Are You an Energy Star?

The annual energy bill to operate America’s primary and secondary schools totals nearly $8 billion — more than is spent on textbooks and computers combined. With rising operating costs and tighter budgets, a growing number of school districts are looking to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR program to reduce energy use and cut utility costs.

“ENERGY STAR qualified schools use 30 to 40 percent less energy than average schools, are less expensive to operate and generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their counterparts,” states Jean Lupinacci, director, ENERGY STAR Commercial and Industrial Branch. “Budget cuts are a reality in school districts across the country, and EPA is helping schools reduce energy use and put their dollars toward education rather than utility bills.”

Currently, more than 500 school districts are participating in the ENERGY STAR program to improve the energy efficiency of their schools. More than 2,000 schools have earned EPA’s ENERGY STAR label for superior energy efficiency, and they use, on average, 30 percent less energy than their peers. These ENERGY STAR qualified schools are not just upgrading their buildings but are educating faculty and students on the role that energy-efficient buildings can play in the fight against climate change, and involving students and the community in efforts to reduce energy use at school and home.

Energy use in commercial buildings (including K-12 schools) and manufacturing plants account for nearly half of all energy consumption in the U.S. at a cost of over $200 billion per year — more than any other sector of the economy. Commercial and industrial facilities are also responsible for nearly half of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.

Less energy efficient educational facilities use three times more energy than the best energy performers. The top performing ENERGY STAR qualified schools cost forty cents per square foot less to operate than the average performers. Several schools partnering with ENERGY STAR have already saved millions and reallocated funding to other educational expenses — including staff salaries. Here’s how they did it.

Gresham-Barlow School District Saves $1.3 Million (Oregon)
The Gresham-Barlow School District in Oregon is a top ENERGY STAR performer that cut energy use by 46 percent through energy efficiency improvements in 11 elementary schools, five middle schools and three high schools. In 2007 alone, the Gresham-Barlow School District saved more than $1.3 million in utility costs, the equivalent of 24 full-time teachers' salaries. The savings are a result of both technology upgrades and simple, educational strategies. One Gresham-Barlow elementary school saved an average of $800 a month in energy costs just through its "Watt Watchers" program, in which students patrol the school and hand out red tickets for empty classrooms with the overhead lights left on.
Council Rock School District Reduces Energy Costs by $2.5 Million in Two Years (Pennsylvania)
Council Rock School District in Newtown, Pa., is another ENERGY STAR top performer. Since initiating an energy management program in 2005, the 12,000-student school district has reduced energy use by 40 percent across its entire 17-building portfolio, largely through improved operations and maintenance of building systems. In a two-year period, the district saved more than $2.5 million. These savings helped to address budget shortfalls while preventing tax increases and cuts in its educational programming. Recognizing the importance of getting students involved, the district established a scholarship fund for middle and high school students selected for their energy conservation efforts and ideas.

Davenport Community School District Saves $1.2 Million (Iowa)
As an urban school system with buildings averaging 55 years in age, Davenport Community School District in Iowa had inherent challenges to overcome when embarking on an energy performance improvement track. Declining enrollment, reduced state aid, and a 50 percent increase in natural gas prices had dealt a crippling blow to the school district’s budget. Doing more to conserve energy became a necessity so that the district could maintain programs essential to student achievement. Davenport rose to the challenge, taking advantage of automated benchmarking technologies to measure and track the energy performance of its buildings and help identify energy cost savings opportunities. As a result of comprehensive energy management efforts, the school district estimated savings of $1.2 million since the 2003-2004 school year. Bill Good, Director of Operations explains, “If we had not done this, we would be facing major staff and program reductions… the $1.2 million in energy savings will fund 20 teaching positions.”

A key component of Davenport’s plan was assessing and tracking school energy performance using EPA’s ENERGY STAR energy performance scale found in the online tool, Portfolio Manager. In the past, K12 energy managers manually entered each building’s energy consumption data into Portfolio Manager to obtain an ENERGY STAR score. To save staff time and get results, the organization uses a software program that is an advanced energy tracking system that allows users to produce monthly, quarterly and annual energy use and cost reports, so they can compare energy use trends.

Waterloo Elementary School Saves $283,000 With Low-Cost Improvements (Indiana)

The single-story school building serves approximately 600 students in grades K-5. Facing less funding from state and federal sources, and more competition for available grants, the school decided to look to low-cost options to improve the energy efficiency of its building. With help from consultant Energy Education, Inc., the school measured and adjusted energy use throughout the year. This included periodic walk-throughs and assessments at off-hours, as well as educating staff, teachers and students about energy-saving behaviors they could adopt during school hours. Within five years, with no large capital investments, Waterloo Elementary School was able to reduce its energy use by 31 percent and save $283,000. The school plans to redirect these savings to better meet the educational needs of its students.

Energy Efficient Tips and Resources for Schools Staff, Students and Families

Schools can find energy tracking tools, technical guidance, case studies and other ENERGY STAR tools and resources to help them improve their energy efficiency at

Lauren Pitcher is a communications specialist in the ENERGY STAR Commercial & Industrial Buildings Program.