America's schools are registering for the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) LEED certification program for green schools at a rate of one school per day. This trend shows the growing intention to build and operate schools that are more energy and water efficient, which will save taxpayers money. Green schools also have significantly improved indoor air quality, which results in healthier kids.
"When you consider the fact that 50 million young people spend 8 hours a school day in a school building, we should do everything we can to make that environment work for them, not against them," says Michelle Moore, senior vice president, USGBC. "And, if these reasons aren't compelling enough to go green," Moore continues, "the operational cost savings should be. If you do the math, energy savings alone could pay for 5,000 new textbooks per school per year."
Moore notes that there are about 100,000 public and private schools in the United States, and that one-third of their facility costs are in heating/cooling buildings, providing water, electricity, and other energy/utility functions.
"LEED buildings have a demonstrated track record for lowering energy use by up to 40 percent and reducing water use by up to 50 percent over conventional buildings," Moore says. "Between climate change, skyrocketing energy prices, and growing concerns about water, building green schools and operating and maintaining them using green best practices should be a top priority in every community across the country."
Moore notes that some communities have made the commitment. "Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, and Virginia have the most LEED certified schools to date, and many local school districts and state departments of education are beginning to develop and implement policies that require schools to be built green."
The State of Ohio is one community that's leading the way. Hundreds of new and renovated schools are set to meet higher energy efficiency and environmental standards through the Ohio School Facilities Commission's adoption of the LEED for Schools rating system as part of its school design standards. When the commission did the math, it determined that it could save $1,415,529,914 in taxpayer money over the next 40 years by reducing the energy consumption of school buildings.
USGBC's local chapter network is leading the way to help replicate Ohio's success in communities in all 50 states. Local green school advocates active in each of the organization's 77 chapters and affiliates are engaging school boards and PTAs, and helping them to take the next steps towards committing to green schools.
The newly formed Green Schools Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives has lent a federal voice to the green schools agenda. The goals of the caucus are to raise awareness of the benefits of green schools, lead the policy discussion on the topic in various forums, create legislative opportunities for the collective efforts of the caucus members, and provide members of Congress with constituent outreach resources.
"We need to green our schools within a generation," concludes Moore. "Twenty (20) percent of America goes to school every day: There's no more important place to start."
The LEED certification program was developed by USGBC as a tool to measure and manage school buildings. For more information on green schools, visit USGBC's green schools site: www.buildgreenschools.org. To find green schools in your neighborhood, visit www.buildgreenschools.org/leed/leed_schools_maps.html.