Recognizing the Benefits of Building Green Schools

(Editor's note: On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The new law includes a $53.6 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, to be administered by the Federal Department of Education that will provide, among other things, funds to governors for use in restoring and providing state funding to school districts. Roughly $9 billion of this fund will be available for use by governors to address public safety and other government services, which may include school modernization, renovation, and repair consistent with a recognized green building rating system.

Additionally, the Act establishes a new kind of tax credit bond that may be issued by states and local governments "for the construction, rehabilitation, or repair of a public school facility or for the acquisition of land on which such a facility is to be constructed").


20% of American citizens attend school every day – 55 million K-12 students. Many of these students and teachers attend schools that are inefficient; these schools miss important opportunities to reduce operational costs, foster learning and protect student health.

Public and private schools alike are realizing the enormous benefits of going green. If a green school saved $100,000 per year in operational costs, that's roughly enough to hire two new teachers, buy 200 new computers or purchase 5,000 new textbooks.

By promoting the design and construction of green schools, the results can help make a significant impact on student health, test scores, teacher retention, school operational costs and the environment.

Far too often our nation’s K-12 schools are only built to minimum local code requirements. We send our children to spend six hours a day in facilities that just barely meet health and safety standards.*

This must change
Every child deserves to go to a school with healthy air to breathe and conditions that encourage learning.

Green schools are healthy for kids and conducive to their education. Green schools encourage:

  • daylight and views
  • high indoor air quality
  • excellent acoustics
  • thermal comfort
  • safe cleaning procedures

Numerous studies have demonstrated direct benefits to student health and performance. These studies show how...

  • Daylight improves learning performance.
  • Good indoor air quality improves physical and mental health.
  • Acoustics increase learning potential.
  • Comfortable indoor temperatures increase occupant satisfaction.

Green schools aren’t just good for students. Excellent indoor air quality means improved health for everyone! Our nation’s teachers deserve healthy spaces for teaching our children. Good acoustics in classrooms ensure that teachers can be heard without straining their voices. Studies show that most building occupants benefit from daylight and access to views, and research indicates that teachers are happier when they have the ability to control their environments. Healthy, happy teachers help save our schools money. Green schools commonly report reductions in teacher absenteeism and teacher turnover. Over the lifetime of a school, that can amount to significant savings.

If all new school construction and school renovations went green starting today, energy savings alone would total $20 billion over the next 10 years.

Green schools typically cost less than $3 per square foot more to build, an investment that is paid back within a few years of operation. Over the lifetime of the school, the savings keep adding up.

Take the green schools math challenge

If a green school were to save $100,000 per year
And a typical school facility lasts 42 years
Then over the lifetime of a school building, what could the savings amount to?
Do the math: Green schools make sense for students, teachers and the bottom line.

Students learn best when they are engaged and inspired. Imagine the learning potential when the school building itself becomes an interactive teaching tool, educating the next generation of sustainable leaders through hands-on learning.

A New Generation of “Sustainability Students”

Think of the Possibilities:

  • High school students learning about alternative energy from the solar panels on their roof.
  • Kindergarteners growing the organic vegetables they eat for lunch.
  • Middle school students studying ecosystems in their constructed wetland.

This is the green school experience.

The school building is no longer a vessel filled with students, teachers and books, but itself an opportunity for experiential learning and discovery.Green schools do more good by doing less bad; they typically use 30-50% less energy and use 30% less water than traditional school buildings.*

Additionally, green schools lessen environmental impact through responsible approaches to site development, reduced demand on municipal infrastructure and recycling during and after construction. Like other green buildings, green schools decrease our reliance on fossil fuels, thus decreasing carbon dioxide emissions and other forms of harmful pollution. Green schools can help turn back the clock on global warming and improve the environmental outlook for the student who will one day be faced with the challenge of finding resolutions to this problem.

Article and information courtesy of The United States Green Building Council (USGBC)

*Source: A Capital E report : “Greening America’s Schools – Costs and Benefits”,

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