Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Teaching Sustainability by Example

The idea of fostering environmental literacy among students is important to human well-being.  As such, it is promising to learn that public and private schools across the nation have been busy greening both the curriculum and educational facilities.  States now commonly adopt and follow environmental literacy standards in public schools or participate in sustainability programs (such as, for example, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, and Wisconsin).   EPA’s recent issuance of the voluntary School Siting Guidelines promotes sincere consideration of environmental factors in siting decisions.  Reporting on innovative sustainability educational programs and tools has been increasingly active and grown with the development of reporting tools by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and others.  

This post focuses on efforts to provide healthy and low-impact school buildings and recognizes that green school buildings lead to healthier students that can learn by the examples set by educators.  As recently reported by the National Education Association, “Green schools cost $3 more per square foot, but generated $74 per square foot in benefits from energy savings, increased attendance, and teacher retention.” The U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Center for Green Schools released its first annual Best of Green Schools list.  The List recognizes significant accomplishments in creating sustainable learning environments in 10 categories.  Relevant factors include efforts to occupy green-certified buildings, create collaborative sustainability programs, increase the sustainability in school infrastructure, improve departmental efficiency and inter-departmental interaction, and engage in energy conservation and other cost savings.  The categories and recipients are as follows:

1)      Best Moment for the Movement

The U.S. Department of Education has been recognized in the Moment for the Movement category for its Green Ribbon Schools program.  On the blog of the Department of Education, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan encourages educators, parents, and administrators to engage in the process of identifying the schools that will “have no environmental impact, make a positive effect on students’ health, and enable students to become environmentally literate citizens who are well prepared for the 21st Century economy.”  The Green Ribbon awards program recognizes schools for their combined achievement (or progress) in three areas: 1) energy efficiency; 2) student and environmental health; and 3) high quality education in environmental literacy.  At least 33 states, Washington D.C. and the Bureau of Indian Education have announced plans to participate in the program.  (See Michigan’s recent announcement here)

2)      Best Region

Sacramento’s Mayor Kevin Johnson has organized the Sacramento region, recipient of the Region award, to pursue a shared vision “to transform the Sacramento region into the Emerald Valley – the greenest region in the country and a hub for clean technology.”  The effort has included schools as a focus for improvement, both in the content of education and educational facilities.  The Greenwise Regional Action Plan includes a policy to create a $100 million revolving loan fund for green school retrofits across the region.    

3)      Best State

Ohio school planners are no stranger to sustainable initiatives. The State of Ohio received the award in the State category for its outstanding commitment to healthy learning environments.  The USBGC reports that Ohio leads the nation with 315 LEED registered and certified projects.  The effort continues and is encouraging other green school projects. 

4)      Best City

Philadelphia, which oversees the eighth largest school district in the country, is recognized in the City category for its focused efforts to improve the sustainability of the City’s school facilities.  With help from the Delaware Valley Green Building Council’s Green Schools Circle, the School District of Philadelphia has committed to seeking certification at LEED Silver or higher for all new construction projects.  The District has also adopted a plan to green the city’s existing 291 public schools.  The District boasts the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School as the state’s first LEED certified existing building and the Kensington High School for Creative and Performing Arts, which was recognized as the first public high school in the nation to achieve LEED Platinum certification. 

5)      Best School

The School award was given to Lake Mills Middle School in Lake Mills, Wisconsin.  In March of 2011, Lake Mills Middle School became the nation’s first public school to achieve LEED Platinum certification. The building improvements were completed $700,000 under budget and included a 36,632 square foot renovation and a 59,865 square foot expansion, native landscaping to facilitate studies on biodiversity and ecology, preference for local materials, and efficient heating and cooling systems.

6)      Best Higher Ed Innovator

University of Texas at Dallas was recognized in the Higher Education Innovator category for their LEED Platinum Student Services Building. Occupants of this four-story, 74,000-square-foot building benefit substantially from natural sunlight and views to the outside. The USBGC reports that the building has an annual electrical savings of $60,000.  Rick Dempsey, associate vice president for business affairs and the facilities management and campus sustainability officer, notes that the Student Services Building may serve as a launching point: “[B]y taking into account environmental considerations and future operational costs, the building exceeded our performance goals and has allowed us to envision new ways of creating sustainable new space on campus.”

7)      Best Collaborator

In the Collaborator category, Kentucky is recognized for driving collaborative support for green schools.   Rep. Jim DeCesare (R) and Rep. Mary Lou Marzian (D) are credited for forming the Kentucky Green Schools Caucus as a catalyst for forward-thinking state legislators to coordination and education on the benefits of green schools and facilitating bipartisan participation in green school resolutions.   

8)      Best Convenor 

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino was recognized in the Convenor category for drawing an impressive interdisciplinary crowd of researchers to the Research Summit on Childhood Health and School Buildings.  The attendees at the Summit debated and explored the relationships between school facilities, student health, and academic performance.   The Summit adds to Boston’s wide range of improvements in public and private educational facilities.

9)      Best Policy Maker

The District of Columbia City Council was recognized in the Policy Maker category for its passage of the Healthy Schools Act of 2010 and 2011 updates.  The 2011 updates included a commitment to become the first participant in the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools program. The District has established itself as a leader by adopting goals and guidance pertaining to student indoor and outdoor health, student access to meals and physical activities, Farm to School programs and health education, and sustainable buildings and premises. 

10)      Best K-12 Innovator

The K-12 Innovator award recognizes the public-private partnership resulting from the Illinois’ General Assembly’s October 2009 adoption of House Joint Resolution 45 (HJR 45).  In March of 2011, the HJR 45 task force issued a report that inventoried the financial and physical resources of the school system, reported on sustainability surveys and case studies in furtherance of best practices among Illinois schools, and envisioned resources and strategies to implement the Environmental Literacy for Illinois 2010 Strategic Plan.   

- Keith Hirokawa

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