Environmental Programs Designed by Valerie Gardner

The following are descriptions of some of the environmental education and engagement programs conceived, developed and implemented by Valerie Gardner between 2005 and 2017.  What is represented here is a sampling of the scope and design work created by Ms. Gardner.

GHREEN (2005)

The Gideon Hausner Recycling & Environmental Education Network (GHREEN), a parent/teacher/student run school activity group

The Gideon Hausner Recycling & Environmental Education Network (GHREEN) was founded in 2005 and managed by Valerie Gardner, as a parent of two young kids attending the Gideon Hausner Dayschool, to engage students and parents in the elementary/middle school in learning more about their environmental impacts and how best to reduce them. Ms. Gardner had begun to grow concerned about the state of the environment and the climate and was keen to learn more and to share best practices with her community as best as possible.

Ms. Gardner first set about recruiting other parents to support this activity and managed to find a few other parents willing to work with her. To do so, she designed the GHREEN logo and fliers and hosted a sign-up event at the school. This resulted in the creation of a committee of parents, sanctioned by the school leadership, which then developed a number of programs for the school community, starting with designing and implementing a program of assisted student recycling of sorted waste streams at the school, including recyclable materials and composting food waste.  GHREEN goals included:

  1. Teach Students More about Environmental Issues in Age-Appropriate Ways. Although many classes currently discuss the environment and touch on various environmental subjects and facts (like the Rainforest, Baylands and loss of animal species), we hope to address the subject of the impact man is having on the environment more broadly and touch on many of the topics that pertain to everyday life, including trash, composting, recycling, closing the recycling loop, water conservation, waste reduction, storm water run-off, local endangered species, and other subjects. Through these weekly topics, we will more directly teach students about how their choices impact the environment.
  2. Reinforce Existing Instincts for Good Earth Stewardship and Provide Opportunities for Students to Solve Problems Themselves. Through various activities and programs (described below) like the environmental bulletins, the Earth Day Celebration, and special contests and awards, students will have opportunities for increasing their understanding and then working together to solve the challenges facing the school and their communities. They will be asked to figure out how to improve on the existing processes—and thus they will have opportunities to think creatively and act pro-actively about addressing some of the problems (and be supported in their endeavors).
  3. Improve the School’s Recycling, Waste & Energy Conservation Performance and Reduce Overall Costs. Starting with an assessment of how the school is performing, we will strive to improve the performance of the school community with respect to its level of recycling, its creation of garbage, and its use of energy, which will bring down the costs of such activities to the community. Rather than merely handing students new rules, however, students will be instrumental in helping to problem solve around each of these areas (with adult guidance). Thus, a major goal is the total overhaul of how we “do” garbage at the school—but the actual design of the new recycling program will come from the students involved in Ghreen, with help from the adults.
  4. Greater Environmental Awareness in School Planning Processes. Bringing environmental awareness to all the school’s planning activities—whether designing the new buildings, adapting curriculum or planning parent coffees, environmental awareness will help produce better results overall and take Hausner from a position being “behind the curve” to one of being “ahead of the curve.”


A series of monthly educational posters designed for the GHREEN program, to provide engaging environmental education in the school’s hallways

These oversized posters were researched, designed, printed and posted in hallways around the school to provide hallway interest and additional information to students moving around the school to inform and inspire them with broader awareness of environmental issues. Ms. Gardner designed and produced them using Microsoft Excel and they printed in sizes ranging from 18″ x 24″ and larger.

Environmental Programs Committee Website (2006-2012)

Built and hosted the primary website for the Environmental Programs Committee (athertongreen.net), which was a companion site for the AthertonGreen Yahoo Group, the first discussion group for Silicon Valley residents seeking to learn more about environmental issues.

In 2006, Ms. Gardner attended the first-ever “GREEN” conference held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. There she went around collecting up ideas that were shared by exhibitors about how to reduce impacts on the planet. It was less than satisfying but Ms. Gardner ran into Charles Marsala, then the mayor of Atherton. She recognized him and asked what Atherton was doing about the environment. He expressed a strong interest in doing something and asked her if she would help him figure out what to do. She agreed and this began a period of collaboration between Ms. Gardner and Mayor Marsala.

In order to make their collaboration official, the mayor sought to re-constitute one of the town’s existing committees, the Waste Reduction Committee, which had been focused exclusively on instituting recycling in the town and diverting waste from garbage dumps to recyclers. By 2006, this committee had successfully implemented recycling activity in the town and had little work to do. In late 2006, the major put this change on the council agenda and, with little trouble, managed to have it renamed the Environmental Programs Committee and given a whole new mandate, which included the development of environmental programs for the town.

Ms. Gardner had already been hosting and managing a YahooGroup called AthertonGreen. This group had grown and had been organized as a chat group to discuss environmental issues. Ms. Gardner understood the benefit of having the AthertonGreen Yahoogroup provide some of the outreach that might be necessary to the community, so as to reach those interested in. the topic of taking action on behalf of the environment. Additionally, Ms. Gardner recognized the importance of having a website and taught herself to use Dreamweaver, a website creation software package, with which she built the EPC’s first website at athertongreen.net.  Even as the EPC began to take shape and formulate plans for its first Earth Day event in April of 2007, Ms. Gardner created the social media support and framework for the town’s ability to connect with the broader Atherton community via the Internet, as the town did not have a website or email list of its own at that time.


The first Earth Day celebration for Atherton, which included nearly a full week of community events

The Atherton Earth Action Week included:

  1. Recruitment drive for AthertonGreen YahooGroup list where conversations about environment happened
  2. Green Expo Showcase of Environmental Organization and Service Providers
  3. Eco-Fashion Show & Dance in the Pavilion (with organic food vendors)
  4. Community Challenge (a full week of daily challenges for residents)
  5. Student Environmental Art Contest (with prizes)
  6. Tesla Prototype convertibles provided Test Drives around the park
  7. Review of Electric and Plugin Hybrid models, with Felix Kramer of CalCars and discussion of the ability to convert hybrid vehicles to full electric.

GreenSTART (2008)

The first GreenSTART program, so named to include Students, Teachers, Administrators, Residents and the Town in getting started going green.

GreenSTART was an ambitious program that endeavored to engage the community through the participation of its students. As Atherton was home to ten schools, with over 6,000 students and 7,000 residents in some 2,300 homes, the program hoped to engage both the school communities and the residents of Atherton in action.  The program sought to engage the residents in reducing energy usage and neutralizing their carbon footprint by making tax-deductible conributions to the GreenSTART Fund. This was akin to the notion of a carbon credit but well before its time, because the fund would be used to help support the students working to design green programs for the town.  The program sought to let the students figure out what could be done, such as installing solar panels at the school, and then using resident contributions to help make that happen. Letters explaining the program were sent out as early as January of 2008 to all ten heads of the schools in Atherton. Students subsequently submitted several dozen programs proposals to the organizers and these were judged by a panel of judges and prizes awarded. The top prize was $2000.  The awards were given out as shown below.


Thinking Green Think Tank (2009)

GREENStart Challenge (2009)

National Conversation on Climate Change (2009)

LiveGREEN Expo (2009)

ATHERTON 2020 (2010)

Earth Action Fair (2015)

Pandora’s Promise Screening (2016)


The New Fire Screening (2018)

A film exploring the state of innovation in 4th generation advanced nuclear