How do you make “sustainability” sustainable? Ask the Davenport Community School District (DCSD).

Long before “going green” and “sustainability” were common eco-terms, DCSD was incorporating environmentally friendly practices into everyday business. That included a 1990s-era recycling program when telex sheets and adding machine tape were on the acceptable recycling list. By the mid-2000s, the school had partnered with City Carton and the Waste Commission of Scott County to form a district-wide Recycling Team and had used a DNR-SWAP grant to purchase several hundred recycling bins and a vertical tin can baler. In 2006, the District was awarded “Best School Recycling Program” by the Iowa Recycling Association.

Flash forward to 2020 and we find Davenport Schools’ go-green efforts going strong.

Debbie Mahr-Heitman and DCSC’s past School Board president accept the 2019 Green Ribbon District Sustainability award at a U.S. Department of Education ceremony.When asked how the district has maintained this momentum, Debbie Mahr-Heitman, DCSD’s Energy and Sustainability Specialist says: “The district’s leadership has been passionate about conservation and sustainability for decades. That energy and enthusiasm trickles down.”

Last year, Davenport Schools was awarded the U.S. Department of Education’s 2019 Green Ribbon District Sustainability award, and was also one of five school districts nationwide to receive a 2019 School District Scholarship Award from the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council.

These awards focus on the District’s efforts to monitor and reduce energy consumption. Benchmarking tools and tracking software have guided wide-ranging energy efficiency improvements throughout the District and have led to the creation of new energy policies and long-range facilities management plans. The District currently has one of the lowest energy cost per square foot of all public K-12 schools reporting data in Iowa.

A Sustainability Council, made up of staff, administration and students, oversees these energy-system efforts. But that’s not all the Council does. Recognizing that waste management is an important aspect of a sustainably functioning school, the Council has initiated a number of innovative programs to reduce food waste, manage construction and demolition materials and, of course, recycle.


While the District has offered recycling in all its school buildings since the ‘90s, Mahr-Heitman explains that a district-wide recycling analysis in 2018 is helping the school build on and improve recycling efforts. The data, obtained with the help of Green Iowa Americorps members, provides guidance to the Maintenance and Operations Team and Sustainability Council as they develop goals and plans.

“We’re making a huge push to reduce waste and increase recycling,” Mahr-Heitman says.

Staff and students have helped to double the recycling rate at schools in recent years, and by combining with the school’s “culture of recycling” with a bin in every classroom, Mahr-Heitman expects even more participation moving forward. Her goal, during the 2020 spring break, is a bin inventory and addition of new signage. The Waste Commission of Scott County, a long-time partner, provided the new labels, as well as additional bins.

Davenport Schools“We’re making it easy to know what you can recycle,” Mahr-Heitman explains.

The District’s recent deployment of a carton recycling program is a great example. Thanks to a grant from the Carton Council, milk-carton shaped bins are now in school cafeterias, and even the youngest students are using them correctly. Last year the District purchased nearly two million cartons of milk; recycling these will divert almost 375,000 lbs. of waste per year.

Mahr-Heitman is especially pleased to see younger students involved. “It’s great to develop these habits early,” she says. “They’ll take this behavior right up through high school, and be great role models in their homes and communities.”

Details about Davenport Schools’ many recycling and sustainability efforts and plans are in their 2019 Sustainability Accomplishments publication.