Approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population spends 6 hours of every day in a school building. As the summer rapidly comes to a close, millions of students are preparing to go back to school. Some of those students will attend schools with environmentally-friendly features that reduce energy costs to the school district, reduce the pollution and carbon footprint of the schools, and improve learning environments for the kids.
Greg Edmundson, the principle at Maryland’s first certified green school in Germantown, wrote that there is a “powerful culture and social climate that can be built in such a school. Human beings thrive on enthusiasm, motivation and a naturally stimulating physical space in which to work.”
In this video, Lily, a 5th grader at that school, Great Seneca Creek Elementary, talks about what it’s like to learn in a green school.
Lily talks about the green attributes she notices at her school: the air quality, the lighting, the recycle signs, the low flow faucets and recycled-plastic bathroom partitions. But there are a lot of very interesting features of Great Seneca that Lily doesn’t notice at all: the geothermal heating and cooling, for example. You can get a detailed rundown of the features this green school in a very fun slide show hosted by the 4th grade class (unfortunately it’s a very large Powerpoint presentation that must be downloaded).
Green Schools Save Money
“If all new school construction and school renovations went green starting today, energy savings alone would total $20 billion over the next 10 years.” - U.S. Green Building Council
Great Seneca Elementary School’s geothermal system means the only outside power necessary to heat and cool the school is what’s needed to run the heat pump. The highly reflective roof surface means cooling needs are reduced and daylight enhanced design means lighting costs are reduced as well.
According to the council, green schools cost approximately $3 per square foot more to build but pay back that investment in just a few years in reduced utility costs compared to conventional building practices. One district in Portland, Oregon found that bids for certifiable green schools were cost competitive to build and would save 20 percent a year in utilities compared to designs that used conventional methods.
Environmental and Learning Benefits of Green Schools
Green schools, on average, use 30-50 percent less energy and 30 percent less water than conventionally built schools, according to the Greening America’s Schools report by Capital E, a national clean energy technology and green building firm. The same report found that improved air quality in green schools contributed to a 38.5 percent reduction in asthma among the kids.
The The Heschong Mahone Daylighting Study found that the better natural lighting found in green schools improves reading and math performance.
The National Research Council also found a number of health and productivity benefits for kids learning in schools with better lighting, acoustics and air quality in their report Green Schools: Attributes for Health and Learning.
Building more green schools in the United States
There have been a number of efforts in recent years to secure federal funding for green schools. While proposals to fund green schools in the February 2009 economic recovery package failed, in May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $6.4 billion school construction bill, the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act, setting goals for job creation, energy efficiency, and environmental quality. The Senate is yet to take up the measure.
Greening existing schools
Parents and educators can help green existing schools by getting involved in renovation and operating decisions. When Sidwell Friends in the District of Columbia built a new middle school, they opted for certified green building methods. When they expanded and renovated the lower school, they used many of the same environmentally-friendly and energy saving building practices.
The Alliance to Save Energy's green schools program works with existing schools and to implement energy efficiency programs and incorporate environmental education in the curriculum. The U.S. Green Buildings Council provides a nice roundup of green curriculum resources for parents and educators.
Want to share a story of your green school or school greening efforts? Leave a comment.
This post is part of the August Green Moms Carnival on Back to School/Green Schools.