Schools that are built with environmentally sustainable materials yield a two-fold result: they protect the health of everyone working inside them, and they protect the environment as well. Green schools typically cost 30 percent more than non-green schools, but the return on the construction costs can be made up within a ten-year period on energy conservation alone. The United States Green Building Council has created guidelines for school construction that can enable institutions to receive incentives for "going green."
Keywords Compost; Emissions; Environmental Stewardship; Green School; Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED(r)); Organic; Public School Buildings; Sustainable Design; United States Green Building Council (USGBC)
About twenty percent of Americans go to school every day. Unfortunately for many of the students, teachers, and administrators who venture into those school buildings, they are taking a substantial health risk by doing so. Substandard ventilation, inferior paint, and insufficient building supplies are just some of the culprits of a wheeze that won't go away or a constant headache or feeling of nausea that can't be explained. More often than not, such illnesses can be avoided if composted drywall or other recycled materials are utilized during the construction or renovation of a school building.
The term "going green" is a reference for showing environmentally-friendly gestures, like walking to work, eating vegetables grown in one's garden, and, more recently, building really big structures. Buildings can be erected or renovated according to specific regulations to utilize sunlight, solid waste, water, and composted material in exchange for healthier living and working conditions. In addition to the long-term effects of healthier living, green buildings also reduce operational costs and can unite communities in an effort to conserve resources. Schools in America, Israel, China, the United Kingdom, and France have successfully improved the quality of education for students and the health of employees by embracing simple changes in the way they function.
The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has created a virtual blueprint for constructing schools that reuse, recycle, and restore otherwise expendable materials. The nonprofit agency has established guidelines for the sustainable design of schools that improves the quality of health, education, and community for those affected by them.
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System(r) was created by USGBC to ensure the effective building practices of new school construction. According to the LEED(r) guidelines (2007), a sustainable site is defined as one that will:
• Prevent loss of soil during construction by storm water runoff and/or wind erosion, including protecting topsoil by stockpiling for reuse.
• Prevent sedimentation of storm sewer or receiving streams.
• Prevent polluting the air with dust and particulate matter ("LEED(r) for Schools for New Construction and Major Renovations," p. 6).
LEED(r) established four certification levels for buildings, and those standards, now mandated for new school construction, yield tax breaks when a construction application is submitted and other financial incentives like grants for construction. For example, Greenbacks for Green Schools, created by the Green Schools Initiative (GSI), lists a variety of revenue sources for green school construction and renovation in the state of California. From technical assistance to grants, educators and students wanting to go green can earn rewards for doing so.
Return on Investment
While the creation of a LEED(r)-certified school costs approximately three dollars more per square foot to build than a non LEED(r)-certified school (a difference of about two percent), the immediate savings in energy costs once the school is running makes return on the construction dollar possible within a few years. In addition, over the next 20 years school districts can expect to recoup 20 times that amount, equal to about $60 a square foot, due to lower energy and water costs, less waste, and fewer students and teacher absences due to illnesses (Sack-Min, 2007).
According to Ashley Katz, communications coordinator for USGBC, the benefits of sustainable construction and green schools is all-encompassing.
Students who attend green schools have higher levels of productivity because they have connection to daylight, better air quality, better acoustics, less likelihood of mold and asthma and breathing problems, and then there are benefits for the school itself - energy savings, reduced operating costs and environmental benefits that go along with it … Some projects have built the school into the curriculum and are educating students on environmental issues by using the building to explain how solar panels work and about storm water [sic] runoff (as cited in Kadleck, 2007, par. 7).
The LEED(r) certification process is based on a points system, with 79 points possible at the highest (most environmentally-friendly level), or Platinum, rating. The levels decrease in point value to gold, silver, and certified, with a minimum point requirement of 29 for the lowest level. Each green requirement earns points toward the total. And while the regulations are specific, they are also flexible and offer options for developers with regard to possible building strategies.
They also come with options as well: if A is not possible, do B; if that doesn't work, try C. In addition to having those options, developers are also given suggestions as to how to meet the requirements.
Examples of Green Schools
Athenian School, California
John Fowler is the chair of the science department and director of environmental stewardship at the Athenian School in California. Years ago, the Athenian school took some steps toward environmental conservation. Students and administrators began recycling but focused more on embracing the school's philosophical aims, like encouraging diversity, democracy, and service learning opportunities. Fowler notes that environmental stewardship within the school community took a backseat because of its cost - both financially and within the school's already set curriculum. However, Fowler took it upon himself to assess the financial requirement of incorporating stewardship into the school's philosophical mission. He observed that, "only when the whole school was involved in defining and creating a 'green' school could our mission of stewardship be seen as a true expression of who we are" (Fowler, 2005, par. 3).
Maintaining the school facilities usually falls on the shoulders of people who are rarely seen by students and staff members. The students took on a leadership role in attempting to make a change in their environment. Students at the school conducted a water use audit during the 2000-2001 school year and found that the school was losing 1,800 gallons of water each day because of inefficient faucets and toilets. Fowler (2005) estimates that amount of water as being enough for six families. After receiving a grant, the students were able to have the school upgraded and were publicly recognized by the district with a conservation in business award.
In addition to these changes, Athenian students have also adopted a trail within the Mt. Diablo State Park. The students maintain the trail and have encouraged similar adoption of other Park trails by other schools. The Athenian community has contributed its hard work as well. The school's parent association raised money to plant an organic garden for use by the school's cafeteria. As the students continue their work - much of which is central to Athenian because of its location - Fowler notes that the collaboration of stewardship experienced at Athenian is one that other schools can achieve as well. To bring that point home, Fowler believes that members of other schools need not be discouraged if these same projects are not available to them.
The inspiration of a universal ethic of stewardship at Athenian -- and not the creation of student projects -- has, therefore, been the most important task of the last five years … The critical difference between a green school and a school that practices green behaviors lies in the "buy in" from all segments of the school community (Fowler, 2005, par. 16).
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