Myths and facts about green schools

Published on: 
1 Aug 2017

We’re here to dispel all of the myths you may have heard about green schools. Want to know why green schools are better? Check out the facts below.

Myth: Green schools are expensive to build.

Fact: The Cost of Green Revisited: Reexamining the Feasibility and Cost Impact of Sustainable Design in the Light of Increased Market Adoption (Davis Langdon, 2007) studied 83 buildings achieving LEED certification. When compared to a random sample of traditionally designed buildings, controlling for time, location and cost, the report found that going green does not have to cost a dollar more. Additionally, according to data submitted for LEED certification, between 2015 and 2018, LEED-certified buildings in the United States are estimated to reap $1.2 billion in energy savings, $149.5 million in water savings, $715.2 million in maintenance savings and $54.2 million in waste savings.

There are examples from across the country of new schools achieving LEED certification within regional average costs, even among early adopters. The last seven schools that have been built in Virginia Beach City Schools, all LEED-certified at various levels, cost the district anywhere between 8 percent and 34 percent less than regional costs. River Crest Elementary School in Wisconsin, a LEED Gold school, cost 29 percent less than regional construction costs to build. Fossil Ridge High School in Colorado was the third public high school in the country to be LEED-certified and was built for $128 per square foot, among the least expensive schools the district built in 2004. To create green schools, however, a community does not have to build new schools. There are many cost-effective measures available to turn the approximately 99,000 existing U.S. public schools into green schools.

Myth: LEED is expensive, so why certify?

Fact: LEED-certified buildings do not need to cost more than regular buildings if a school is working with an experienced team using integrated design principles. Additionally, if a school is committed to health and the environment, it can’t manage what it doesn’t measure. Third-party certification validates sustainability efforts and gives owners confidence that the building was built as designed, with performance in mind. Registration and certification fees are minimal. For example, the cost to register and certify a 100,000-square-foot school is $4,600 using LEED for Operations and Maintenance, and $8300 using LEED for Building Design and Construction.

Myth: Green schools do not save money.

Fact: Green schools are designed to save money, and operational practices should be fine-tuned to make sure that savings are realized. According to an early study by Capital E Consulting, green schools use 33 percent less energy and 32 percent less water than conventionally constructed schools, significantly reducing utility costs. Considering how much schools spend on operating costs, this means that a typical school could save $100,000 per year, enough to hire at least one new teacher, buy 200 new computers, or purchase 5,000 textbooks. By using LEED as a framework for green schools, stakeholders can ensure that schools are designed, maintained and monitored to deliver their highest performance.

Myth: Green schools require construction and renovation standards that create a burden.

Fact: Providing opportunities to develop green job skills is not a burden. Setting green construction and renovation standards provides opportunities for employees and leaders to develop needed skills for the 21st century economy.

Myth: Green schools make sense in some states, but not ours.

Fact: Green schools make sense for every state and in every community. LEED certification has a menu of options for improving building performance, and different options can be chosen for different climates, locations and priorities. There is no prescriptive blueprint for a green school. A green school in Florida will have different project measures than a green school in Minnesota. The promise and potential of green schools to improve health, save resources and provide an excellent learning environment should be one for every child in America, and all children deserve this opportunity.

Myth: Green schools do not improve student health.

Fact: Green schools improve health through safer construction materials, cleaner air, and increased daylight and views to the outdoors. Green schools emphasize high indoor air quality by improving air circulation, removing toxic materials, and reducing CO2 emissions. Nurses at green schools have reported fewer clinic visits, fewer complaints of eye-nose-throat irritation, and fewer asthma-related incidents, all of which contribute to improved student health and decreased absenteeism.

Myth: Green schools do not improve student performance.

Fact: Green schools have cleaner air, high-quality acoustics, temperature control systems and daylighting strategies to create welcoming learning environments that keep students focused and alert. Recent studies, such as those compiled in Harvard’s 2017 Schools for Health report, have supported the impact that such measures have on student health and performance.

Myth: Green schools will not withstand our state’s severe weather.

Fact: Green schools are built to code. All new schools, green or conventional, must be built to code and are designed to withstand severe weather. Jurisdictions decide what structural, seismic, hurricane-resistant or flood-resistant measures their code will require along with all other fire and safety requirements, and these requirements are compatible with all LEED certification requirements.

Myth: Green schools can’t use wood grown in our state, because LEED won’t let them.

Fact: LEED doesn’t prohibit the use of local wood; in fact, it rewards the use of materials acquired locally (within a 500-mile radius). LEED also rewards the use of wood that has been certified to be grown and harvested in an environmentally responsible way. Both of these strategies are rewarded through points that are optional to achieve. As an organization, we are committed to helping everyone in the building industry, including foresters, to improve the sustainability of their business practices. LEED is all about using resources wisely.

Myth: LEED-certified buildings don’t perform as expected.

Fact: LEED-certified buildings that are performing as designed are proven to save energy, water and money. Proper operation and maintenance of a green building is required to see the performance that is expected, and fine-tuning can take some initial work and staff training to achieve. Designers, engineers, contractors and building product suppliers involved in the design and construction of the school can be called on to help achieve the correct performance.

Myth: Green building codes are a replacement for green building rating systems like LEED.

Fact: Above-code green building rating systems, like LEED, are both distinct from and complementary to a region’s existing green building codes. To build truly sustainable schools, neighborhoods and communities, it’s not a choice between codes or rating systems. The LEED rating system complements the aims of a green code by providing a leadership opportunity for those interested in demonstrating a firm, high-level commitment to the environment and human health. LEED and code agencies learn from one another and continuously improve content, implementation and results.