- Green schools use less energy and water, saving up to $100,000 a year on operating costs.
- Schools can use a variety of strategies to achieve LEED certification for sustainability.
- One school earned certification through a collaborative program involving staff, students and parents.
Green schools typically use a third less energy and water than their conventional counterparts, saving $100,000 a year on operating costs. More than 4,000 schools are LEED registered or certified and new schools can achieve certification at no additional cost. In some cases, the total cost is even less than regional construction costs for conventional schools.
Only a small fraction of certified schools have earned the highest level, Platinum. With the latest version, LEED v4 Platinum certification is even tougher because of new requirements focusing on the environment. However, schools can still reach this level if they incorporate some of the following strategies.
1. Take an integrative design approach
Wisconsin’s Lake Mills Elementary School became the first K12 school in the U.S. to achieve LEED v4 Platinum certification. Delivered through an integrative design-build process and built on the existing school site, the project team worked together to build a cost-effective ($200 per square feet), 93,000-square-foot learning environment serving 650 students.
The school reduced energy use by 65 percent and water consumption by 37 percent. In addition, design strategies resulted in a 75 percent reduction in asthma and allergy incidents, reduced absenteeism, and a 425 percent decrease in the number of communicable diseases. Standardized test scores in science, social studies, reading and math improved across all grade levels.
2. Make the site sustainable
The three-story, 100,000 square-foot Northside Elementary School in Chapel Hill, N.C. was the first Platinum-certified elementary school (v2) in North Carolina. The school earned points in the Sustainable Sites category with the following features:
- Enhancement of a local greenway and resource conservation area
- Garden roof connected to the adjacent science classroom
- Porous pavers and playground surfaces as part of a comprehensive stormwater management plan
- A 60,000-gallon underground cistern, which provides water for toilet fixtures and cooling tower
- A second 5,000-gallon cistern, which irrigates the school garden
The school's five-acre site is now integrated into the neighborhood, allowing many families to walk, bike or take public transit to school.
3. Chill out
In 2012, the Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School in downtown Cincinnati became the first public high school in Ohio to receive Platinum. The 104,000-square-foot building serves 600 students and replaced a facility that was on the same site. A major feature was a high efficiency active chilled beam heating and cooling system. Since such systems use warmer (58°F) water to provide space conditioning, they use 10 to 20 percent less energy than conventional constant air volume systems. Other benefits include quieter operation, reduced space needs and lower maintenance costs.
4. Incorporate renewables
America's first public high school for African-Americans, Dunbar High School (Washington DC) achieved LEED Platinum (v3) certification. The new 276,000-square-foot facility serving 628 students incorporates several renewable energy technologies, including a geothermal system and a solar array providing power. The 27 percent reduction in energy usage produces an annual savings of up to $300,000 compared to similar area schools.
5. Get everyone involved
Maple Dale School in Fox Point, Wisc. became the first school in the world to earn certification under the LEED v4 Operations and Maintenance: Schools, achieving Gold certification. The school reduced its potable water consumption by 26 percent and has a 39 percent recycling rate. These achievements were made possible through the school's Occupant Engagement Program, a collaborative process involving school leadership, staff, students and parents. Student-led initiatives, like a waste audit facilitated by 5th grade students, were critical to the program's success.
See the U.S. Green Building Council's website for more information about LEED certification and how it can benefit your facility.