Since diving into the deep end when it comes to energy issues, almost every day sees new fascinating concepts, approaches, and technologies. Fascinating … exciting … even hope inspiring at times. And, as well, as the passion builds, so many of these are truly Energy COOL.
When determining how to prioritize action using, by definition, limited resources, one criteria should be whether something is ‘win-win-win’, offering benefits across multiple arenas for the same investment dollars. If one of those wins is ‘paying for itself’, then the prioritization should go even higher. With this conception, greening schools should be a true national priority as it is a path to improve educational performance, reduce fossil-fuel energy use, improve health (of students and communities), and provide other benefits even while saving money.
Now, there are many things to be done with existing school buildings (from putting in sky lights in gyms and making roofs high albedo (“cool roof”) or green roofs or renewable energy generation facilities (both solar thermal and solar electric) to better heating controls to …) even while it should be national policy that all new school structures should be on the leading (LEEDing?) edge of sustainable construction.
Amid all this is the reality that school systems around the country have become heavily dependent on temporary structures to handle students during renovations, fluctuating student populations, and/or provide a cheaper (up front) response to growing student populations than building new schools or expanding existing ones. Some 36 percent of America’s schools systems have nearly 400,000 “temporary” trailers deployed. Thus, it is far too typical to see ‘trailer parks’ eating up lawn space around American public schools. These trailers are, all too often, far from paragons of energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. Often poorly insulated, with inefficient heating/cooling systems, these trailers evidently have worse health care and student performance statistics than can be found with students sitting in regular classrooms just 10s of feet away.
Project FROG seeks to address this problem (or, perhaps more accurately, this opportunity for improvement). FROG stands for Flexible Response to Ongoing Growth.
There are several core elements to Project FROG’s approach:
- Pre-Fab Manufacturing: Building elements are constructed basically via industrial lines, enabling greater productivity, less waste, and faster construction time on location.
- Computer modeling: Whether of daylighting or water flow, upfront investment in understanding the entire site dynamics enables construction of a facility that will cost far less over time to maintain/operate while enabling better performance.
- Integration of Sustainability and Performance: For example, daylighting is a core element for FROG projects. Whether in the office, factory, or school environment, study after study has shown improved performance and improved helath with increased daylighting and decreased artificial light.
- Cost effectiveness: Due to the pre-fab approach, Project FROG facilities offer the opportunity for savings not just through operations but also (especially against construction) in the up-front acquisition costs.
Project FROG isn’t simply aimed at temporary facilities, as their basic philosophy of modular construction with high environmental and energy standards is applicable to a wide range of public construction requirements, from day care centers to bus stations to offices to …
They argue that going with Project Frog is smart for these reasons:
- “Better” buildings with energy efficiency, strong safety standards, and construction well above building code standards for safety and interior health.
- “Greener” with recycled construction materials, near zero onsite waste, and 50% or lower life-cycle energy use compared to standard construction.
- “Faster” due to computer aided design, module-based approach, and onsite assembly (rather than construction).
- “Cheaper” to buy (asserting a 25-40% savings over traditional construction) with a 25-40% reduction in overall operating costs.
And, by the way, that is putting aside that students (and teachers) perform better in “green” schools, that greening buildings contributes to community health, and addressing building energy (and resource) inefficiency is an important tool for addressing our energy and climate challenges.
Right now, for students (and teachers) condemned to them, portable trailers are a blight on our educational landscape. Project FROG offers a path for cleaning up that blight and changing a social dynamic: rather than dreading assignment to a trailer, students (and teachers) might battle for the opportunity.
Some sources on Green Schools:
- Green Schools.NET
- Alliance to Save Energy Green Schools Program
- Project Green Schools (New England focused) (Note that there are many state/regional sites & groups. See, for example, Michigan Green Schools.)
- USGDC Green School Buildings
- Green Schools Alliance
- Media & Policy Center Growing Greener Schools (with PBS documentary to come)
- National Wildlife Federation Eco-Schools
Hat tip to JetsonGreen.
NOTE: This is a highly favorable discussion of Project FROG. Please recognize that I have not seen independent verification / auditing / verification of their claims. Project FROG was one of Building Green.com’s top 2009 products.