High Performing Schools are Green

Last week, Carrie Matlock and I attended the Illinois Healthy Living & High Performing Schools Symposiums/Workshops sponsored by Governor Pat Quinn, the Illinois Green Governments Coordinating Council and the Illinois Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. Since our firm is committed to the design of learning environments and Green and Sustainable Design, it sounded like a good fit. The overarching theme of the event was how to create a healthier learning environment and promote energy efficiency, as well as environmental stewardship.

An interesting point made in the plenary session was that there are 55 million students and 5 million teachers in school today, representing 20% of the population. Also, 5 million students suffer from asthma, representing 10% of the population. It really drove home the importance of creating environments that are healthy, while promoting learning.

Several examples of student activities were introduced that focus on engaging students in the conservation process. One that particularly interested me was students using the USGS Website for calculating the number of drips of water in a year, translating it to gallons per year, and ultimately wasted dollars. Also discussed was the identification of “phantom electrical loads”, where devices are using energy even when they are turned off. This could be translated into wasted energy dollars, where students could identify this as part of another student project. The concept behind these projects was to instill conservation behavior as a social norm.

Recycling projects, identifying the volume of materials recycled, was another project. In order to effectively do this, though, it is important to learn about recycling and the concept of “reduce-reuse-recycle”. If we can’t measure it, we can’t manage it.

It was important to note that for this philosophy to succeed, a school needs a champion – someone who is well-respected, charismatic and has a requisite body of knowledge!

I also attended a workshop that introduced the Green Classroom Professional Certificate Program. This is primarily for teachers and administrators, exposing them to green and sustainable principles as they relate to the classroom. This provides a basic understanding of policies to be established in the classroom to create a healthy learning environment. Upon taking the course, or studying the handbook online at the U.S. Green Building Council website, candidates are eligible to take an exam to become a Green Classroom Professional. I encourage all schools to consider having teachers achieve this certification. It doesn’t take long, but provides the background to develop an eco-conscious classroom environment.

This all-day seminar was certainly worthwhile. I would encourage schools to attend next year!