Greening School Facilities
Our students learn what they live. If they spend all their school days in sterile classrooms, prison-like buildings and lifeless playgrounds, they will not become creative and critical thinkers, and they will not learn that human beings are a part of the beautiful web of life. Why should schools, by their very design, be allowed to kill the wonderful spirit of our youngest citizens?
In nature a repulsive caterpillar turns into a lovely butterfly. But with human beings it is the other way round: a lovely butterfly turns into a repulsive caterpillar.
— Anton Chekhov, Russian writer (1860-1904)
Greening school facilities means designing (and then building or renovating/retrofitting and decorating) school environments that help students stay connected with the rest of Nature, while helping them learn, both passively and actively, about energy efficiency and green building design.
Greening School Facilities — Design, Renovation/Building, Decor
While I was working as the Coordinator of Environment and Sustainability Programs at an independent boys' school in Toronto, a school goal was to renovate all the classrooms at the secondary school (grades 8 to 12) within the next few years. Because this was a Green School, a committee was struck to ensure that the renovations would be as environmentally friendly (and student/teacher/learning friendly) as possible. With many thanks to the OLE (Optimal Learning Environments) Committee members, I would like to share our final template with you, because
- some of these ideas can be implemented even if you're not renovating, without much cost, and
- several of the ideas could contribute to your transformative sustainability education efforts.
The goal was to use research-based best practices, state-of-the-art technology, and sound design principles to intentionally create (by building or renovating) classrooms that are healthy, environmentally friendly, and conducive to effective learning and teaching.
The purpose of this template was to share with architects, designers and others the criteria we believed would best support students and teachers in their education programs, within our Green School framework.
- The criteria listed here are interactive and interconnected. Some synergistic effects or unintended consequences are possible.
- Trade-offs might be necessary to contain costs. Through reflection and discussion, we identified those features we deemed "Baseline" (must be included) and those we deemed "Ideal" (would be great to include, if feasible).
- We kept three main objectives in mind while researching and selecting these criteria:
- First, the students and their learning are to be foremost in deliberations and decisions at all times.
- Second, these renovations should meet the needs of students for the next 40 to 50 years (plan for longevity, not obsolescence).
- Third, the aim is to create learning environments that will contribute to the mission of the school while helping teachers and students attain Green School goals.
Greening School Facilities and Operations
Design Criteria Template
I acknowledge that not all the criteria listed on these pages will be suitable for all cultures and climates, but the more humane our schools, classrooms and playgrounds, the more humane our students will be toward each other and the rest of Nature.
Ideas for Greening School Facilities and Operations
I recently asked a group of students and parents in a smaller community what environmentally features they would like to see in their school. For each suggestion, see if you can picture the curriculum integration and the behaviour changes that would naturally follow. Here's what they had to say:
For more green building design ideas for achieving an environmentally friendly school, visit Eco House Footprint
I should mention that these suggestions came from a school that already composts lunch waste and has a full recycling program in place, which is taken care of by the middle school students in partnership with the community's recycling depot. The 3Rs — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — come first.
If you'd like to contribute an idea for greening school facilities or a project that your school is working on, please contact us. We'd love to hear from you!
And if you want to learn more about greening school facilities, a good starting place is 50 Online Resources for LEED Certification (LEED is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System™), or the U.S. Green Building Council's Center for Green Schools.
Here's to schools becoming as safe, healthy and inviting as students' homes. Indeed, here's to schools becoming homes away from home!
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