Earth Day, Earth Warriors: One parent is encouraging green practices in his children’s school.

Syed Nasurudin Syed Abu Bakar is a parent who does more than his fair share when it comes to his children’s school activities – his involvement extends to pioneering green projects for the school, SK Damansara Jaya 2 in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. These initiatives include putting up energy-saving bulbs in the canteen in 2009 and a purpose-built rainwater harvesting and recycling system in 2012.

Syed Nasurudin says his job as a consultant in his own construction firm meant that he could apply his green know-how in more substantial ways than just recycling newspapers and glass bottles.

“I’m grateful to the school headmistress for allowing me to implement these green projects as well as the staff who are supportive of my efforts,” says Syed Nasurudin, 44, who is also the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) chairman of the school. His sons, aged 12 and 10, are students of the school.

He says the costs for the initial batch of energy-saving bulbs and wiring works were covered by the PTA. The lights, fitted in the canteen, enable pupils who arrive early to gather under the space. This saves the need for lights to be switched on inside classrooms. Last year, they installed more energy-saving bulbs – six lights in each of two classrooms – after lighting company Philips sponsored TL5 lights that consume 28 watts compared to the normal 40-watt fluorescent tubes.

“These TL5 lights are brighter and longer-lasting, and do not require a starter. Hopefully, by the end of this year, they will be fitted in all of our six classes. At the end of the day, the school benefits from savings in the electricity bills.”

The simple rainwater harvesting system keeps flash floods at bay while collecting rainwater for the garden.

A walk to the back of the school reveals a unique rainwater harvesting system. Syed Nasurudin has designed a 3-in-1 concept that encompasses gutters to collect rainwater, a fish pond and a stormwater mitigation component. It was built with a RM8,000 fund obtained from the Selangorku Environmental Conservation Grant allocated by the Selangor Government for eco-friendly projects.

“It’s a simple but feasible system to harness and recycle rainwater that, at the same time, helps to address flash floods. Basically, the rainwater pipe that is connected to the roof gutter channels rain water down to a polytank which is constructed on an elevated concrete slab. Once the polytank reaches its peak level during heavy rainfall, the excess water is discharged into the fish pond and the rest to open drains. The slow-release mechanism that was designed has effectively reduced flash flood occurrences within our school compound and surrounding areas since the drain outlets do not overflow,” explains Syed Nasurudin.

“Water in the polytank is maintained at a level of four feet and is used to water plants and fill the fish pond during the dry season. It makes for nice landscaping as we have reared tilapia fish that also aids in the eating of mosquito larvae, so that we do not breed Aedes mosquitoes. Though the rainwater will have to be filtered beforehand for the pond, it contributes to savings in the use of treated water in the long run.”

To keep the rainwater harvesting system in tip-top condition, he cleans the filter once a week, with the help of the school staff and students.

Another project which he carries out is coffee composting to produce fertiliser, which he learnt from a retired teacher. He diligently collects used coffee grounds that are given out by coffee chain Dr Cafe, then mixes it with red soil, cut grass and food waste to start the composting process.

The buckets used for composting are old plastic paint buckets which would have otherwise been discarded. “We leave the bucket as it is for two months before mixing the waste materials inside. Then, it’s left for another two months before it’s ready for use as fertiliser,” shares Syed Nasurudin.

Energy-saving TL5 lights installed in two classrooms promise brighter and longer-lasting lights which run on lower wattage.

At home, Syed Nasurudin has his own rainwater harvesting system and he drives a hybrid car. Last December, he was nominated for the 2013 Tokoh Hijau award that is given by the Petaling Jaya City Council. He is unperturbed that he was not selected for the award (which was received by environmentalist Gurmit Singh). He says his green endeavours are not to earn him recognition, but to make his children proud of the example he hopes to set.

“I earnestly wish that more PTAs can work together with their respective schools to teach children about green projects and the environment, as children absorb better when they see these programmes on the ground. They will indirectly educate their parents too on what they’ve learnt in school. For instance, we teach our pupils here things which they can apply at home, such as making enzymes from fruit and vegetable waste for use as natural cleaning agents, and segregating food waste into designated pails for use in our composting project, rather than disposing the waste straight into the bin.”

Future plans include expanding the rainwater harvesting system to cover a larger area. He estimates that RM12,000 will be needed for new pumps, pipes and filters. The school is also a recipient of Shell’s Sustainable Development Grant. Syed Nasurudin says the funds from that will help the school further its green cause.