Green buildings have existed for thousands of years, although no one had called them that until recently. The Romans used what we know as passive solar techniques to keep their buildings cool from the hot Italian sun. Unfortunately, these simple and sensible methods became ignored by the 20th century. Heating spaces became so inexpensive that energy conservation was not a main concern within the building industry. Today, the issue has developed and buildings are expected to utilize energy and water in a much more efficient way. Fortunately, this realization has rapidly gained international traction and attention and many new technologies and building techniques have been implemented.
Public buildings are one area being affected by the popularity and necessity of more sustainable building strategies. Our tax dollars support and maintain public buildings, so it is in everyone’s best interest to ensure that these buildings are operating as efficiently as possible. Schools are clearly one of the most important public buildings within our communities, and are also some of the largest, oldest, and therefore, most inefficient buildings. Many are over fifty years old, plagued with inadequate construction, and most are lacking healthy air, energy conservation, and well insulated walls.
The need to ‘green’ our schools is clear and has been taken into consideration over the past few years! Schools spend over $6 billion nationwide on energy each year and, according to The Consortium for Energy Efficiency, schools waste up to 25% of energy due to poorly designed or operated systems and procedures. The U.S. Department of Energy estimated that schools would save up to 50% of energy costs by adopting simple energy-saving measures. By accomplishing even a 25% reduction in energy costs, approximately $1.5 billion would be saved, which could fund 30,000 new teacher salaries or 40 million textbooks for students!
Along with cutting down costs, greening our schools will also improve air quality, which research has indicated causes negative health issues. Improving ventilation systems within schools can help prevent asthma and other sickness, while also improving student and staff performances. Healthy air quality should be a main focus of any public building, especially our schools.
Fortunately, ‘greening’ public buildings has increased recently and GEF is determined to help schools accomplish these goals for a better learning environment, but also to educate students on the importance of green building and energy efficiency. GEF offers their free Green Building Program, where students are provided with valuable skills and resources to understand, identify, and improve building inefficiencies within their own school buildings.