Make sure your community has a green school advocate

Budget messes across the United States call for a radical new approaches to running our school districts. Along the way, we'll be teaching kids to think more sustainably.

Okay class, your assignment for the summer recess is to read as much as possible about why and how we as adults can and should act to make school buildings greener -- and why this isn't just a great thing for operational efficiency, it's a great thing to teach "Generation G."

Before you start protesting that this just isn't a priority given all the other things the public education system needs, consider that addressing basic things like energy efficiency or climate control doesn't just help schools save money it helps promote an environment that is more conducive to learning. Seriously, how much can a child be expected to focus on the lesson plan if he or she is about to pass out from heat or poor air circulation? If we have any hope of moving to year-round schedules in the future, we can't expect kids to sit in stifling classrooms.

The U.S. Green Building Council estimates that attention to green details in schools -- notably through energy efficiency and water consumption habits -- can save the average school $100,000 annually. That's the equivalent of being able to hire two new teachers or invest in approximately 200 computers. If every new school construction project or retrofit took green concerns into account moving forward, the impact of energy efficiency alone could save $20 billion over the next decade.

It all sets a great example, as professed by the children in this promotional video created by the council:

The challenge, of course, is that school buildings are different from commercial buildings and the best practices for applying something like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program to schools are still evolving when it comes to school architectures and buildings.

Dan Bulley, executive director of the Green Construction Institute, part of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago, is leading a state-inspired effort in Illinois to help document the best ways for schools to go green. He's working with a team that is retrofitting three different schools from three different sorts of communities -- urban, suburban and rural. Among the things that Bulley is examining are viable funding and legislative options, as well as how to retrofit buildings that have been in place for decades.

"In many ways, you have more challenges with LEED in schools than in other environments because you are dealing with systems that are already there and that have been there for quite a long time," Bulley says.

- Extensive green school building resources

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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