The Importance of Green Schools | Earth Day Network

The Importance of Green Schools

Green schools protect the environment, keep teachers and students healthy, and promote environmental literacy.

Working to green schools and prepare the next generation of environmental leaders.

At Earth Day Network, we are committed to greening every school in America within a generation. Green schools significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs, improve student and teacher health, and enhance student motivation. With children spending two-thirds of their waking hours inside schools, benefits like pure air quality, healthy lighting, safe outdoor spaces, and high quality cafeteria food aren’t fancy extras – they are essential.

The Five Pillars:

  • Facilities;
  • Food;
  • Schoolyard & Outdoors;
  • Transportation;
  • Environmental Education.

Earth Day Network has worked to compile a list of facts about green schools including the overwhelming health and educational benefits for students.

Check out our repository of information on the importance of green schools!

Air Quality

  • Students, faculty and staff spend 85-90% of their day indoors, where the indoor air quality can be up to 100 times worse than outdoors, and about 50% of classrooms have poor indoor air quality1
  • Lawrence Berkely Labs found that an increase of 50% to 370% in the incidence of respiratory illness in spaces with low ventilation rates that is common in schools2
    • Fresh air is critical for health and alertness
  • Students in America miss approximately 14 million school days per year because of asthma3
    • Controlling exposure to indoor environmental factors could prevent more than 65 percent of asthma cases among elementary school-age children
  • Installing energy recovery ventilation equipment can reduce infiltration of air contaminants from outdoors while significantly reducing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) energy loads4
  • Incorporating green building measures in school designs improves indoor air quality and can reduce absenteeism rates by as much as 15 percent5
  • Highly reflective roofs commonly last longer than conventional roofs and green roofs (with plants in soil on an impermeable membrane) are expected to last 30 to 50 years or longer6
    • Lowered ambient air temperature cuts smog formation, improves comfort and health, and cuts the cost of air conditioning.
  • In Colorado Springs, Colorado, the local school district developed an energy efficiency and indoor air quality management program that produces more than $900,000 in annual energy cost savings while significantly improving the air quality in school buildings for students, faculty, and staff7
    • The program uses energy cost savings from efficiency upgrades to offset the costs of achieving superior indoor air quality without transferring the costs to taxpayers.
    • As a result of the upgrades, the district has been able to meet its indoor air quality goal of 700 parts per million (ppm) CO2 or less during occupied hours

Public School Funding

  • 50 million students and 6 million adults are in 100,000 buildings across 2 million acres of land and state and local governments invest more in k-12 public school facilities than any other infrastructure expect roads (2014 925 billion was spent on maintenance and daily operations) (source=State of our Schools 2016)
    • Primarily funding comes from local property tax and 12 states provide no capital construction funding to districts, and 13 states provide less and 10%
  • The largest hurdle to overcome is equal development in schools from community to community (source=State of our Schools 2016)
  • Districts provide schools with extensive outdoor spaces including playgrounds, outdoor classrooms, athletic fields, tracks, and landscaped and undeveloped green spaces (source=State of our Schools 2016)
  • From 1995-2004, environmental projects in school occurred in wealthier zip codes8
  • 2/3 of Americans believe it is important to improve public school buildings with green technology9
  • Poor facilities are strongly associated with student truancy and higher rates of suspension10
  • A 2006 U.S. Green Building Council report showed that green schools cost $3 more per square foot, but generated $74 per square foot in benefits from energy savings, increased attendance, and teacher retention11
  • School grounds have become healthier outdoor places by reducing paved areas and replacing them with grass which also reduces storm water run-off and sedimentation (source=State of our Schools 2016)
  • America’s schools spend more than $7.5 billion annually on energy-more than they spend on textbooks and computers combined12
  • A typical green school saves $100,000 per year on operating costs, enough to hire at least one new teacher, buy 200 new computers, or purchase 5,000 textbooks13

Increase in Jobs

  • Investing in energy efficiency can stimulate the local economy and encourage development of energy efficiency service markets14
    • Across the nation, energy efficiency technologies and services are estimated to have created more than 8 million jobs in 2006
  • Investing in energy efficiency helps foster market demand for energy-efficient technologies from local residents and businesses, and demonstrates responsible stewardship of public resources since reduced energy costs translate into saved tax dollars15

Environmental friendly products

  • There are an estimated 40 to 60 chemical injuries per year for every 1,000 school custodians – mostly chemical burns to the eyes and skin and damage to the respiratory system16
    • By requiring the use of green cleaning products and procedures, schools ensure safe and healthy work environments for both students and staff
  • Schools use pesticides with neurological and reproductive toxins, which are dangerous to both children and adults17
  • American schools consume enormous quantities of paper and energy, produce tons of waste and carbon emissions, and rarely purchase environmentally-friendly products18
  • Each school lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year19
    • One average-size middle school creates over 40,000 pounds of lunch waste a year so packing a waste-free lunch saves an average student $250
  • If 133,000 schools switch to recycled paper, they could save about 6 million trees per year20

