5 Steps to a More Sustainable School

There are great benefits for every school that chooses to be more sustainable. The positive ramifications include the improved physical well-being of students, teachers and staff, along with an impact to the bottom line and the environment. But, how you make your school more sustainable should be unique to your district’s needs, wants, requirements, goals, and objectives.

How sustainable do you want to be? What’s important to you and the community? How you answer these questions can lead you in many directions. But no matter your direction, a key action is determining your current status.

Establishing a baseline of electric and natural gas use—and making regular comparisons to understand patterns—is foundational. In some cases, utility providers make this information available online in graphic form. Some energy providers offer an electric lighting audit as part of an energy reduction strategy. Depending on the answers found and the discoveries made in your audit, here are five steps that can increase the performance and sustainability of your school.

Look at Lighting

Search for opportunities to utilize or replace fluorescent and incandescent lighting with LED (light emitting diode) lighting. You’ll use less energy and considerably fewer bulbs, resulting in significant cost savings over the operational years of your school. In some instances, energy providers will even offer financial incentives for converting existing lighting to energy-efficient lighting. Additionally, examine your various spaces to see if you are over lighting and using more energy than is needed. If you discover that you are, appropriate corrective actions can include occupancy or daylight sensors and dual level switching—allowing for only as much lighting as needed based on daylighting or the task at hand.

Windows and Glazing

While electric lighting works, the benefits of daylight are still superior, so be wise when it comes to windows. Windows provide views and natural daylighting that help improve student outcomes, as well as improve the mood and comfort for all. In addition to the substantial impact window selection has on lighting, use of windows is a significant factor in the heating and cooling of a school. Astute product placement manages unwanted solar heat gains and losses, lighting levels, and glare. Windows should be tinted to reduce glare, include thermal breaks in their frame and insulated glass, and use low-E coatings to maximize their performance. Replacing existing windows with high-performance alternatives is often a smart decision when dealing with an older school.

Heighten HVAC

When it comes to reducing energy consumption and saving money, installing a new high-performance heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system—or assessing your current system to ensure it is running at its optimal level—is critical. Preventive maintenance is typically the single most important consideration after a system is installed. Simple behaviors, like changing filters consistently, can translate to significant energy savings. The use of direct digital controls should not be overlooked as this enables maintenance staff to better utilize the equipment. In addition to having more finely tuned control of systems, they can set timers and use data logging to find trends and plan for optimal usage.

Water Wisdom

Dual-flush toilets, waterless urinals, faucets with shut-off sensors, low-flow fixtures, and tankless water heating systems have all proven to save water. If utilizing old fixtures and systems, upgrades can often reduce your campus’ annual water consumption up to 50 percent. In addition, contemplate adding detention basins or rain barrels to retain storm water for irrigation and use only native plant species because they typically require less water and maintenance than other vegetation.

Recycled Materials

When replacing items such as carpets or tiles, make sure to select finishes and materials that have a low-VOC (volatile organic compound) content level and/or contain recycled content. This can help achieve a high indoor air quality within your school. If performing a major renovation, or demolishing a facility, recycle as much as possible to avoid dumping in landfills. Windows, fixtures, and doors can be salvaged for resale, and local recyclers or metal scrap yards readily accept steel, copper, aluminum, and other metals. Concrete is commonly recycled for uses such as road base, drainage zones, pavement aggregate, and general fill. Large dimension lumber, molding, longer pieces of lumber, timbers, plywood, flooring, and molding can often find their next life in your new building, be stored for future use or reserved for another project.

Sense of Curiosity

Facilitate a sense of curiosity to engage your team in discovering how you can make your school more sustainable. The tangible benefits for students, teachers and your community will be appreciated and position your school as a role model for others to emulate.

About the Authors

Matt McGregor is a project manager with Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction, Inc. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Stout with a Bachelor of Science in Construction, Matt has 10 years of experience in the construction profession, which includes time spent in the field as a project superintendent. Matt can be reached at [email protected].

Robert Koehler is a project architect at Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction, Inc. and a member of AIA (American Institute of Architects) and NCARB (The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards). A 10-year veteran of the design and construction industry, Robert holds a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He can be reached at [email protected].

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