Thanks in part to a voluntary leadership program by US Green Building Council, more and more schools in the United States are undertaking to become environmentally sustainable and energy efficient. Students in schools today can experience and be exposed to lifestyles that are environmentally conscious, even if their home environments are not. There is great hope that this will spill over into children’s homes as well. From Hawaii to San Francisco to Los Angeles, school districts are finding that becoming environmentally conscious is creating new opportunities for income from grants for construction and renovation and saving them money in the long term.
In Los Angeles, where schools are going up at a rate of 15 a year the school district is using the building boom to move students from environmentally disastrous (as well as stuffy and uncomfortable) portables and temporary trailers to new buildings that use not only sound environmental building principles but environmentally friendly products. From low-flow toilets to healthy paint to proper ventilation the new environmentally friendly classes will be better on students as well as the environment. The new schools will provide proper lighting and help prevent absenteeism due to allergies and asthma from mold, mildew and chemicals in the air. The trend to ‘green’ schools continues to illustrate how proper learning environments promotes better student performance.
The Little Green Schoolhouse (www.greenschools.net), home to the Green Schools Initiative, has identified four ‘pillars’ of healthy and sustainable schools. These are creating toxic free environments, using resources sustainabilly, creating green and healthy space and environmentally based pedagogy. I was shocked to learn from their study that Los Angeles is not the only district in the nation suffering from horrible air conditions, but rather that toxic classroom air exists in a full one-half of the nations schools! And while I remember that I used a lot of paper when I was in school, the statistic of over 75,000 tons of paper that the Los Angeles district goes through every year staggered me.
What I like the best about the Little Green Schoolhouse’s plan for creating truly healthy and sustainable schools. While there is a lot of emphasis placed on greening schools though changing the environment and administration procedures, they remain true to the original mission of all schools – to teach. Their fourth pillar, the development of an environmentally based pedagogy, is perhaps the most exciting because by educating our children in proper environmental stewardship we can ensure that the state that we’ve gotten our planet into will not be repeated in the future.