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  • In 2005, the Council Rock School District in Newtown, Pennsylvania, established an energy management program and began recommissioning newer buildings and requiring ENERGY STAR labeled products, when possible, for new purchases21
    • In 2009, the district’s efforts reduced CO2 emissions by more than 7,000 metric tons, the equivalent of the annual emissions from more than 1,300 vehicles
  • Improving energy efficiency in school buildings can help reduce GHG emissions and criteria air pollutants by decreasing consumption of fossil fuels (fossil fuel combustion for electricity generation accounts for 40 percent of the nation’s CO2 emissions which leads to respiratory problems for many people)22
  • Daylight and Lighting
  • There is a connection between daylight and students ability to focus , retain information, and maintain alertness
    • Students without access to daylight has disruptions in the of hormones essential for learning23
  • Energy-efficient school building designs use natural daylight to reduce the energy needed to light a building and natural light has been proven to have a positive effect on student performance24
    • Students exposed to natural daylight in classrooms progress as much as 20 percent faster on math tests and as much as 26 percent faster on reading tests than students with no daylight
  • Energy-efficient exterior lighting can enhance security while reducing energy costs by providing effective and even light distribution25

Energy Efficiency

  • local governments can work with school districts to improve energy efficiency in existing, renovated, and new K-12 schools; reduce energy costs; and create a range of environmental, economic, and educational benefits26
  • Solutions: replacing coal-fired boilers with cleaner more efficient gas heating systems, upgraded roof systems with heat-reflective materials, green roofs and solar arrays, larger more insulated windows, adding space to existing schools (source=State of our Schools 2016)
  • Schools spend $75 per student on gas bills and $130 per student on electricity each year and by implementing energy efficiency measures, K-12 schools can reduce energy costs by 30%27
    • Modification of a pre-existing building for energy efficiency can save a typical 100,000-square-foot school building between $10,000 and $16,000 annually

Water Quality

  • A high performance school should control and reduce water runoff from its site, consume fresh water as efficiently as possible and recover and reuse gray water to the extent feasible because basic efficiency measures can reduce a school’s water use by 30% or more28
    • These reductions help the environment, locally and regionally and lower a school’s operating expenses.
    • The technologies and techniques used to conserve water – especially landscaping, water treatment, and recycling strategies – can be used to help instruct students about ecology and the environment.
  • In Dedham, MA the school design team provided rainwater storage capacity on-site, saving the town the cost of enlarging an off-site storm water detention facility. The city valued this improvement at $400,00029

Teaching Opportunities

  • Improving energy efficiency can provide an opportunity to introduce children to important energy and environmental issues30
  • Energy-efficient school buildings can give students hands-on opportunities to learn about the benefits of smart energy31
  • High performance schools provide educational opportunities such as on-site renewable energy generation, water conservation features, and other green technologies create very valuable opportunities for hands-on learning32
  • In 2006, McKinley Elementary School, located in the San Leandro Unified School District in California, performed a lighting system retrofit that reduced lighting energy consumption by 49%33
    • A group of teachers worked with the California Public Utilities Commission’s School Energy Efficiency Program to plan an energy efficiency open house and integrate educational opportunities into the curriculum that would help students learn about energy through hands-on experience
  • Sustainability is about being good global citizens: ensuring adequate resources for a clean, healthy environment for all and if schools are leaders in environmental sustainability, giving students the tools to be innovators, and giving them a healthy environment in which to learn and play34
  • In Montgomery County, Maryland, 10 high schools and middle schools participated in a pilot for the school district’s School EcoResponse Team program, which helped the schools implement energy efficiency measures35
    • In return for being allowed to retain a portion of the energy cost savings, the schools agreed to serve as mentors to students in district elementary schools to encourage broader understanding of energy and environmental issues

Classroom Acoustics

  • Students ability to hear their teacher clearly has substantial impact on their short term memory and academic performance36
  • Sustainable Materials
  • Certified sustainable yield lumber, formaldehyde-free particleboard and insulation, non-VOC sealants, and recycled plastic bathroom partitions contributes to waste reduction and make schools healthier and more that environmentally responsible37

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  1. Green Schools Initiative |
  2. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory |
  3. Green Education Foundation (GEF) |
  4. United States Environmental Protection Agency |
  5. United States Environmental Protection Agency |
  6. Center for Ecoliteracy |
  7. Energy Star (EPA) |
  8. Building Educational Success Together (BEST) |
  9. U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) |
  10. Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations |
  11. Green Schools Initiative |
  12. Center For Green Schools |
  13. Green Schools Initiative |
  14. Green Schools Initiative |
  15. Center for Ecoliteracy |
  16. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy |
  17. Green Education Foundation (GEF) |
  18. Green Schools Initiative |
  19. Green Schools Initiative |
  20. Green Schools Initiative |
  21. Green Schools Initiative |
  22. Energy Star (EPA) |
  23. United States Environmental Protection Agency |
  24. ResearchGate |
  25. United States Environmental Protection Agency |
  26. United States Environmental Protection Agency |
  27. United States Environmental Protection Agency |
  28. Center For Green Schools |
  29. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (USDOE) |
  30. United States Environmental Protection Agency |
  31. United States Environmental Protection Agency |
  32. Center for Ecoliteracy |
  33. Energy Star (EPA) |
  34. Green Schools Initiative |
  35. United States Environmental Protection Agency |
  36. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services In Schools |
  37. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (USDOE) |


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