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Whatever your motivation for pursing a third-party certification on a new or existing school building, in addition to environmental and health benefits, green building standards and rating systems are effective tools for stakeholder engagement, decision making and goal setting. Documentation and verification requirements, prerequisites and checklists all allow schools to easily demonstrate excellence and innovation. The educational system exists to provide a very similar service to students as these programs provide to project teams and taxpayers.
As more schools make the move towards being green, they have a growing list of programs to choose. The most prominent in our state, LEED for Schools, CHPS, and WELL, are examined below.
LEED: The U.S. Green Building Council created LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) in response to a need in the building industry for a voluntary and flexible rating system to define, measure and recognize green buildings. LEED began by serving new commercial class A office buildings but has since created adaptations to address the specific needs of a wide variety of building types, including schools. The LEED for Schools rating system examines and awards points for everything from reducing waste during the construction process to commissioning the building’s HVAC systems. The program also awards teams for mitigating issues specific to learning spaces, like acoustics.
CHPS: The Collaborative for High Performance Schools has criteria for new and existing schools similar to LEED that is intended to help school districts reduce operating costs, achieve higher student performance, and minimize environmental impact.
Adams 12 Five Star Schools is one of the first Colorado schools to develop a case study on this particular set of criteria for existing schools. The district realized that a step-change in school building efficacy would require a more holistic approach so they have adopted the seven CHPS metrics related to a school’s current state of health.
WELL: The WELL Building Standard is still relatively new to Colorado and focuses heavily on physical health and occupant behaviors. It is a good fit for schools with a current or desired culture of health and wellness. WELL, which can be achieved in conjunction with LEED, explores the intersection between individual health and wellbeing and environmental sustainability. The performance requirements are set in seven categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Each of the categories have their own features matrix used when grading the buildings compliance.
Colorado’s Finest Alternative High School has implemented the WELL framework into their modern learning environment. The open environment teaches respect and creates positive behavioral habits, and gives the students a chance to interact in a positive environment.
All three programs provide a framework for delivering a green school building. To be successful, a school must first evaluate its sustainability culture and understand how critical the occupants will be in maintaining the school after it is open. The criteria lays the groundwork and certifies the building, but the faculty and staff are critical to ensuring that the building’s sustainability attributes are maintained long after construction ends.
Each year, USGBC Colorado’s Green Schools Summit offers an opportunity to examine how far Colorado has come in its journey to transform K-12 school buildings. The Colorado Department of Education’s BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant program, which requires recipients to pursue LEED for Schools or CHPS certification on new construction projects when possible is a clear contributor to the growing number of third-party certified green schools. Green schools champions found at public, private, and charter schools throughout our state are also helping Colorado stake its place as one of the greenest states in the country.
Patti Msaon is Executive Director of USGBC Colorado.
Among Winston Churchill’s many famous quotes is this one he made on October 28, 1943, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”
This is an interesting observation, and one that was certainly true half a century ago or so when building design and management changed relatively slowly. But times have changed, and now new building designs and operations are continually being conceived, especially to address ever-evolving green and sustainability issues. In regards to this pace of change, if Churchill were alive today, he might say, “We shape our buildings and then reshape them again and again, as our world reshapes us.”
However, the problem today when it comes to green and sustainability issues is that many building owners and managers have trouble determining exactly at what stage in this evolution they are now; where they want to be in the future; and why they want to be there. Understanding the why is crucial.
They may believe the best answer to why is that it’s simply “the right thing to do” or that the time has come. But most often these reasons do not produce an effective driving force for change. Understanding one’s reasons for making such changes in building design and operations is important because these reasons ultimately will become the motivating force that ensures the facility’s goals are met.
So how do building owners and managers determine the goals for their facility along with answering the whys for change when it comes to environmental issues? They do it in the same way most of us determine our other personal and business goals and motivations in life: we start by asking ourselves questions. So what types of questions should you ask yourself to identify your facility’s green and sustainable goals now and into the future? Among the questions and possible answers would likely be the following:
What is most important to the success of our facility?
What is driving our facility to become greener and more sustainable?
Do we have a way to monitor resource consumption for water, energy, and waste?
Is LEED, Green Globes, ENERGY STAR, or BOMA certification important to our facility?
Will we need to acquire systems and technology to optimize our facility’s green and sustainability performance and operations?
This last question is important because few organizations actually have systems and technology in place that can help them discover the answers to these and many other questions, which would allow them to clarify and identify their facility’s goals. One reason for this is that in the past efficient systems for doing so did not exist.
However, in the past few years, this has changed, as several computer- and web-based “dashboard” systems have been introduced to help owners and managers address these and other issues. Many building owners and managers are unaware of such systems, so they need to start by educating themselves on the types of systems available. Some of these dashboards are incorporated into software programs, and others are web-based, allowing them to be accessed at any time. Some are relatively costly and require a monthly subscription fee, while at least one has been introduced that is totally free.
The Analysis Is Key
If working with one of these dashboard systems, what is essential is that the program provides some sort of analysis. As the user of the dashboard system, your job is to answer the questions; the technology’s job is to take those answers, analyze them, and help you determine your goals and the reasons behind them.
For example, in one facility the owners and managers of a building found that their key reasons to adopt greener and more sustainable strategies were, in this order, to:
While many dashboard systems can help owners and managers determine their goals for their facilities, not all are capable of actually recommending ways to achieve these goals. This is another reason why building owners and managers should do their due diligence when selecting a dashboard system to help them prioritize and clarify their goals. For instance, if the analysis finds the key goal of a facility is the image it conveys to visitors and users, the program can select products and equipment that can help accomplish this. For an industrial facility, the key goal may be improving worker productivity. Once again, the system can direct the dashboard user to those cleaning-related items that can help improve worker productivity.
You should look at this entire experience as a process. First come your questions and then your answers. Then comes the analysis, with the help of an effective dashboard system, essentially indicating the priorities and goals of the facility and what steps must be taken. Finally, and very important, the dashboard system should help you determine ways to implement these steps to achieve your goals.
Michael Wilson is Vice President of Marketing for AFFLINK and can be reached via his company website.
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