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What the United States can teach us about energy saving schools

Energy saving schools

Schools offer a tremendous opportunity for saving energy. They are large facilities and thus have a great impact on the local environment in terms of power consumption, the use of energy saving products, and eco-friendly construction practices. Schools are usually one of the few public facilities that are built new on a regular basis, as population growth generally demands newer and larger school buildings. As a result, schools represent a huge opportunity.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, schools offer an obvious way to educate children about the environment. Instead of simply teaching them in the abstract, eco-friendly schools are an opportunity to give them real-world experience and provide the inspiration to pursue their own lives in a more eco-friendly way.

Energy efficient schools

The United States has given us several good ideas which could be adapted to the local market profitably:

1. Local influence. Many of the eco-friendly school projects in the U.S. are not federally funded or even managed – most are, in fact, the result of local governments creating incentives and laws that encourage or require new school buildings to be greener. Eight states in the U.S. – Florida, Maryland, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio and Washington – have laws in place requiring new school buildings to meet green standards and more than a dozen cities including New York, New Orleans, Anchorage, and Washington do as well.

Other states, such as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and California do not require green construction but do offer financial incentives to school districts that choose green construction techniques. The take-away from the U.S. here is that we do not need to wait for the Federal government to step in and mandate green construction in schools.

2. National standards. The U.S. has also led the way in creating independent but nationally-recognised standards for green construction, which allow new construction to be done using eco-friendly materials and procedures in a uniform manner. The ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)’ program for schools was launched by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2011, and The Collaborative for High Performance Schools also has published its own set of standards.

Having clear, generally-accepted standards gives local governments and school boards something on which to base their requests-for-bids on new school construction, and standards to hold contractors accountable for. The take-away from the U.S. is that widely-published and accepted standards make the construction of green schools easier.

3. Student involvement. The eco-friendly schools in the U.S. all incorporate the nature of the building and construction into the curriculum. Students are taught about how the building was designed and constructed, and how the environmentally-friendly facility benefits them, whether it is the use of healthier natural light instead of artificial light or the water savings of dry urinals.

Increasingly, American pupils are bringing these ideas back to their own homes, surprising their parents by requesting greener practices that they learned simply by interacting with their school. The take-away from the U.S. is simple but powerful: by getting children involved in the philosophy behind their school building, an entire generation is being educated about power consumption and the environment.

While no one initiative will solve the looming environmental or energy crisis, we must start exploring ways to reduce energy and power consumption in every aspect of our lives. New construction is an obvious vector to introduce technologies and materials that will have a huge impact over the course of coming years – and if those new buildings can also influence and teach future generations to be smarter about the environment, so much the better.