Moving to More Green Products

Every school day more than 50 million children and six million adults enter our public schools. Many of these facilities are outdated and in desperate need of repair, maintenance or reconstruction. Despite shifting demographics, school enrollment has increased for the past 19 years while spending has remained relatively unchanged. The result has been a downward spiral in the condition of our schools and the number of children attending overcrowded, substandard facilities.

Our country now finds itself in a school construction movement unparalleled in our history. Aware of the need for quality facilities enlightened school districts are rethinking the way we design and construct our schools. The benefits of energy, material and resource efficient facilities that optimize student health and productivity while meeting program and budget requirements are becoming well known. Communities enjoying robust growth are examining a range of new construction options and attributes associated with high performance green schools. Communities faced with downsizing and consolidating are asking similar questions about the schools that will be retained. Yet while the growing number of successful projects and an increasing body of literature indicate the high performance green school market is enjoying steady growth it is still a relatively small part of the overall school construction market. The emergence of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Schools rating system along with parallel efforts from The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), the Sustainable Building Industry Council and Department of Energy’s Rebuild America program have all served to raise the awareness of the benefits of energy, material and resource-efficient school facilities optimized for student health and productivity.

In his 2007 Progress Report in the Sustainability edition of Building Design and Construction magazine, Editor in Chief Robert Cassidy states that while school administrators and the school design and construction industry are becoming more aware of how high performance green schools can benefit their districts there are still serious doubts about whether those benefits justify the increased costs associated with design and construction. Their study indicated that:

The findings are good news for the industry, given that education construction is the largest construction sector, by value, at $53 billion estimated spending for 2007.The first phase of the study also found the following:

  • Fiscal advantages of green building, such as energy cost savings, are major motivation behind green schools and universities.
  • “Improved health and well-being” was also found to be a critical factor for driving education green building – a factor that was not as highly rated to the overall construction marketplace from research previously conducted by McGraw-Hill Construction and USGBC.
  • Higher first costs are the primary challenge to building green in this sector. This is consistent with other McGraw-Hill Construction research into the commercial and residential green building markets (found in the Green Building SmartMarket Report and Residential Green Building SmartMarket Report).

While the last point is still the case in many school districts it is undeniable that the growing interest in green schools is being fueled by increased awareness of the economic benefits as well as those derived from the facilities role in enriching the educational delivery process.

Because it is evident that the green school movement will continue to grow it behooves stakeholders and industry partners to examine how they can contribute to, and benefit from, its success.Among these strategies are:

  • Be aware of the influence and requirements of the US Green Building Council, CHPS, the SBIC, DOE and other organizations as they relate to products, furniture, fixtures and equipment. Joining these organizations has multiple benefits relative to the green school movement.
  • Evaluate whether your merchandise contributes to such design and construction issues as energy or material efficiency, superior interior air quality, daylighting, healthy cleaning regimens, or other issues that are environmental or ecological in nature.
  • Investigate which standards are embedded in the requirements for green school certification and determine whether the testing necessary for compliance or approvals would benefit your company in terms of increased market share.
  • Invest in LEED training for your technical sales staff and marketing departments. LEED in particular is based on the ability to quantify the quality and attributes of products, verify they have been installed, and document the same in the certification process. Questions from the design, engineering and construction industry relative to LEED and CHPS will only increase with demand. In order to do this a supplier must:
  • Present technical information in a way that is required for the LEED or CHPS certification processes. These include but are not limited to such things as recycled content, volatile organic compound (VOC) limits, material safety data sheets (MSDS), and the distance from a point of purchase and shipping to a project site.
  • Be able to argue the benefits of your products in terms of durability, life cycle cost, carbon footprint, global warming and ozone protection.

While this might seem a bit remote or extreme, benefits range from keeping in step with how the green rating systems are evolving to increasing the value of stock in companies who can exhibit these benefits.

The green school movement is rooted in the relationship of environmental stewardship and economic opportunity. Suppliers to the industry stand to reap significant benefits from understanding their potential involvement in the green school movement and the opportunities it provides.

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, is President of Sustainaissance International Inc, a multifaceted architectural consulting practice specializing in sustainable design and development, high performance architecture, and environmental education.

Published by/on: National School Supply and Equipment Association,