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Building Green Schools

Kestrel e150 on the playground border Kestrel e150 on the playground border

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There's a lot each of us can do to make sure our schools have less impact on the planet, from rethinking how we get to and from campus to setting up recycling and compost programs to putting something different in our kids' lunchboxes.

But what about the facilities themselves? What can we do to make them healthier, better places to learn?

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) notes that one in five Americans goes to school every day. Yet more than 25 percent of the buildings these people study in are aging and considered dangerous to occupant health.

Fortunately, a small, but growing, number of schools are realizing that they don't have to build new schools the way they've built them in the past.

With the help of standards from USGBC, both public and private schools are pioneering new ways of designing facilities that bring more daylight into the classrooms, use less energy, conserve water, minimize or eliminate volatile organic compounds, and make use of sustainably sourced materials.

Even though these buildings cost on average about 2 percent more, according to research (PDF) compiled in 2006, they recoup those costs quickly through reduced operating costs.

One public high school that RMI's Built Environment Team worked on in Fort Collins, Colorado, saves about $100,000 per year on energy and water in its new facility. That's enough to hire two new teachers, buy 200 new computers, or 5,000 textbooks.

The benefits don't stop there. USGBC notes that green schools:

The kids seem to be catching on, too. Check out this video of students at Sidwell Friends, the nation's largest Quaker school, talking about their new green building:

Inspired yet? Head on over to the USGBC's Build Green Schools site to figure out how you can make these kinds of schools a reality in your district and nationwide.

Noah Buhayar is a fellow at Rocky Mountain Institute. Read the full article by clicking here.

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