Sustainable schools make sense and cents
The classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25 percent. ROBIN MELLON of the GBCA explains why green schools make sense and shares some quick wins any facility could implement.
Inspired by their new green school, the children at Bay View State School in Brisbane have established a food scrap program, a Landcare group and a garden club.
At Charles Sturt University’s Albury-Wodonga campus, a self-guided sustainability walk is attracting school and special interest groups, which come to see the award-winning campus water management system and artificial wetlands.
Students and teachers at GippsTAFE Leongatha in Victoria are enjoying improved concentration, health and comfort in a building designed to maximise fresh air and good indoor environment quality.
And, at Monash University in Melbourne, a photovoltaic array on the roof of the new residences – the largest residential solar installation in Australia – has slashed students’ energy bills by almost half.
A sustainability revolution is underway as our schools and universities recognise that green can deliver much more than energy efficiency. Whereas green was once simply about minimising environmental impacts, the impetus is now on efficiency, health and wellbeing, productivity and resilience – and the return on investment.
For most schools and universities the initial motivation to build green is driven by a desire to cut operational costs, future-proof long-term investments and demonstrate environmental leadership. Forward-thinking education institutions recognise that they have a special duty to the occupants of their buildings as they are the next generation of leaders.
As a result, more than 120 education projects around Australia – from entire schools to new university faculties – are seeking Green Star ratings from the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA).
GREEN UNIVERSITIES OUTCLASSING OTHERS
Many universities in particular have embraced sustainability and are choosing to have each new or refurbished building Green Star certified. Melbourne University has three Green Star-certified projects, including the Faculty of Business and Economics, the new Melbourne Brain Centre and the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunology.
Melbourne University’s vice chancellor, Professor Glyn Davis comments: “Having a green rating enables us to demonstrate our true commitment to sustainability. This is important to reduce our carbon emissions significantly as prospective students increasingly consider the environmental impacts of their university choice. Rating our buildings helps build trust in our commitment. Furthermore, it helps us to reach our performance targets and makes economic sense as our green buildings outperform existing buildings by large margins.”
The University of Tasmania has achieved several Green Star ratings for projects in and around its Hobart campus, from its Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies Building to the Medical Sciences Building 2. Although very different types of developments, both have enabled the university to cut operating costs, improve facilities management and operational efficiencies, and demonstrate its leadership role.
Similarly, Monash University has achieved a number of Green Star ratings, including its research facility for material engineering, known as New Horizons, and its new activity and recreation centre. Monash can also lay claim to the first As Built rating for a multi-unit residential development – Briggs and Jackomos Halls. According to the university’s environmental sustainability manager, Brett Walters, Monash University is confident that the continued use of rating tools will improve the performance and reduce the environmental impacts of its buildings.
SCHOOLS AS A GREEN TEACHING TOOL
Around 20 primary and secondary schools have also achieved Green Star certification. The classrooms at Canberra’s Harrison School, for instance, are cooled by thermal stacks that vent hot air at the top of the buildings, while the school is oriented to maximise the sun and avoid Canberra’s cold southerly winds. Rainwater collected from tanks is used for the landscaping and toilet flushing, and most of the electricity is generated through solar power. The energy saving initiatives halved the school’s energy consumption when compared with typical schools.
Of course, efficient lighting, heating and cooling, better insulation, greater use of daylight and natural ventilation, as well as water-saving features, all reduce energy and water consumption and, consequently, utility costs. A green school is also an interactive teaching tool, educating the next generation of sustainable leaders through hands-on learning.
At Harrison School, the students engage with environmental science from year three, and the school principal, Dennis Yarrington states: “If we get kids to reduce, reuse, recycle, close a door, put a jumper on and use water sensibly, all those types of habits are the key things that will make a sustainable school retain its value to society. You might have a five-star Green Star building and all the heat saving and cooling measures, but if you leave doors open, it defeats the purpose. So, changing habits is a really important aspect of environmental sustainability.”
Facilities managers understand Yarrington’s sentiments better than most. It is in the ‘sweet spot’ between good design, good operations and good behaviour that true sustainability is achieved.
WHY SUSTAINABILITY MAKES SENSE
Australia has almost 3.6 million full-time school students in nearly 9500 schools across the country, with more than 290,000 teaching staff. A further 1.3 million students attend tertiary education facilities.
Many of these students and teachers spend each day in schools with poorly designed classrooms, poor indoor air quality and limited access to daylight. Evidence and experience shows that this affects student health and learning, teacher morale and school operational costs – as well as the environment.
International research has found that high-performing green schools result in high-performing students. A pilot study undertaken by the UK’s University of Salford and architecture firm Nightingale Associates found that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25 percent. The study took place over one academic year, between September 2011 and June 2012, in seven primary schools and across 34 classrooms with differing learning environments and age groups. Notably, 73 percent of the variation in pupil performance at the class level was explained by environmental factors within the building.
Another study, Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits, found a 41.5 percent improvement in the health of students and teachers, a 15 percent improvement in student learning and a 25 percent improvement on test scores due to good lighting and ventilation.
