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Green Schools to Improve Educational Performance … and save money … and …

September 2nd, 2013 · No Comments

To America’s School Boards,

What if I could you offer you a reliable path to …

  • Improve Educational Results
  • Improve Student, Teacher, and Staff morale
  • Improve Student, Teacher, and Staff health
  • Create Jobs in the Local Economy
  • Improve Economic Performance in the near-, mid-, and long-term
  • Save money …


You should be.

And, the great news:

A path exists to do all this.

This is the simple reality of the benefits that come from serious (aggressive, even) efforts to green the school environment.

Take the time to understand why greening should be core to your leadership … You have the opportunity to foster better educational performance, improve your community’s economy, help clean up the environment, save money … and to be heroes.

Be heroes …

Understanding benefits …

When approaching the analysis with an open mind, it becomes clear: greening schools might be the most cost-effective path toward improving school performance. In fact, it might be the only educational achievement enhancing path that is also “profitable” (due to energy and operational cost benefits) even without considering the secondary (job creation, student/teacher health) and tertiary (pollution levels, capacity building for energy efficiency and other ‘green’ across the country) benefits.

How could “Greening a School” improve educational achievement? Let us take just a few examples:

  • Energy Efficient Windows: Imagine your childhood classroom, the single-pane windows. When you sat next to that window in winter you might have been freezing and in hot fall/late school year frying in sun relative to your classmate 10 feet away. Hmmm … perhaps eliminating that discomfort might have made it easier for you to focus on the teacher and your studies?
  • Daylighting: Obviously, human eyes have evolved with fluorescent lighting. Not! Consistently, tested performance (stores, factory workers, office workers (pdf) (also (pdf)), schools) has shown improvements with increased daylighting.

    A study in North Carolina revealed that children in schools with more natural day lighting scored 5 percent better on standardized tests than children in normal, comparable buildings.

  • Non-Volatile Organic Compound Paints / Cleaning Products: Air quality has a direct impact on educational performance. Eliminating VOCs will reduce headaches, disturbing odors, etc, all of which can distract from / disrupt academic achievement.

The National Academy of Sciences commissioned a study that indicated that teacher productivity and student learning, as measured by absenteeism, is affected by indoor air quality.

Greening the Schools, for many reasons, will improve student performance with healthier (driving lower absenteeism, as seen in the office environment) and more attentive students in an environment more conducive to learning. Let us explore, however, a fuller range of benefits:

  • Save money for communities and taxpayers: Quite directly, public infrastructure is one of the clearest places where the taxpayer should be concerned about the “cost to own” against the “cost to buy”. What is interesting is that achieving basic green level standards (which might cut energy usage by 25% or more) often can cost less than building “normally”, as good passive design might lead, for example, to lowered heating/cooling system requirements, water efficiency (such as water-less urinals) reduce piping, etc. And, achieving quite aggressive standards might have direct financial payback times from energy savings of well under five years. Remember, just like your household, your local (and national) government is getting hit by rising energy prices. Spending the resources (not just financial, also planning) for ‘greening’ schools will lower that burden for coming years and represents a hedge against rising energy prices (through reducing requirements for that costly energy). Green buildings also use less water (water efficient fixtures, rainwater capture, etc) and have reduced runoff (through, for example, green roofing and good landscape design), lowering sewage bills. These savings alone can make a good payback for going green.But thinking stove-piped only about direct savings sells greening schools short.

    There are also indirect savings.
    “Green” buildings have far lower absentee rates of workers. Lower absenteeism = lower costs for substitute teachers. Green buildings will have lower maintenance requirements and more longevity for components. For example, highly reflective (cool) or green roofs have roughly twice the longevity of asphalt roofs, thus not just leading to lowered energy costs but basically meaning that the roofs won’t require replacement before the entire school might require renovation 30-40 years in the future.
  • Create employment: Renovating buildings and investing in infrastructure today to lower tomorrow’s costs means replacing spending on energy, water use, and health care (for example) on the labor and materials (from insulation to green roofing). And, these jobs (as per below) are unlikely to disappear when school renovation and construction is ‘done’ (which, across the nation, is unlikely to ever occur as there is $100s of billions in backlogged renovation requirements and new schools sprout up with changing demographics) as the skills and requirements are directly transferable into other government infrastructure, businesses and homes. And, as the housing industry slumps, this is a path to provide valuable work opportunities to businesses and workers who might otherwise be unemployed. And, doing so in a way that will save the local communities money.  As well, for the local community, this means creating jobs and economic activity within the economy rather than (in most cases) spending even more money to import energy from outside the community.
  • Foster capacity for ‘greening’ the nation: Via this initiative, school systems across the country would create demand for architects, general contractors, and workers who understand how to build with energy efficiency and environmental consequences in mind. Local government officials (politicans, administrators, code writers, inspectors) will learn about the benefits and technical issues of “green”. The general public will learn about ‘green’ and energy efficient options. (If your child’s elementary school introduces efficient lighting, solar hot water, energy efficient windows, etc, you will hear about it time-after-time from the principal, the PTA, and perhaps your child.) Via ‘greening’ public buildings, in a Federal-Local-Private partnership, this will foster capacity and the lower the barriers for the private sector (whether businesses or home owners) to call on for ‘greening’ businesses and homes. And, it will create demand, as people get exposed to the benefits that accrue from this path. And, greening America’s building infrastructure is one of the most exciting and beneficial opportunities for tackling global warming.
  • Reduce pollution loads: Reduced energy demand, by definition, will reduce pollution levels from electrical generation (amount of pollution reduction, of course, relative to source of power). Fostering a lowering of Better cleaning products and water management will reduce runoff into the sewage system and have less loaded water runoff. Greened buildings will also reduce urban-heat island impacts (through better roofing not absorbing heat, etc …).
  • Improve health: From asthma, colds, allergies, or long-term impacts like cancer, green buildings foster improved health. Improved health translates rather directly to performance (better attendance (by teachers and students) leads to (system wide) better performance; better health when in class does as well).
  • Improve student performance / achievement: Think about all those benefits above, think about them holistically. If the impact on student performance were neutral, Greening Schools would be a no-brainer. Yet, all of the analysis to date points to improved educational achievement as one goes up the green ladder in school infrastructure. As stated above, Greening Schools might be a profitable path for achieving quite real improvements in educational performance across the nation.

Taking aggressive action to green schools is about one of the smartest steps the nation can take, action that should go beyond bipartisanship to true unity of action as it is a win-win-win-win strategy along so many paths:

  • Save money for communities and taxpayers
  • Create employment
  • Foster capacity for ‘greening’ the nation
  • Reduce pollution loads
  • Improve health
  • Improve student performance / achievement
  • And, well, other benefits.

    In 2008, to far (FAR) less attention than it merited, the House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act (in the face of Bush Administration veto threats) providing $20 billion for greening public schools across the nation. Sadly, that bill died and wasn’t resurrected by President Obama as part of the stimulus package. With the ‘inside the Beltway’ political logjam, with the majority in the House of Representatives dedicated to obstructing America’s pursuit of a more perfect union, we cannot expect serious Federal government funding to spark a Green Revolution in America’s schools.  Thus, it is up to State and Local Governments, State and Local School Boards to drive for this change.

    “Imagine …”

    Imagine improving educational results, improving citizen health, improving the local economy … while saving money.

    Imagine being the hero for creating such positive change.

    America’s School Board members should imagine …


    The new Superintendent of the Fairfax County Public Schools put out a public request for suggestions.  See and vote/comment on Greening the schools to improve education and save money


    Some green schools resources:

    NOTE: This is a variation on Greening the School House.

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    Tags: economics · green · green schools