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Articles: Sustainability

At Bee Cave Elementary School, students gather around the teacher for story time in one small space, allowing the school to save energy and money in areas of the room that don’t need lighting.

Lighting is often the overlooked energy hog in the room—accounting for 26 percent of the energy used in a typical school. Retrofitting lighting can reduce that by as much as 50 percent, and it's is often simpler and less expensive than upgrading HVAC systems, producing a quick return on investment.

Elementary students from P.S. 41 in New York City Public Schools record observations on the green roof during class. The roof was the first official NYC Greenroof Environmental Literacy Laboratory installed in the city. (Photo: Vicki Sando)
The P.S. 442 green roof requires little maintenance after the first year of planting. (Photo: ©2015 Ari Burling Photography)
Students from P.S. 442 in Brooklyn grow grapes on the roof along with flowers and other plants.
A bee pollinates a flower on the green roof at P.S. 442, also in New York City Public Schools.

Learning to grow vegetables and flowers. Digging in the dirt. Understanding how seasons affect plants. Such learning experiences for students come with a green school roof.

Promoting green school roofs is part of New York City’s larger mission to combat air pollution, conserve energy and reduce the amount of stormwater flowing into sewers and waterways.

Green roofs also reduce the need for air conditioning, thus lessening the “urban heat island” effect—a phenomenon in which concentrated human activity and energy use make metropolitan areas hotter.

Students from Burton Hill Elementary School, part of Forth Worth ISD in Texas, get hands-on learning opportunities for all academic subjects using an outdoor garden and classroom.
Nationwide, some 94 percent of teachers in the school garden program reported seeing increased engagement from their students.
Burton Hill Elementary teachers attend professional development sessions to learn how to connect their lessons to activities in their school garden.
Over the past 12 years, REAL School Gardens has worked with more than 100 schools and trained 3,500 teachers.

School gardens used for instruction are on the rise nationwide, and with them, student engagement and test scores, according to a recent study.

The nonprofit REAL School Gardens works with corporations to build outdoor classrooms at low-income schools. The gardens include 150 square feet of vegetable beds, perennial and herb beds, rainwater collection systems, composting bins, earth science stations, and animal habitats.

Sandy Grove Middle School’s solar panels sit on the roof.
An interior hallway. More than 80 percent of the building’s light fixtures are LED, supplied by Cree.
Students can work in a new laboratory facility to analyze the school’s energy performance.
A media center leads to a hallway with natural light.

Sandy Grove Middle School, part of Hoke County Schools in North Carolina, is the first energy-positive school in the nation to be financed by its own expected energy savings.

The 74,000-square-foot school opened to students in fall 2013, and was designed as a net-zero facility that produces more energy than it consumes. It will also meet LEED Gold standards.

Students from Richard J. Lee Elementary School, part of Coppell ISD in Dallas, have a lesson in the school garden.

Districts recovering from the recession and in need of new buildings and renovations can save money over time by building net-zero energy schools, architects say.

Hacienda La Puente USD in California signed a five-year, $5.3 million energy savings performance contract in part to upgrade exterior lighting at four high schools.

New partnerships between districts and energy service companies provide much-needed funding for school sustainability upgrades that can range from installing efficient lighting to renovating entire buildings.

Energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs) allow school leaders and other public agencies to complete energy-savings projects without upfront capital costs.

New York City students may soon learn formal lessons on climate change as a proposed curriculum continues to win endorsements from leading environmental groups.

Two groups, the Alliance for Climate Education and Global Kids, have been encouraging the New York State Department of Education to add climate change to the city’s K12 curriculum.

The effort, centered on Resolution 0375-2014 now before the New York City Council, was endorsed in February by The Natural Resources Defense Council.

Grand View Elementary School in California’s Manhattan Beach USD has cut its trash from 30 bags a day to two, reducing the number of garbage pickups and saving $4,700 a year.

One student generates about five pounds of waste in 180 days from simply drinking a carton of milk each day of the school year, according to the Carton Council, a national industry-sponsored recycling organization. Add in glue bottles, old test papers and leftover lunch, and it’s no wonder schools are looking for ways to reduce both the amount of waste filling trash bins and the money spent to have it hauled away.

Different bins in nearly 750 New York City schools help students separate organic waste for composting.

If compost can make it there, it can make it anywhere.

In an effort to reduce its garbage footprint, the New York City Department of Education has partnered with the Department of Sanitation to launch its Organic Waste Collection Program in the city’s schools.

The effort was inspired by a 2012 self-funded pilot program organized by a handful of PTAs in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, says John Shea, chief executive officer at the New York City Department of Education.

insulation systems on school buildings is key to making a district’s investment last. Below, a maintenance worker repairs flashing adhesives on a school roof, which help seal the roof and prevent water leaks.
Before windows were replaced at the Harmony School in Bloomington, Ind.
After the windows were installed. Marvin Windows and Doors made sure the new and functional windows were also aesthetically pleasing, matching the school’s building style.

Administrators budgeting for construction have the tools and access to ensure their buildings’ shells—the roofs, windows and insulation—are energy-efficient and easy to maintain. There are many issues to consider—here are some guidelines.

A synthetic field at Asbury Park High School at Asbury Park Public Schools in New Jersey, by FieldTurf, is one of various fields that needs regular maintenance and care.

Installing a synthetic-surface athletic field can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Any school district that invests in one and then treats it as a maintenance-free luxury may end up spending a lot more money on repairs and replacements.

With new, smarter building technology to control energy use, school leaders can reduce their carbon footprint and use the money saved to fund projects that may have suffered from budget cuts. U.S. schools spend more on energy than they do “on computers and textbooks combined,” according to a past report by Energy Star.

“As much as 30 percent of a district’s total energy is used inefficiently or unnecessarily,” the report states.

Old computers await recycling at the certified Capital Area Corporate Recycling Council in Baton Rouge, La.

The boom in affordable laptops and mobile devices has left the clunky computers of the past piling up in storage rooms in many schools.

Recycling is the best way to properly dispose of outdated technology instead of allowing it to collect dust or to break down in landfills, says Jim Lynch, director of green technology at TechSoup Global, a nonprofit that connects charities and public libraries with tech products and services.

A step for districts going paperless is to stop accepting cash or paper checks from parents. Many school systems have had vendors set up secure online portals where parents can pay for AP courses, lunches and field trips, among other items.

Large expanses of glass provide a connection between indoor and outdoor learning areas and offer plenty of natural light throughout the Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Magnet Campus.
Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Magnet Campus has 10 wind turbines.
The 250,000 square-foot Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Magnet Campus will eventually enroll 1,500 students.
Flexible learning environments are configured for traditional instruction, group or individual study as the need arises.
 Group study areas feature work surfaces with storage underneath, offering more natural light and unobstructed views to the park site.
The student commons is the heart of the school, connecting its three learning communities. It is used for assembly, dining and group study.
The school was built on an abandoned park, where forgotten cars rusted. Today, the natural envioronment provides a rare rural escape for many of the urban students.

The largest school infrastructure project in Connecticut history is nearing its one-year anniversary. The Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Magnet Campus in Bridgeport, Conn., was completed last August for $126 million and is the state’s most environmentally friendly school.