And yet, the US Center for Green Schools’ 2013 State of our Schools report finds that it would take approximately US$271 billion to bring its nearly 100,000 existing schools up to working order and to comply with laws – and a staggering US$542 billion to ensure that its existing school buildings meet today’s education, health and safety standards. A 1999 report found that the average age of main school buildings across the US was 40 years old – putting the average date of construction at 1959.
Australia’s schools are not nearly as old, nor in such a state of disrepair, but with increasingly tight state and territory budgets, and increasing pressures upon teaching staff to meet targets and improve outcomes, we must take every step possible to save taxpayer dollars and put money back into the classrooms where it belongs. It is time to concentrate not just on the ‘who’ and the ‘what’ of education, but on the ‘where’ and the real opportunities for our education facilities.
Up until now, Green Star ratings have been available only for design and construction of new or significantly refurbished buildings, but this is changing. The Green Star – Performance rating system can provide a baseline for building owners before they embark on retrofitting projects. For facilities managers of education facilities, this means identifying opportunities to improve both a building’s efficiency and learning outcomes, and to reduce operating costs.
Below are some tips for facilities managers wanting to boost the sustainability of their school facility.
Most schools can implement simple and sensible strategies to reduce their energy consumption, thereby saving on greenhouse gas emissions and energy bills:
- Quick win. Conduct an energy audit and calculate the carbon footprint of the school. This will give you a sense of how much energy your school uses and will help you identify where you can make improvements.
- Mid-range measure. Tune up the school building. A simple building tune-up and energy audit can save as much as 15 percent on energy bills. This involves adjusting thermostats and air-conditioning settings, installing timer controls, cleaning fans and filters, and fixing leaks.
- Major investments. Upgrade equipment. Replace old boilers, air-conditioners, heaters, water fixtures and urinals. This can reduce your school’s energy consumption by up to 40 percent. Be sure to opt for sub-metering facilities to monitor the individual energy and water usage in classes, tutorial and lecture areas, as well as office administration spaces and laboratories.
Becoming water wise can save money and help students gain an appreciation for our most precious resource:
- Quick win. Start an education program. Simple actions such as turning off taps as soon as hands have been washed and reporting leaks can save hundreds of litres of water a week.
- Mid-range measure. Commission a water audit and install flow regulators or tap aerators on each tap to reduce the amount of water coming out of the school’s taps and save litres of water a day.
- Major investments. Choose water-wise fixtures and fittings. A single flush toilet uses around 12 litres of water per flush. A four-star water efficient dual flush toilet uses less than half this amount. For every four-star dual flush toilet installed you’ll save about 25,000 litres of water each year. Other measures include installing rainwater tanks, greywater or black water systems to recycle water and including water saving devices in landscaping and water features.
Indoor environment quality
Indoor air quality has profound effects on student health and performance. Eliminating pollutants and optimising levels of fresh air and daylight can improve health and performance – for both students and teachers:
- Quick win. Incorporate indoor plants into your spaces to absorb carbon dioxide, heat, noise and harmful chemicals such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
- Medium-level measure. Audit your air quality. Ensure your school is well-maintained to reduce the occurrence of common biological pollutants such as mould and mildew, as well as dust mites and cockroaches. Air-conditioners, ducts, vents and heaters should be regularly serviced and cleaned.
- Major investment. Insist on green materials and introduce sustainability into your procurement practices. Building materials, furnishings and finishes are some of the largest contributors to indoor air pollution. Minimise the use of VOCs, formaldehyde and synthetic chemical compounds used in glues, resins, stain treatments, dyes and many building materials that will emit potentially harmful gases into the school atmosphere.
Recycling means more than just sorting your waste. Green building takes this a step further by recycling building materials as well as construction and demolition waste, and reducing the amount of waste to landfill:
- Quick win. Start a compost or worm farm. Fruit and vegetable scraps, garden clippings and leaves make up nearly 40 percent of household waste. A school compost or worm farm can recycle green waste and create a natural fertiliser for the school’s landscaped areas and gardens.
- Medium-level measure. Create a dedicated recycling zone. A storage area for the separation and collection of recyclable waste will miminise your school’s contribution to landfill.
- Major investment. If you are undertaking a major refurbishment, consider how you can reuse existing building materials to reduce the amount of construction waste ending up in landfill. Some new developments incorporate the existing building façade, or recycle concrete, steel and other materials to limit the amount of waste.
SAVINGS FOUR TIMES THE COSTS
Lower energy and water costs, combined with improved teacher retention and lowered health costs, save green schools about four times the additional cost involved in going green. At our sister organisation, the US Green Building Council (USGBC), the Center for Green Schools estimates that each certified green school saves around US$100,000 each year in direct operating expenses, which would pay for two more teachers, 200 more computers or 5000 more textbooks. Investing in the future of our students and our planet just makes sense.
Robin Mellon is the chief operating officer of the Green Building Council of Australia.