Building Green

Motivation for building green comes in three flavors — social, environmental, and economic. Five years ago, there was a huge debate about the benefits of building green. Today the debate is over the cost of green. Five years from now, there will be no debate — building green will be the standard and part of the building code.

Many cities and states are trying to speed up the adoption process by mandating that all publicly funded buildings — such as colleges and schools — meet stringent green building standards. Some require publicly funded buildings to achieve LEED Silver status. From a policy standpoint, the idea of constructing buildings that promote energy efficiency, environmental health benefits, the use of renewal materials, and water conservation makes sense. From a school perspective, it is often looked at as another unfunded mandate. If schools are mandated to achieve LEED (or CHPS) status, then corresponding incentives will need to be a part of the deal.

Even without state mandates, a lot of progress has been made in the last year in the area of green. This past spring the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) released LEED for Schools. The LEED for Schools Rating System, based on LEED for New Construction, recognizes the unique nature of the design and construction of K-12 schools and addresses issues such as classroom acoustics, master planning, mold prevention, and environmental site assessment. As of Apr. 20, 2007, all new construction and major renovations of K-12 school facilities seeking LEED certification must use the LEED for Schools Rating System.
Between LEED for Schools and the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), we have the standards. But for many the question still looms… Why build green? Research shows that the planning and design of educational facilities can have a huge impact on both education and the environment. A 2006 national research study on green schools sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers, the American Institute of Architects, the American Lung Association, the Federation of American Scientists, and USGBC found that building green would save an average school $100,000 each year in energy costs alone — enough to hire two additional full-time teachers, purchase 5,000 new textbooks, or buy 500 new computers. In an effort to develop solid data on the concrete benefits, as well as costs, of going green for schools, the USGBC has doubled its funding commitment for green building research grants to be awarded in 2008 to $2M. Of that additional $1M, $500,000 has been allocated for K-12 school facility research related to occupant impacts.

Other actions this past year include:
•    Clinton Climate Initiative — In August 2006, former president Bill Clinton, building on his long-term commitment to preserving the environment, launched the Clinton Foundation’s Climate Initiative (CCI). Schools are a major focus of the initiative. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and CCI will work with K-12 schools throughout the nation to establish a Green Schools Program to reduce the energy consumption of school buildings. The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) and CCI will work together to retrofit hundreds of colleges and universities across the US, helping them to meet their commitment to attain climate neutrality while lowering their energy bills.

•    Green Schools Caucus — In October of 2007, representatives from Congress formed the Green School Caucus to raise awareness of the benefits of environmentally responsible schools, lead the policy discussion, create legislative opportunities, and provide members of Congress with constituent outreach resources. The Caucus was formed by Reps. Darlene Hooley, D-OR, Michael McCaul, R-TX, and Jim Matheson, D-UT. Caucus members will participate in educational programs to learn about green schools nationally and in their districts, including site visits to environmentally responsible schools and educational panels with teachers, design professionals, and school officials from around the country.

•    Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 — On Dec. 19, 2007, President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The bill includes provisions to improve energy efficiency in lighting and appliances, as well as requirements for federal agency efficiency and renewable energy use that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So far, the emphasis has been on new construction. The next step will be to look at existing buildings — the majority of school buildings in the U.S. While it is unlikely that the design of these buildings can be substantially changed, other things can be done to improve them. At the top of the list is green cleaning. Just switching to green cleaning methods can protect the health of student and staff,  indoor air quality can be improved, caustic chemical use eliminated, environmental health hazards removed, facility life extended, and the environment protected. Not the final answer — but not a bad start — and a great year of progress for green.