Green schools are emerging around the country, and they are nothing short of spectacular. Whether built from the ground up or retrofitted, they are awash in daylight and the glow of natural wood, equipped with individualized air, light, and temperature control, and surrounded by rich landscapes designed to shade and regenerate our air and water.
Green schools cost less than 2 percent more than conventional schools to build but provide 20 times the financial benefits, according to author Greg Kats. Even in existing schools that are making smaller changes to lighten their impact on the planet, the benefits are obvious: savings in energy, water, materials, land, and transportation. In a 2006 study of 30 American schools, Kats identified an average 33 percent reduction in energy use and a 32 percent reduction in water use in green schools (as defined by the U.S. Green Building Council) when compared with conventional schools.
Less well known are the seemingly invisible assets of environmentally healthy buildings. A school designed to have a smaller carbon footprint can also have a big impact on the learning and health of its students, improving test scores, reducing absenteeism, advancing new levels of learning, and reducing asthma and allergies. Good ventilation, daylight, cleanliness, reduced noise -- all attributes of green design -- are not merely aesthetic improvements; they can actually promote better educational outcomes.