WINNER: Elizabeth Cook for
Northern Elementary (KY)

Categories: Power to the People

Who led the charge

Elizabeth Cook
4th Grade Teacher, Northern Elementary

Six years ago, Elizabeth Cook volunteered to head Northern Elementary's student energy team in improving the school's building performance—on top of her fourth grade teaching duties. Her passion for protecting the environment through energy conservation has inspired enthusiastic efforts from students and staff, earning her the INSPIRE Teaching Award from Lexmark in 2014 among other distinctions.

Going from poorest performer to district model for energy conservation meant all hands on deck for teachers, students, and staff.

Having the lowest ENERGY STAR score in Kentucky's Scott County School District, Northern Elementary's performance was not a source of inspiration for teachers and students. But, thanks to efforts on the part of student and teach alike, in just a year, the school reduced energy use by over 28%, winning the 2011 Energy Star National Building Competition. In two years, the school rocketed 50 points to an Energy Star score of 75. By 2013, the school was recognized as a National Green Ribbon School by the Department of Education and the Department of Energy. Currently, Northern has achieved a score of 89 and is running on 22% less energy than the previous year.

How did Northern Elementary reach such heights? The primary factor was an exceptionally dedicated teacher, Elizabeth Cook, and her student energy team. Cook’s team of fourth graders helped identify ways to save energy, and then engaged staff and other students in engraining new habits, including turning off lights, computers and other devices, and keeping outer doors and windows shut. Building on the behavioral changes, the head custodian, Shawn Marrs, has filled in the gaps—literally caulking and air-sealing doors and windows, adjusting lighting timers to be on only when needed, and continually looking for next steps within his purview. Cook helped obtain approvals for larger projects including upgrading to T8 lighting, switching out incandescent for LED exit signs, switching out halide for LED gymnasium lights, and installing HVAC controls that allow dialing down during nights, weekends, and breaks.

This momentum within Northern Elementary has rippled out to schools throughout Scott County, and the district is now 100% Energy Star rated, receiving the Energy Star Partner of the Year distinction multiple times since 2013.


  • Engaged students and staff in energy saving habits
  • Pushed for lighting upgrades and mechanical controls
  • Tightened envelope with air-sealing