How Students are Using a Consulting Mindset to Enact Sustainable Environmental Change


In the Citizen Schools apprenticeship, Carbon Footprint, students learn to research and analyze the carbon footprint of their school over the course of a 10-week period. Students develop skills around how to collect data, communicate with teammates, and eventually create an action plan for their school based on their findings.

This Spring is the second semester this class is offered at McKinley Institute of Technology (MIT) in Redwood City. Lead by a Citizen Teacher in her third semester, the current apprenticeship is taking experiential learning one step further, by engaging students in a process-oriented approach to increase effective recycling on campus. Divya Sarasan from Workday and Jaspreet Kaur from Citizen Schools partnered with Rethink Waste – South Bayside Waste Management Authority, a public agency that delivers innovative waste reduction and recycling programs, to host a discussion with students about how and why recycling efforts are not being maximized on campus.


On April 18th, Rethink Waste hosted a tour of the Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos. Students learned about what happens to their recyclables, food scraps and garbage at a working Materials Recovery Facility. This gave them the opportunity to observe their impact on environmental systems at large and implement those learnings in their everyday life. Students were then selected to monitor the lunch bins every day, and provide insight on how their fellow peers use the different colored bins. From those observations, they plan to test out different student-developed solutions to see which increases maximum responsible recycling returns.  

Both the teachers and students are very excited about the project as evidenced by what they had to say about it:

“This class helped me learn all about waste and made me want to try my best to help out [with recycling]. I’m excited to see how [the project] goes.” - Rudbi Rodriguez, MIT student

"Our students are willing and ready to recycle properly and consistently, they just need to establish a routine for it that sticks. I think the presence of the student ambassadors from Carbon Footprint at lunch will be exactly what's needed to move the students into a natural pattern of responsible and informed advocacy to help our school and the environment at large. Thanks to all involved for making a difference!"  - Craig Carson, MIT Campus Director

“My favorite part of working on this project is how all-encompassing it is: the students are learning important problem-solving skills, engaging with their peers, and understanding the connection between their actions and the environment at large. I’m happy we made the decision to use the material to engage students outside of the classroom. This way students can be a voice for their communities and advocate for what they need to be environmentally responsible.” - Jaspreet Kaur, MIT Teaching Associate

“It was really rewarding for me to see how engaged the students were during the classroom activities, how invested they were in offering insights and devising practical solutions to the recycling challenge at school. It was even more exciting to see the students volunteer to be stewards for those solutions and to put them into action. Now, these students are not only conscious of the environmental impact of their actions, but also making a difference across the school.” - Divya Sarasan, Workday Citizen Teacher