Schools Going Green Across the Country

May 31, 2007

by Mark Bishop, HSC Deputy Director

More school districts are recognizing that building green, energy-efficient schools leads to a number of benefits, from improving test scores to saving on rising energy costs. And Illinois will now become one of the leaders in promoting healthy school construction.

Yesterday afternoon, the Energy Efficient School Construction Grant Act, SB505,  passed the Illinois Senate on a 50-9 vote and will now be sent to the governor’s desk. This bill will require all schools receiving state funds for construction to build to green/sustainable standards. We worked hard with our partner, AIA-Illinois, to pass this bill. We’re incredibly excited to see Illinois taking a leadership role on sustainable and healthy design.

Nationwide, schools are the single largest sector of public spending on construction. This means that building green schools will have a huge impact on the green construction marketplace, driving awareness among builders and designers and increasing demand for better alternatives for materials.

According to this AP story about the “green school” movement, the U.S. Green Building Council, which sets nationally recognized standards for environmentally friendly buildings, recently released guidelines specifically for schools. (It previously certified schools based on commercial-building guidelines). So far, 27 schools have received the “green” certification and close to 300 schools are on a waiting list. And we can expect that list to grow:

The Council of Educational Facility Planners International estimates that schools will spend $53 billion this year on construction alone and that green building will comprise as much as 10 percent of the school construction market by 2010, a rapid growth from almost nonexistence a few years ago.

How are school buildings around the country going green?

In Colorado, ice made during off-peak hours at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins helps cool the building during the day.

On the roof of the gym at Tarkington Elementary School in Chicago is a flower garden that helps insulate the building during the city’s cold winters. Such wildflower gardens and solar panel arrays make perfect hands-on learning labs for students, and the sunlight-lit classrooms create happier, healthier children, educators said.

A study by school officials in Washington state found green schools have better student performance and fewer absences. In 2005, Washington state lawmakers used the study to require new schools receiving state money to meet green standards.

The U.S. Green Building Council section on green schools features news reports and school case studies, along with resources for educators, administrators, parents and students.