Green schools are inarguably the right decision for our children and the environment. Though up-front costs are higher, green buildings save enough in operation and maintenance expenses to pay for their original construction in a matter of months. The money saved on energy bills (the annual energy savings from a single green school is generally in the 6-digit range) can be reallocated to pay for important school initiatives, additional teachers, better computers, or thousands of textbooks. Green schools also prevent the unnecessary production of millions of tons of CO2. Overall, buildings are the largest contributors to US CO2 production. Renovations and new school construction represent the largest construction sector in the U.S.—$80 billion in 2006-2008, about 27% of the US construction market (source: McGraw-Hill).
Given the enormous financial and environmental benefits, green schools seem an obvious choice, but red tape, laws and up-front costs often prevent their construction. The highly localized nature of school budgets creates a bureaucratic disconnect between capital funds (used for construction) and operating funds (used for utility bills). The difference in funding sources makes it difficult for schools to realize the potential operating-cost savings of a green building investment.
To help school boards realize the financial and environmental benefits of green building, The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has launched the “Green Schools Advocate” Program. The program will select and train national volunteers to advocate green schools to local school boards and state boards of education.
About 75 advocates will be chosen and will be invited to attend a two-day training camp at the USGBC’s headquarters in Washington, DC. Training camp will cover the benefits of green schools, LEED for Schools certification, and tactics to propel the decision-making process of building, renovating, and maintaining green schools. Advocates will learn to present the case for green schools to district governments, the local media, and other stakeholders including PTA groups.
The “Green Schools Advocate” program is a rare opportunity to make an impact in a range of causes. Green schools provide healthier learning environments for our children and reallocate money squandered on energy bills for better educational initiatives. To boot, green schools act as community exemplars, teaching tools and levers for mainstreaming green building practices into homes and offices around the US. Most of all, green schools would save millions of unnecessary tons of CO2.
If you want to get involved or think you might make a stellar “Green Schools Advocate” email The United States Green Building Council at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit the USGBC’s Green Schools Website buildgreenschools.org for more information.