Cost Effectiveness of Sustainable Building

Before Class: Getting Familiarized.
     1. Ensure that before class starts, students are already familiar with the most basic aspects of climate change, humans’ effects on the environment, and the fact that buildings are arguably the worst offender.

     2. If students need to do background reading, have them read either the Earth Day Network Background document or both EPA reports (above).

Class #1

Warm-up: Pre-Assessment (10-15 minutes)
     1. Ask the students to say words that come to mind when they hear the terms “efficiency” and “sustainability” and write these on the board. Answers may be broad, focused on the environment (eco-friendly, uses little energy), related to money (economic sustainability or efficiency), etc. All are acceptable, but ensure that students understand the broad definitions as well as their relation to the environment.
     2. If there is time, ask if any students want to explain environmental concepts like global warming or green-building specific concepts like grey-water.

Activity 1: Understanding a Green School and LEED (20 minutes)
     1. If there is access to a computer projector, pull up EDN’s Green Schools Fact Sheet ( and familiarize students with reasons to make a school green. The three broad reasons are human health, environment, and long term finances. If there is no computer projector access, the first page can be printed and distributed to students. Additional lecture material can be pulled from Gregory Kats’ report (above).
     2. Pull up the USGBC’s LEED for Schools document ( and quickly familiarize students with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification and rating system. Emphasize the special categories meant for schools, such as mold protection. With no projector access, selected pages can be printed off and distributed to students.

Activity 2-A: Designing a Green School (10 minutes)
     1. Give every student a copy of Reproducible #1 – Plan of Action and break them into groups of four or five. The students will be designing a hypothetical green building for the school, with a different student in charge of each LEED category. This material is dense and interdisciplinary, spanning math, science and social studies, so make sure that groups are diverse and that the students get along. The proposed situation:
The school is designing a new building, with an operating budget of $160 per square foot. This is slightly larger than the national average and should allow for some green changes, but the school does not want to build a sustainable building out of fear that it will cost too much and be a hassle. Show that a green building can be financially advantageous by proposing green solutions that either cost a similar amount upfront, or that will save lots of money in the future. Be creative and come up with the cheapest, greenest building as possible, and make sure it is at least LEED certified.
     2. Allow the students the remainder of class to decide amongst themselves who will lead on each task. If students are in groups of four, then one student can be assigned to each category: Design/Site Selection, Water/Energy Savings, Green Material Use, and Indoor Air Quality/HVAC. Let them know that their homework that night will be to fill out Reproducible #1 – Plan of Action with research on their sector assignment (i.e. Site Selection, Water/Energy, etc.) and some suggestions for moving ahead. They will meet in their groups for the majority of Class #2 to put their individual ideas together. Point them to EDN’s LEED Background Document and all its sources for more information. If you’d like, tell the students that there will be a reward (extra credit or some sort of treat) for the group with the best plan.

Class #2

Activity 2-B: Designing a Green School (35-40 minutes)
     1. Allow students to meet in their groups and share their ideas. The students will quickly put together a rough plan for a green building. Buildings sketches and precise monetary figures are not required, but are encouraged. Let students knows that this should be fun and that while their grade is affected by effort and participation, these concepts are new and difficult – creativity and not 100% proficiency is expected. The students should try to have enough information to give a mock proposal to a board of trustees or the school administration.
     2. After 20 or 25 minutes, have students give quick (2-5 minutes, depending on class size) presentations of their green building. At the end, judge (or allow the students to vote on) the projects based on most money saved upfront and most money saved long term. Give a reward to the two best groups.

Wrap Up: Sharing Information (5-10 minutes)
     1. Ask some students to share interesting information with the class. Look especially for students that were surprised by any information they learned. If any of the students have questions, see if their classmates can answer them based on their research. Pass out Reproducible #2 – Reflection Questions and ask them to fill out the open ended questions for homework.

Based on the winning group’s plan, and/or incorporating key elements from all groups, have the class put together a real proposal to present to the School Board, principal or district administrators. This time, realism and feasibility based on your actual existing school building should be stressed. It may also be advantageous to choose one, or just a few, element(s) to focus on (see EDN’s Green Schools Student Action Plans for ideas). However, don’t be afraid to make a bold proposition! If your class has data, research and economics on their side, anything is possible!