Not Like It Used to Be

After spending three days in Denver at the Green Schools National Conference, I left feeling like the movement had turned a corner. The conference was overwhelming in its variety: trying to pick between 100 workshop topics and nearly as many exhibitors, I came to appreciate that the movement is no longer a one-trick pony.

Green school choices are embedded in every part of a child’s experience in a school. Here are some of the trends we are seeing emerge in our work with healthy, high-performance, green schools across the country, as well as suggested tweets to tweet along with the article (follow us at @CHPSNews).

Federal Government Is Taking Notice
With the release of the Green Ribbon Schools award program, the federal government has made its first effort at what it means to be a high-performance, green school. While there is no money attached to these awards, there will surely be prestige for the schools that are nominated and chosen for the award. With the creation of this program, the education sector gets a glimpse of the outcomes that the Department of Education values and have a playbook from which to work.

Tweet it! The Green Ribbon Schools Program from 
@usedgov and Sect. of Ed @arneduncan gives schools a playbook for how to become a #greenschool.

The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be

Green school construction is no longer just about the hundreds of new green schools, but includes the remaining 130,000 existing schools to be “greened.” It is crucial to understand how to transform existing schools into healthy, high-performance, 21st-century learning environments. Integrated design using a systems-approach based on the major building systems to be upgraded — including heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC), etc. — is a great place to start. Using the CHPS Operations Report Card ( helps you benchmark and improve your existing school.

Help Others Interpret “Green”

As technology and experience grow within the field, new creativity has blossomed around how design teams might communicate their priorities and requirements. At the High Tech High schools in Southern California, Director of Facilities Christopher Gerber uses a special plan sheet within his construction documents set as a “Rosetta Stone” of green building decision-making. The plan sheet details the project performance parameters and references other documents (like the CHPS Criteria, for example) that help contractors achieve that performance parameter.

Tweet it! Create a #greenschools "Rosetta Stone" for construction docs: 1 plan sheet that lists relevant docs/plan sheets for your CHPS scorecard.

A Green School Is a Green School Is a Green ...
Not so much, at least not when it comes to features that are climate, code or culture related. At CHPS, we’ve learned a lot about just how different creating green schools can be. As Hawaii CHPS wraps up its development process ( we’ve seen fascinating priorities arise from the development, including a credit to embrace Hawaii’s cultural history. Juxtapose that with Colorado’s decision to include credits in their Criteria ( for blue-stained wood, a local product that salvages wood from trees killed by invasive beetles, in their CHPS Criteria, and you can see why regionalism and state-based priorities are such an important aspect.

Tweet it! A #greenschool is a green school? Not so much when you're talking about the cultural history of HI vs. the forests of CO.

Study Correlates Green Schools, Improved Scores
A new study released by University of Colorado Denver’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences shows a positive correlation between student achievement in science and green, high-performance school practices. The data was collected from a nationwide study of 100 schools in 28 states. The schools have each implemented green school practices, including environmental literacy and sustainability curriculum, etc. Student achievement data was gathered from most recent state and district assessment scores in science via state department of education websites as well as the survey. Though the correlation is compelling, certainly more data is required. 

Tweet it! Study shows #greenschools and improved science scores are related. Now we need more data/better metrics to build a complete picture.

William “Bill” Orr, C.E.G., is executive director of The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS). He is a leader in the high-performance schools field and is dedicated to making all schools better places to learn.