Building Green (Rather Than Little Red) Schoolhouses

Monthly Labor Review, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Building Green (Rather Than Little Red) Schoolhouses


Few things are as important to parents as the education of their children--make that the first-rate and safe education of their children. As Gregory Kats, a former director at the U.S. Department of Energy and current president of Capital E, a national clean energy advisory and venture capital firm, champions in his article, "Greening America's Schools: Costs and Benefits" (A Capital E Report, October 2006, www.usgbc.org/ShowFile. aspx?DocumentID=2908), using green technologies in designing, building, and operating schools enriches the learning experience for 21st-century students and benefits society at large.

By studying the costs and benefits of 30 green schools built in 10 states between 2001 and 2006, the author illustrates that, although in some cases green schools can be built for the same cost as a conventional school, usually the initial cost of building green is a little more. However, the long-term financial, environmental, and other benefits of building green vastly outweigh a green school's original investment.

Just how much more does it cost to build a green school with more natural lighting; improved ventilation and temperature control; increased use of renewal energy; green, planted roofs; and better indoor air quality? With national school construction averaging $150 per square foot, a green school initially costs about $3 per square foot more to build than a conventional school; that is, the "green premium" comes to about 2 percent of the upfront cost of building. However, a number of studies have found that green schools reduce some of the nonfinancial costs of conventional school buildings, such as health risks that contribute to illness and absenteeism (for both teachers and students) and educational disadvantages that bring down test scores--particularly among lower income and minority children.

A look at the financial bottom line shows that the societal long-term financial benefits of green schools are some $70 per square foot, with about $12 per square foot accruing directly to the schools through lower health costs, higher teacher retention, and reduced life-cycle operating costs. Green schools use an average of 33 percent less energy. And not only do green schools save money, but reduced energy demand locally can lower its market price on a statewide or national level. In addition to reducing water pollution, green schools realize savings by recycling water and waste rather than disposing of it. The 30 schools in the study reduced water usage by approximately a third, with water and waste water reduction achieved through the use of green roofs, greywater systems, and rainwater catchment. …

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Building Green (Rather Than Little Red) Schoolhouses
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