Green School

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Schools are the end users of many production and distribution systems, from the bricks in their walls to the paper on their desks. They are also the beginning point of community consumption that impacts our surroundings. Introducing the tenet of green living at the school level has an impact on the environment, community, and the future of the green movement.


Why should I be aware of this?

A study on the correlation between school site, school travel and the impact on environment reveals an alarming trend. The United States Environment Protection Agency (USEPA) study points that in 2001, less than 15 per cent of students between the ages of five and 15 walked to or from school, and one per cent biked as against 48 per cent of students who walked or biked to school in 1969. This coincided with the reduction in the total number of schools in the US and an increase in their size.

How does this affect me?

The reduction in the number of neighborhood schools has translated into longer commute for the children and more greenhouse gas emissions. Another study observed that five million children in the U.S. suffered from asthma. And over the last 25 years, rates of asthma have increased by 160 per cent in children up to age 4 years and 74 per cent in children ages 5 to 14 years. This apart, schools impact our environment and surroundings in several other ways.

All about green schools

A green school aims to enhance and protect the surroundings. Staff and students work together on projects within the school and in the local community, hoping to reduce waste, water and energy consumption and pollution, and increase biodiversity. A green school uses 60 percent less energy than a conventional building, 70 percent less water and the air inside is clean and safe to breathe.

Need to Go Green

Most school buildings across the world are constructed keeping strength, safety, aesthetics, utility, and economy in mind. They have not been built with the health of the surroundings and the occupants in mind. These have fewer windows (they have air-conditioning system), are made of concrete and metal and have carpets to texture the floors. The traditional process and systems are energy intensive, water intensive; generate a lot of waste and deplete non-renewable resources.

Location of the school adds to carbon miles — A study conducted in Santa Rosa, California showed that that the number of cars on the road between 7:15 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. jumped 30 percent during the school year. The USEPA study observes that school’s proximity to students matters as students with shorter walk and bike times to or from school are more likely to walk and bike. It also added that the built environment influences travel choices. Students traveling through higher-quality environments are more likely to bicycle and walk. Centrally located neighborhood schools that can be reached by walking and bicycling reduce air pollution.

Children health -- Increased auto travel contributes to unhealthy air. There is overwhelming evidence linking air pollutants to respiratory ailments in children, including upper respiratory infections and asthma.

A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US found that even children living close to school were not walking or biking in large numbers; only 31 percent of children ages five to 15 who lived within a mile of school walked or biked. In 1969, the comparable figure was close to 90 per cent. Making walking or cycling mandatory for shorter distances, will have a positive impact on the overall health of the children and the environment.

School Size -- For some time, there has been a trend toward bigger schools and requirements for larger sites. A study shows that across the US since World War II, the number of schools declined by 70 per cent while average size grew fivefold, from 127 to 653. Many states in the US have school construction funding formulas that favor new construction over renovation of existing schools. Larger schools means consumption of more building material, higher energy requirement for heating and cooling the premises, more waste among other things.

Depletion of Non-renewable Resources-- Supplies such as paper, pencil and other school things are made from wood – a non-renewable resource. The amount of water and energy consumed by schools can also be reduced.

Introduce awareness amongst children -- Children should be made aware of their responsibility towards the ecological systems. They need to realize at an early age that every action of theirs has an impact on the environment.

Green school vs. Sustainable school

Green schools are a subset of sustainable school. All sustainable school are green but the reverse may not be true. Sustainable schools are those where

  • Schools work towards becoming a total learning environment.
  • There curriculum encourages environment friendly school supplies with emphasis on sustainable development.
  • Introduces extra-curricular activities and community service that aim at making kids conscious citizens.
  • Is keen to upgrade and adopt new environment friendly technologies. It also sends its administrators and educators to keep them aware of the changing world and enhancing their ability to cope with it.
  • Has an institutional purchasing practice.
  • Has sustainable transportation options including alternative fuel options for buses.

Sustainable Schools requires all stakeholders -- students, teachers, administrative officers, grounds staff, food providers and parents to work together to develop an environmental plan. Help and assistance of the local community, businesses and government can also be sought to ensure that the school is working in tandem with the community effort.

Green school and environment

  • Water: Systems are designed to reduce wastage of water and encourage reuse of wastewater for watering plants. The overhead tanks are regularly monitored. A rainwater tank can be installed. The schools plumbing systems needs to be checked regularly for leaking taps and pipes.
  • Land: A regular activity of planting trees within and outside the school campus and in the community fosters a sense of environmental responsibility and adds to the green cover.
  • Air: Students are encouraged to walk, cycle or use public transport. This improves the pollution level in the atmosphere. Schools use fans and natural ventilation in summers, thereby improving the indoor air quality. In winters, adequate measures are taken to reduce high moisture content in the air, which is responsible for respiratory diseases.
  • Energy: Students are encouraged to conserve electricity. School energy bills and consumption patterns are studied to find ways of conserving electricity. School buildings can be designed to emphasize "daylighting," or the use of natural light. The last person leaving a classroom turns off the lights and computer monitors are switched off when not in use.
  • Waste: Introduce a system of waste management particularly waste segregation – that which can be recycled and that which cannot be recycled. This facilitates waste processing. The two wastes can be weighed on a regular basis to make students aware of what kind of waste they are generating. Brainstorming sessions can be introduced to find ways of increasing the ratio of waste that can be recycled. A school can cut the amount of waste going to landfill by over eighty per cent.
  • Save non-renewable resources -- In addition to electricity water and fossil fuels, students can save paper. By photocopying on both sides and experimenting with recycled paper, they can reduce the number of trees felled for paper production. It can take 17 trees to make one tonne of paper!
  • Initiatives taken by stakeholders -- Parents, teachers and students, can take initiatives to start and take part in environmental projects and schemes.

What can I do?

  • Encourage pupils and parents to cut out individual school runs.
  • Discuss environmental issues in lessons and assemblies.
  • Save water in school toilets.
  • Run recycling schemes for old clothes, mobile phones, books and more.
  • Plant trees within the school grounds.
  • Switch computers and other electrical equipment off when not in use.
  • Reduce waste in the school canteen.
  • Encourage staff to car-share when travelling to work.
  • Doors and cabinets can be made of bamboo, a renewable resource.
  • Opt for rain water harvesting and install solar panels to meet some of the power requirement.
  • Go for natural air conditioning.

See also


  • New Environmentally Friendly School Opens In Northwest D.C.
  • At school
  • Green school project proves its worth
  • The Built Environment - Schools and Their Impact on Environment
  • “Travel and environmental implications of school siting”: A study done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA231-R-03-004) October 2003.