“Green design”—an approach to architecture and construction that minimizes harm to the environment while creating healthy places for humans—is one of the building industry’s hottest trends. For now, though, green schools remain rare. Only 30 have been certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit that developed the widely used Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.
From all indications, however, that modest number represents just the beginning of a sizable trend. More than 150 schools have applied for LEED certification, and others are incorporating elements of green design or adopting eco-friendly practices, such as buying local organic produce for school lunches and using more efficient lighting.
Concern for the environment isn’t the only motivating factor. Others include lower energy costs, improved student health and productivity, and, increasingly, mandates from state and local governments. “It is a way to show your administrators, your parents, your teachers that you are committed to building a safer, cleaner environment for your children,” says Lindsay Baker, who coordinates USGBC’s program for schools.
Green features range from the simple (natural light and ventilation, nontoxic paints) to the radical (man-made wetlands that filter water and temperature-control systems that tap into the earth itself). Proponents say even basic elements have an added bonus: They make great tools for teaching kids about environmental responsibility.
So what does a green school look like? What you see above is a blend of common components and cutting-edge innovations.
A) A rainwater harvesting system collects water for reuse in toilets and landscaping.
B) Students can grow plants on the soil-topped roof, which provides extra insulation.
C) Man-made wetlands cleanse wastewater as effectively as mechanical filters.
D) Extensive glare-proof windows reduce reliance on electric lighting.
E) Solar panels take advantage of a renewable energy source.
F) Composting bins provide material for the green roof and a lesson in ecology.
G) The geothermal system heats and cools the building.
A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2006 edition of Teacher as Natural Habitat