Earth-friendly educational spaces

USGBC’s new initiative focuses on greening schools

<br> Waterless urinals reduce water waste.

Waterless urinals reduce water waste.

Courtesy of UC santa barbara

Sustainable Space columnists Lori Brown and Greg Kallio are professors in the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Construction Management at Chico State University.

Sustainable schools
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is best known for its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating systems. The organization offers a variety of certification systems to address different types of construction projects, ranging from new construction to neighborhood development. USGBC’s recent addition to its LEED for schools rating system is the Build Green Schools initiative.

What’s the definition of a green school? It’s a building or facility that creates a healthful environment that is conducive to learning while saving energy, resources and money. We should all demand that our children, teachers and staff are provided with safe and healthful learning environments.

Big improvements
You would have to be a close relative of Attila the Hun to not support the Build Green Schools initiative. It promotes excellent learning environments through a number of methods, including improving indoor air quality, increasing the level of natural light in classrooms and providing views to the outdoors. It also focuses on reducing the negative impacts our schools have on the Earth by reducing the need for electric lights and potable water.

<br /> The middle school building at Sidwell Friends School is a LEED platinum facility.

Courtesy of sidwell friends school

Harvesting daylight significantly reduces the need for electricity, saving the school money. Those funds could be used to bring back our fine-arts programs! Reducing potable water consumption by replacing conventional toilets and urinals with more-efficient amenities, such as dual-flush toilets and waterless urinals, can reduce the burden on local municipal treatment facilities. It also saves fresh water for drinking.

Let the sun shine in
Research has shown that people—young and old—benefit from learning and working in an environment that provides them with a connection to the outdoors. Increasing the openings in buildings, such as windows, provides views and introduces natural daylight into the space. (Encouraging our children to daydream is not the intention, but a beautiful view often fosters inspiration.)

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is one of the most important environmental concerns when it comes to the spaces children occupy. IAQ is measured easily, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets the acceptable levels of contaminants, such as formaldehyde, particulates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Carpets, adhesives, paints, and other building elements contain these contaminants and continue to off-gas for long periods of time.

Demand more
Architects and designers creating new schools need to rethink the cookie-cutter classroom design and start thinking outside the box. Citizens must begin demanding that our existing schools be renovated to meet Build Green Schools standards—or better—and that all new schools be built green. Ask your school principal for a report card on your child’s classroom to see how it measures up to the standards, and in the areas where it fails, ask what is being done to implement improvements to create a more healthful environment.

Visit to learn more about what can be done to make schools better places to educate our children. Don’t miss watching the video Generation G to hear what the young, articulate students attending Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., have to say about their green school and the importance of protecting the environment.