When we think of the cost of school, we rarely think of the buildings themselves. It is important to remember that they have both a financial cost and an environmental one.
“School buildings are the third biggest energy users. A mid-size school district may spend $1 million yearly on energy, a number that is increasing by around 19 percent each year.”
I found that number to be mind-blowing when reading the article, 10 Ways to Green Your School by J.H. Fearless. And that wasn’t the only thing that caught my attention.
“Poor indoor air quality negatively affects students’ performance, and schools remain a huge source of pollution and waste that degrades the environment.”
I know some of our old buildings aren’t the best places for students to learn. I hadn’t even thought about any negative health consequences associated with our schools. It definitely is something worth considering.
“Going to school can actually harm your health. Nearly half of all schools (43 percent) have unsatisfactory indoor environmental conditions, and 20 percent have unsatisfactory air quality. That’s partly due to aging school buildings, but also related to an overall decrease in indoor air quality thanks to reduced air circulation and more synthetic substances in our daily lives. One in ten school-age kids now suffer from asthma, so poor air quality isn’t just an annoyance—it can be life threatening.”
What Needs to Be Done
Our schools need some major upgrades. But there are also things that we can do as teachers and students to makes things better.
So, let’s “take action to improve indoor air quality and reduce exposure to toxic substances for all teachers and students.”
Organize Classroom Cleanup Days
Sometimes, it’s hard to keep a classroom clean. I try my best to keep my work area clean for purely aesthetic reasons, but there are health benefits too.
“Some of the biggest health concerns lurking in your classroom exists under all your stuff. Cluttered surfaces, cupboards, and corners harbor dust and mold. Organize some classmates or fellow parents to stay after school once a month to declutter. You’ll help reduce asthma triggers, and your teachers and custodians will thank you.”
Use Green Cleaning / Maintenance Materials
“Toxic cleaning supplies, pest poisons, paints, furnishing finishes, and even chemical fertilizers and ice melt threaten kids’ health. They’re also toxic to cleaning and maintenance staff. Ask your school administration to seek out green solutions to various issues, including sidewalk weed control, ice melt in the winter months, and cleaning products.”
Get an Air Quality Meter
“Want to get a clearer idea of what you’re really breathing? Work with students and parents to raisefunds for or ask the school to invest in air quality meters, which will help students manage asthma. Additionally, the meters notify the school of any serious air quality issues, such as high CO2 levels, or elevated moisture that could cause mold.”
Organize a Local Food Day
“Consider teaming up with local restaurants, farms, or even food trucks to bring fresh, local food to school once a month or once every few months. Kids will get a chance to learn the benefits of local food, and you’ll be supporting the small businesses in your community.”
Set Up A Green Club
“Take environmental education into your own hands. A student club can take real action on school issues. Your club may create a school-wide recycling or composting program; learn about growing your own food with a school garden; organize cleanup and planting days; raise funds for green initiatives; and even take part in statewide and national green schools competitions. Through all this, students will learn leadership, teamwork, and how great feels to make a positive difference.”
Form a Carpooling, Cycling, or Walking Group
“Save time for busy parents, conserve energy, and make friends with a community carpool or other transportation group. By getting together with your neighbors, you can find new, more efficient ways to get to and from school. Carpools are the time-tested solution, but if you live close enough to your school, think about organizing a group to ride bikes or walk together. As a bonus, parent chaperones will get their daily exercise, too.”
Install Energy Meters
“It’s a lot easier to understand energy use when you can see it in action. Energy meters that are visible to any student and teacher aren’t just great learning tools— they can also encourage everyone to conserve energy and water throughout the day. Many schools have started sharing their energy use in this way. Monitoring not only creates savings for the school’s power, heat, and water budgets, but can also be incorporated into friendly school-wide competitions and classroom sustainability lessons.”
Save Money, Save the Environment
“If you asked your school administration, they’d probably be the first to tell you that they would love to upgrade your school with more modern, sustainable, and healthy features. Unfortunately, most schools have tight budgets, and they have to make tough choices about how to allocate funds.”
That said, it shouldn’t be surprising that environmentally sustainable schools—with increased efficiency and health benefits—are also more financially sustainable. For example:
It Increases Efficiency and Health Benefits
Test scores and learning ability improve by three to five percent when a school incorporates natural daylight—equating to an annual earning increase of $532 per student.
Building a green school costs less than 2 percent more than a conventional school (about $3 per square foot) but provides 20 times the financial benefits.
A green school saves an average of $100,000 annually—enough to hire two new teachers, buy 250 new computers, or purchase 5000 new textbooks.
Green schools utilize 33 percent less energy and 32 percent less water than traditional schools.
On average, a green school produces:
- 1,200 fewer pounds of nitrogen oxides (a principal component of smog)
- 1,300 fewer pounds of sulfur dioxide (a principal cause of acid rain)
- 585,000 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide (the principal greenhouse gas)
- 150 fewer pounds of coarse particulate matter (a principal cause of respiratory illness)
- 74 percent less waste
Do Your Part
How can you help your school go green? Start by reducing energy use, water use, waste, and pollution in everyday action. Calculate the savings your actions are creating, and lobby the school district to set aside that money for upgrades and improvements to facilities.
Teaching Tip Tuesday – Once a month, we feature articles designed by teachers for teachers