A green school provides many benefits for its students, educators, community and the environment. Students learn the importance of sustainability, teacher satisfaction is increased, the community has a sense of pride and connection and the school’s environmental impact is reduced, according to the Center for Green Schools. If you’re thinking about submitting your school for LEED certification, you will need to start by tracking metrics when it comes to sustainability.
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Anisa Heming, Director of the Center for Green Schools at USGBC, says that existing schools interested in applying for LEED Building Operation and Maintenance should look at energy, water, waste, transportation and air quality metrics.
“Anyone who’s been working in energy management will know what power those numbers have,” she notes. Once you have that information, you’ll know where to take critical action first. She cites examples like energy spikes, waste anomalies or if one school in the district is performing much differently than others.
“Data lets you target where your actions will be most powerful,” Heming says.
The Power of Metrics
Schools and districts working on obtaining LEED certification are tracking sustainability metrics. Once ready to pursue certification, they submit the data on how the school has performed. From there, GBCI (the organization that administers project certifications for several green building designations, including LEED) verifies that the performance has occurred and that there are policies in place to ensure performance continues.
(Pictured is a student intern at Lincoln (Nebraska) Public Schools who helps collect readings to learn about indoor environmental quality. *Photo credit: Lincoln Public Schools)
Prior to obtaining LEED certification, schools focus on energy and water management, monitoring data, troubleshooting problems based on the data, and implementing energy-efficient measures and behavior programs, Heming explains.
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“We always encourage schools to do what’s necessary to look at their metrics to determine what might be causing problems,” she says.
Obtaining LEED certification provides a third-party verification that the building or district is performing in a sustainable way consistently. Heming notes that LEED certification is a useful benchmark with school decision makers, constituents, voters and parents to show how the school is performing.
“It’s a great tool to communicate this and make the case those facilities managers and staff are doing the job they need to do to make the school sustainable and healthy for students,” she adds.
Tip for Schools Obtaining LEED Certification
Heming offers tips on how a school or district can begin working toward obtaining LEED certification:
Pick an area to focus on. Heming suggests deciding if you want to go broad or deep. “A school system needs to think about if it wants to tackle one topic in all schools or focus on one school and get that school in ship-shape all at once.”
Determine whom to involve in the process. That way you won’t leave out important departments or colleagues who need to know what’s happening. Who should be involved varies by project.
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Get buy-in before starting. “It’s very helpful to have the support of the principal, superintendent and school board,” Heming notes. “Making the case to the higher-level decision maker can be very helpful in keeping the process moving along and all colleagues on the same page, and making sure it’s something that’s tied in with the overall mission of the school system.”
Using the Arc Platform for LEED Certification
Both new and existing schools can access Arc, a digital platform that helps school buildings collect, manage and benchmark data to improve sustainability performance. By tracking energy, waste, water, transportation and human experience, schools can receive a performance score between 0 and 100 and track progress with the goal of making decisions that are more informed.
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Currently, 110 K-12 schools are using Arc. Existing schools can use it to track their sustainability data. If they want to pursue a LEED certification, they can use that data, upload policies and procedures and submit it all as a package for LEED certification.
Some schools are even using Arc and connecting it with student learning.
Whitefish (Montana) High School AP stats students analyze Arc data sets
to understand trends and make recommendations to improve
the sustainability of the school. *Photo credit: Whitefish School District
“They are using the fact that the schools are benchmarking sustainability to teach students about the power of data and your impact based on what you find,” Heming says, noting that students are taking the information from their school and doing data analysis.
“Arc is the pathway to certification,” Heming says.
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