Advancing Green Schools and Clean Technologies in California: An Interview with Green Technology’s Carl Smith

Carl Smith working to advance sustainability education in California

Carl Smith is focused on the development of editorial and educational content relating to public sector sustainability goals in California. He is also focused on the strategies, best practices and technologies that contribute to the attainment of these goals.

For the past decade, Carl has been the Editor in Chief of Green Technology, a non-profit initiative designed to inform government sustainability efforts. Green Technology supports policy, research, education, and forward-looking relationships with industry and government to help build a green future. Green Technology also provides a forum for government officials to communicate with the cleantech sector.

Green Technology hosts the annual Green California Schools and Community Colleges Summit, they also publish Green Technology magazine. The overarching goal of Green Technology is to support stakeholders and highlight the public sector’s cleantech efforts.

In a recent phone interview, Carl offered his views on the Green schools movement and the growth of green technology.


When it comes to both green schools and the growth of green technology, Carl acknowledges that economic imperatives are dictating factors. As he says, “any activity that has a budget will be motivated by cost.”  He also referenced the ways in which scaling technology lowers costs, “as things become more common costs will go down,” he said. Or to put it another way, “cost goes down over time as use goes up.”

Carl concedes that some investments in green technology entail higher upfront costs, however, he is quick to point out that the ROI on these investments offers a cost savings over the longer term.

California Policy

As the world’s eighth leading economy, the sheer size of the Californian economy means that it has a lot of clout. The state of California is interested in setting policy that leads to costs savings. This is a major part of the reason why the policy climate in the state supports clean technology and green schools. California’s mandates for green building, renewable energy and “environmentally preferable” purchasing position the state on the leading edge of green technology.

California is a leader in both green technology and green schools. California has the largest public school system in the U.S. and schools are on the front lines of the state’s green initiatives. California has the country’s biggest K-12 and community college system, it is the birthplace of the nation’s first green building rating program for K-12 schools and home of the first K-12 environmental literacy curriculum.

Carl indicated that it is important that the California Clean Energy Jobs Act (Prop. 39) succeed. This Act changed the corporate income tax code and allocates projected revenue to California’s General Fund and the Clean Energy Job Creation Fund for five fiscal years, beginning with fiscal year 2013-14.

“It is really important that what is planned here works, we need to show that a strong commitment to greenhouse gas reduction is economically viable,” he said.

Transcending Partisan Politics

Although Carl supports Prop 39, he is decidedly non-partisan. He said that while it is “definitely important to have leadership at the district level,” he does not see the advancement of green schools and clean technology as either a Democratic or Republican issue. In his view, issues like clean air and water transcend traditional partisan boundaries.

There is a powerful impetus driving the growth of green technology, after all who would not want clean air and water?, Carl says.

“Any progress that we make is about the actions of people,” he says, “awareness about the general concepts of sustainability,” is not about partisan politics, it is about being sensible.

Green Schools

According to Green Technology, schools are uniquely poised to open the door to a greener future. While the definition of green schools varies from person to person, Carl says they are about things like energy efficiency and the eradication of cancer causing emissions. However, the most serious practitioners see green schools as a place where sustainability is reflected in all aspects of the culture, facilities and curriculum. In essence, a green school is not just about a healthier school, it is a school that improves student performance.

Green schools afford a tremendous opportunity to engage people and transform society. The school system can help to advance our green future because it is uniquely positioned to grow awareness about solutions to the environmental threats that we face. A green school strives to advance the understanding that resource scarcity demands we do things differently.

Giving kids the opportunity to see a solar cell or an energy dashboard can be an important part of a transformative educational experience. This can benefit the wider world in which these schools operate. “Schools that have adopted these things have become community leaders,” Carl says.

Schools afford the best opportunity to advance green technology.

“It is not just about ‘green’, it is about survival” Carl says. “We depend on other living systems, it is not a ‘green’ issue this is a life issue.” We need to deepen our understanding of “how we might need to manage things to survive into the future”.

We need to find ways of “thinking of a way through all of that.” One of the ways we can advance this kind of thinking is through engagement programs. This spans a wide array of activities from having kids work as energy police to getting kids engaged at the community level.

“The future depends on people and schools help people to develop sensible viewpoints,” Carl explains. “We need students who get the big picture, [in this regard, the] school sector is the most important of all.”

Green California Schools Summit

The Green California Schools and Community College Summit significantly contributes to pro-social environmental and economic change.  This summit attracts a wide range of people with a program that highlights what is working locally and nationally. As explained by Carl, the summit affords a, “great opportunity to hear from people who are setting the pace.”

The Summit will offer valuable guidelines on things like water use on school campuses. Discussions at the summit go far beyond the lowest common denominator like getting rid of grass. Water will be the main theme of the keynote speaker Bill Patzert, who is well known as one of the most influential voices on water issues.

Carl suggests that the greatest impediment to the growth of green schools is understanding. “It is impossible to overstate how much information and communication is needed,” he said. He suggests that we need more conferences like the Green Schools Summit and we need more people to come to these conferences.


According to Carl, entrepreneurs and business people can help to advance green schools and in a variety of ways. Ultimately it comes down to the understanding that we all live together. “We are all part of ecosystems within ecosystems,” he said. We must understand the valuable connection between businesses and schools. If nothing else, we must understand that we are connected to the places we live and do business in.

In the most immediate sense, businesses need a skilled workforce capable of responding to the demands of the new green economy. Businesses need people who understand issues like energy efficiency.  Businesses benefit from understanding their impact on the environment Carl said, “conceptually, we are all building a community together.”

As Carl explains, we are living in what is frequently called the anthropocene age. Combating climate change is just part of the efforts needed. We are suffering through droughts, we are eliminating species and degrading our ecosystems. We desperately need to find ways to help preserve the natural environment upon which we all depend.

Carl contends that we need to keep making the case for clean technology and green schools. With persistence, Carl believes that, “these things will eventually become the default setting.”
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: BibliothequesRennes2, courtesy flickr

Richard Matthews
Richard Matthews
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, sustainable investor, and writer. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. He is also the author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, green investing, enviro-politics, and eco-economics.

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