Empower future generations: Use sustainable schools as teaching tools

Posted on Aug 10, 2010 by Theresa Lehman

When educating children how to have a healthy, well-balanced diet, it’s almost impossible to teach them about whole-grains, fruits and vegetables in the middle of a fast food restaurant. The same holds true for educating our children on how to become good environmental stewards in the middle of a non-daylight, energy-consuming classroom that has poor indoor air quality and zero acoustical control.

So how can we teach our nation’s youth to value the environment? Many would say we should incorporate a sustainable focus into the school curriculum.  Although that is important, to fully engage and inspire students, we should take a more hands-on approach by utilizing the schools themselves as educational tools so that children can see the benefits of environmental practices at work. Check out this article from fastcodesign.com on sustainable learning environments: link

The majority of our nation’s schools are designed and built to code, which means they’re built to minimum environmental, health, and safety standards allowable by law. Why is this the norm and not the exception?  It’s my experience that decisions like this are based on the perception that the lowest initial cost possible is in the best interest of the tax payers and because the benefits of high performance schools are not clearly understood. However, times are changing.

The small, conservative community of Lake Mills passed their referendum (on the third try) to renovate and expand their middle school based on the idea that the school would minimize its environmental impacts. The “green” school has reduced energy and water consumption, saving the district annual operating costs, which has allowed them to reallocate funds to foster better education. The quality of the indoor air has increased to a point where a staff member who was on allergy and asthma medication for the last twenty years, no longer requires it. But most importantly, the middle school will serve as a life-long, interactive, environmental learning environment for the entire community.

To understand how sustainable features throughout the school reduce environmental impacts and enhance the health of staff and students, the teachers spent a day with the design and construction team learning about the various systems and equipment. In turn, the teachers now use the school as an educational tool to provide the students with hands-on learning opportunities. To thank the community for their support, the students hosted an open house and environmental fair to teach the community about their school’s “green” features.

As parents, teachers and community leaders, we need to inspire our children through education on how to be respectful of their health and the health of the environment, such that we empower them to live sustainably. In other words, we need to get students to put their education into action. What are you going to do to promote the importance and benefits of green schools?  The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) sums it up nicely, “Green schools cost less to operate, freeing up resources to truly improve students’ education.” To learn more about what you can do to help promote green schools in your community, click here.

Also, check out this great presentation on green schools by Qatar LEEDers:

About Theresa Lehman

Dedicating her entire career to sustainable practice, Theresa has worked on more than 70 projects seeking LEED® certification utilizing the LEED®-NC, LEED®-CI, LEED®-CS, LEED®-EBOM, and LEED® for Schools green building rating systems. She has successfully certified projects that have earned LEED® certification at all four award levels including: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Her portfolio of LEED® projects includes many “Wisconsin firsts” such as the first State of Wisconsin LEED® certified project, the first healthcare facility, the first LEED®-EBOM Schools, the first LEED® for Schools project and the first zero-net energy / carbon neutral project–the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center–the “greenest building on the planet” according to Rick Fedrizzi, former President, CEO & Founding Chair, U.S. Green Building Council.

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