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Sustainable School Design : Background and Overview
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
P2 Opportunities
Alternative Technologies
Case Studies
Glossary of Terms
Key Contacts
Complete List of Links

Essential Links:

GLRPPR Educational Institutions Sector Resource
This Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) Sector Resource provides a compil...

Green Schools: Attributes for Health and Learning
Evidence has accumulated that shows that the quality of indoor environments can affect the health an...

Greening America's Schools: Costs and Benefits
Written by Gregory Kats, this report is intended to answer this fundamental question: how much more ...

High Performance Schools
US EPA's Indoor Air Quality Design Tools for Schools defines High Performance Schools, explains the ...

High-Performance School Buildings Resource and Strategy Guide: Beyond Green
This nationally vetted and easy-to-read guidebook describes the characteristics and benefits of high...

Integrated Design Process for Schools
Overall guidance, checklist, and key terms for using the integrated design process to achieve a high...

LEED for Schools
The LEED for Schools Rating System recognizes the unique nature of the design and construction of K-...

National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF)
Created in 1997 by the U.S. Department of Education, the National Clearinghouse for Educational Faci...

Sustainable Schools
The Division of the State Architect (DSA) is committed to helping schools create high performance ed...

U.S. EPA Healthy School Environments Portal
The Healthy School Environments Web pages are intended to serve as a gateway to on-line resources to...

UIUC LibGuide: Green/Sustainable Building
This reference guide includes links to both popular materials and more technical information. It is ...

<big><b>Sustainable School Design: Background and Overview </b></big> This section contains information on the nature of the problem and reasons for focusing on sustainable school design and its contributions to preventing pollution.

Sustainable design is a process that provides for fulfillment of human needs while protecting the natural environment and a belief that these can be maintained in perpetuity. Sustainable development focuses on social, environmental, and economic issues, and the interdependence and mutually reinforcing qualities of these concepts. Schools across the country are being encouraged to examine plans for new designs as well as retrofits in terms of effective measures that address long-term considerations.

Energy efficiency is only one part of this complex puzzle. Sustainable design helps schools create high performance environments that insure optimal health and productivity for all. Sustainable School Design addresses many areas, although key categories include the following:

Design Category Example of a Concern Example of a Sustainable Design
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Asthma Poor air quality is cumulative. Air-borne irritants can include dirt, dust, asbestos fibers, chemical vapors, bacteria, pest droppings, and diesel exhaust. These can trigger asthmatic reactions. Design considerations need to provide adequate ventilation. Suggestions might include include increasing air turn over in the room or facility and evaluating the HVAC system.
Energy Consumption and Options Inefficient Systems Although somewhat more expensive initially, Energy Star rated efficient appliances, computers, and HVAC can reduce long-term costs. Lighting upgrades, occupancy sensors, programmable thermostats and individual controls can be used to reduce energy consumption.
Construction Materials Renovation & New School Construction Renovation and new school construction materials should be selected for their durability and their potential reuse/recycling. Roofing material can be selected that is environmentally friendly and durable. Materials that have longer life expectancy minimize the volume of waste entering landfills.
Education Materials Expectations and Behavior Modification Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for creating sustainable schools is education of the staff, parents, and students. Daylighting technology allows for substantial energy savings as well as environmental savings, but the individuals benefiting from daylighting need to understand the process so they can modify their own behaviors. Landscaping might integrate native plants, but maintenance staff unknowingly may spend considerable effort watering and fertilizing to keep the plants blooming out of season if they have uninformed expectations.
Water Use Excessive Lavatory Water Use Technologies and techniques used for conserving water have been making major changes over the past few years. Schools are integrating low-flow toilets, zero-flow urinals and faucet shut-off controls in their lavatories/locker rooms.
Waste Management Paper Consumption Technology is allowing for paper-free schools (schools that distribute documents and files electronically via email, websites, and networked files). Paper-free schools not only reduce the need to rely upon trees for paper and the energy cost to create the paper, but it decreases paper entry into the waste stream and it reduces habitat for pests in the school.
Transportation Staff and Students Not only are buses expensive to fuel, they discourage walking to schools. Some districts are creating schools with walking distances for students in mind. They are encouraging carpools and bike riding. In districts where this is not possible, they are looking at alternative fuel sources for buses.
Community Interaction Building Use Schools need to accommodate community functions, events, and meetings. Schools should be a source of community pride. Bicycle paths, bicycle racks and sidewalks should make the school readily accessible for all community members.
Landscaping and the Building Envelope New Construction Site Analysis Will the site allow for orienting the building in the most optimal arrangement to either maximize southern exposure (in a northern climate) or to allow prevailing wind flow through the building for ventilation? Whole building design (Building Envelope) encompasses the interaction of building and site.
The above are only a sample of the many questions to address when designing a sustainable school. The overall objective is to minimize the energy consumption and maximize the environmental quality of the physical school in perpetuity. Additional considerations include the following:

Building Construction

Building construction and deconstruction have been primary sources for pollutants and solid waste. Deconstruction of existing schools in the commissioning of new schools contributes large amounts of waste to landfills. New buildings can lead to habitat destruction, air quality concerns, pollution, and water quality issues for communities. Traditional building practices consume resources and fail to address the inter-relationships between the construction and the surrounding community. Sustainable design promotes conservation of resources (reduce water, energy, materials, and waste). It evaluates the entire footprint of the school and analyzes the lifecycle of the materials used in construction.

Energy Consumption and Options

Many school districts arechanging their attitudes about energy. Increasing energy costs are contributing to this change. School districts realize that it is necessary to examine varying design strategies for heating and cooling, energy efficient design and energy consumption monitoring. Some schools are exploring local alternatives for heating and cooling their buildings (solar, photovoltaic, geothermal, or wind energy systems). These systems, once installed, can provide economic as well as environmental benefits. Downsizing systems and purchasing smaller, more efficient systems can also reduce energy costs. Alternative energy forms produced locally that take advantage of renewable resources (wind, solar, biomass) will help schools become more sustainable with less reliance on expensive non-renewable fuels. There are schools around the country benefiting from their locations to install geo-thermal, wind, solar, photovoltaic or biomass units during construction. Some of these will be identified in the case studies section of this topic hub.

Landscaping and the Building Envelope

"Building Envelope" is a term applied to the interactive properties of a home, business and school with the landscape and building site (environs). This includes exterior contributions that reduce the impact of passive solar heat through windows. New approaches to school landscaping have moved beyond native plant landscaping. Some schools across the country have begun managing wastewater runoff from their buildings and across their parking lots through the use of rain gardens and permeable surfaces. Rain gardens are designed to capture stormwater runoff and filter contaminants before they can enter the stormwater system or local watersheds. Schools in large urban areas are exploring design strategies (green roofs) that take advantage of rooftops to minimize stormwater runoff and to reduce the heat islands affects created by their building. Awnings on windows or orientation of windows can also minimize heat incursion.

Designing sustainable schools encompasses far more than just the school's actual footprint. This topic hub addresses the above areas and draws upon resources available to school administrators, school boards, and community planners. These tools can guide the design of sustainable schools.


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Sustainable School Design Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable
Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable
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Hub Last Updated: 8/2/2012