The power of the classroom can reach beyond its doors, to address the issues concerning society in general. One pressing topic of interest that involves all students (both on an individual level and larger social scale) is the environment. For example, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists climate change, also known as global warming, as one of the foremost environmental issues, with the potential to cost 12,000 lives annually as well as $5 trillion through the year 2100.
While climate change is a major issue—and one that has received substantial national attention since Al Gore and David Guggenheim’s 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth –it is but one problem in a world plagued with many environmental dangers. From deforestation to water loss and contamination to industrial pollution, environmental stewardship has never been more important.
Green classrooms and schools not only equip children with the knowledge on how to make a difference in the world, but also help create a healthier learning environment that benefits the students, teachers, and learning institution as a whole.
Eco-conscious classrooms and schools have been proven to cause the following:
Improved health of children. According to Green Schools Initiative, research shows that greener school environments can enhance the health and learning capacity of students, as well as counteract some of the unhealthy environmental factors and practices often employed by schools, such as:
- The use of pesticides and other chemicals which contain dangerous neurological and reproductive toxins
- Poor indoor air quality which has been linked to escalating asthma cases
- Inadequate nutrition that contributes to childhood obesity rates
Higher test scores. Studies have shown that providing students with hands-on, practical environmental-related curricula, such as tending to a school garden, can lead to students scoring higher on tests for math, science and language arts. According to the Green Schools Initiative, when compared to control groups without similar programs, children exposed to environmental education also demonstrated improved behavior in class and better attitudes about school in general.
Increased student attendance: Not only does a green environment encourage students to look forward to a new school day, it also increases attendance amongst students who typically miss school due to health issues. For example, asthma is estimated to affect 5 million school-age children in the U.S., and is considered the number one cause of school absenteeism.
Greener schools also translate into fewer sick days for teachers.
Long-lasting, eco-conscious decision-making skills. A child is more likely to develop healthier habits and make eco-friendlier choices as an adult when exposed to the benefits and meaning behind leading a greener lifestyle at an early age.
Money saved. The Center for Green Schools proclaimed in 2015 that greener schools are “better for budgets” because of the impact that the total energy savings brings – $20 billion over the next 10 years if all new U.S. school construction and renovation adopted green initiatives.
Greg Kats wrote in Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits that green schools use 33% less energy and 32% less water than more conservative methods of school construction. The end result is a reduction in utility costs over the average 42-year lifecycle of a learning institution .
According to the Department of Energy’s EnergySmart Schools, the second highest operating expenditure for K-12 schools following personnel costs is energy, which racks up an annual bill of more than $8 billion. Greener schools and classrooms save money through a blend of green construction and the efforts of teachers and students that include the following:
- waste-reduction strategies
- student-run recycling committees
- conservation programs
- energy-efficient heating, lighting, air conditioning systems and occupancy sensors
- daylighting strategies which increases the volume of sunlight in a classroom or building
- water-efficient fixtures
- lower maintenance and operations expenses
On average, the Center for Green Schools assesses the $100,000 in savings on operating costs that green schools reap per year is enough money to hire at least one new educator, purchase 200 brand new computers, or buy 5,000 textbooks .
In the classroom, small changes, such as unplugging computers and TVs when not in use, is another way to conserve energy, which can save a school over $1,000 a year.
Annual emissions reductions. School environments that have ‘gone green’ can also affect annual emissions, as the Center for Green Schools roughly estimates the following reductions attributed to a green school:
- 1200 pounds of nitrogen oxides (major element of smog)
- 1300 pounds of sulfur dioxide (a chief cause of acid rain)
- 585,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (a primary greenhouse gas)
- 150 pounds of course particulate matter (a leading cause of respiratory illness)
The above-mentioned reasons why greener classrooms and schools are important go beyond the benefits gained by staff and students, but also include the positive impact they have on the environment at large. The majority of schools in America uses exorbitant quantities of paper and energy; generates tons of waste and carbon emissions; and seldom buys environmentally-friendly products – all of which has an adverse effect on the planet.