions to
  • Share best practices
  • Explore possible collaboration on organic waste reduction
Students have worked closely with the Operations team members and leaders to help create effective sustainability processes

How Poly Is Reducing Its Carbon Footprint

In 2021, Poly expanded environmental sustainability staffing, adding a position to specifically focus on climate action to help the school reduce its campus carbon footprint. In early 2022, the school commissioned a study to assess the school’s carbon emissions and developed a road map to move toward carbon neutrality by 2030. 

Here are some of the ways we are making progress on campus decarbonization:

List of 11 frequently asked questions.

  • Campus Carbon Reduction Plan

    To develop a carbon reduction plan for the campus, in early 2022 Poly partnered with Verdical Group, a sustainability consulting firm with expertise in decarbonizing the built environment. In collaboration with Poly’s Facilities’ team, Verdical Group analyzed the school’s energy systems and identified baseline energy usage and resulting carbon emissions. The final report includes a plan that identifies specific carbon reduction projects to guide strategy and planning choices to help Poly progress toward carbon neutrality.

    Read about how student climate activism spurred Poly to assess its carbon impacts.
  • Rooftop Solar Systems

    Implementing rooftop solar systems throughout the campus is a key component of Poly’s plan to reduce carbon. The school will commence rooftop solar installation in 2024 and ultimately intends to meet most of the school’s electricity needs with solar energy.
  • Energy Efficiency

    Improving energy efficiency is a primary focus for Poly’s Facilities Department. A full transition to LED lighting is underway throughout the campus in a phased effort. Poly’s garage and most outdoor lighting already have LED technology, increasing energy efficiency and reducing maintenance. Lighting in theaters, classrooms, and offices is being replaced with LED in a phased approach. Submeters will also be installed in strategic locations throughout campus buildings to monitor progress in energy efficiency.
  • Electrification

    Most of Poly’s facilities are heated with natural gas. A focus on electrification means shifting away from burning fossil-fuels for heating and cooling to all-electric options such as heat pumps. This will further reduce Poly’s carbon footprint, especially as the electrical grid becomes cleaner. The school is replacing core classroom split gas/electric HVAC units with more efficient electric heat pumps in a phased approach.
  • Recycling Food Waste Into Compost

    With students leading the way, Poly diverts 95% of all campus-generated organic waste, composting food scraps and landscaping trimmings and reducing methane gas. At lunch waste sorting stations across the K-12 campus, students, faculty and staff scrape food scraps from lunch into buckets for composting. The bucket system was designed by Poly’s Operations’ team in collaboration with students. With training and support from 02Compost, students also compost several tons of food and landscaping waste annually on-site in 02Compost designed aerated static pile composting bins. The finished compost is added as a natural fertilizer to the Lower and Middle School vegetable garden raised beds, closing the loop on campus organic waste.
  • Reducing Single-use Plastics

    Poly launched a K-12 lunch reusables program in 2022, providing reusable plates and metal utensils for all who order lunch from the school’s cafeteria. The purpose of the initiative was to eliminate 80,000 + single-use plastic utensils from the waste stream annually. The program has vastly reduced waste campus-wide. In 2024, Poly eliminated single-use plastic water bottles from its cafeteria, inspired by 8th grade student research and advocacy.
  • Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Stations

    Poly encourages EV use with 16 EV charging stations available to the community located in the school’s garage. Poly partnered with Chevrolet to offer free employee trials of the all-electric Chevy Bolt.
  • School Bus Program

    Since Poly's Bus Program's inception in 2014, it has served more than 225 students. Within the past four years, the program has saved 15,140 car trips to/from campus, significantly reducing CO2 emissions. Poly continues to evaluate its bus routes to be able to serve more families.
  • Stormwater Retention

    As Pasadena benefits from as much as 40% of its water supply from well water, recharging the aquifer remains a longstanding sustainable process. New discussions with Pasadena Water and Power seek to develop strategies and resources on campus to incorporate ways to increase water infiltration during rainstorms. Methods such as water garden designs, infiltration basins, and regular storm drain maintenance may be considered to maximize water infiltration to groundwater supply while continuing to manage flooding.
  • LEED Certification

    A major campus construction and renovation project received LEED Gold certification in 2012.
  • Sustainability Staffing

    Recognizing the climate emergency and the importance of both supporting students’ interest in climate action and the urgency of reducing Poly’s campus carbon emissions, the school increased environmental sustainability staffing in 2021. Two employees now share responsibilities to decarbonize campus facilities, implement environmental sustainability initiatives and advise individual students and student clubs that are focused on making progress on climate action at Poly and at the municipal level.

Climate Action FAQs

List of 3 frequently asked questions.

  • What happens to the compost that Poly creates?

    The compost is used as a soil amendment for raised beds in the Lower School and Middle School gardens and also used as a natural fertilizer to mulch our campus landscaping.
  • Does Poly recycle?

    Yes. Poly recycles, but recycling takes place at Athens Services Material Recovery Facility (MRF). All trash and recycling are taken together to the MRF and once there, glass bottles, aluminum cans, #1 and #2 plastics, and uncontaminated cardboard and paper are recovered and recycled.
  • What happens to food waste and landscaping waste that we can’t compost on-site?

    All landscaping trimmings as well as food waste collected from our food service provider and from our thirteen campus sorting stations is composted at American Organics, a commercial facility in Victorville, CA when Poly doesn’t have capacity to compost on-site.

Meet the Team

List of 3 members.

  • Photo of Laura Fleming

    Laura Fleming 

    Manager of Environmental Sustainability
  • Photo of David Yamaoka

    Dave Yamaoka 

    Manager of Safety and Sustainability
  • Photo of Keith Huyssoon

    Keith Huyssoon 

    Chief Financial Officer