• Megan Parfitt

Sustainable schools create positive learning environments

Schools are continuously attempting to balance excellent education with small budgets; with administrators consistently under pressure to raise student achievement levels despite the fall in funding. Could sustainability in schools be a solution to some of these problems?

Sustainable Design


Unlike previously believed, sustainable designs can be incorporated into building structures with little to no increase in cost. In fact, the financial benefits of ‘green’ buildings can be over ten times the initial investment [1].

To begin with, there are some key areas to consider when designing and maintaining sustainable buildings to provide effective environmental and educational benefits. A whole-building mindset is needed from designing to maintaining a building through sustainable site planning, landscape design which provides outdoor learning environments, and building design which increases insulation and reduces draftiness [1].


However, most schools are already built, so what alterations can be made to already constructed schools to increase their sustainability?


The installation of large energy-efficient windows practically eliminates heat exchange, meaning rooms require less heating and cooling. This not only saves on energy use but creates a pleasant learning environment by allowing in more natural light. This also draws upon biophilic design, where exposure to nature in buildings can improve physical and mental wellbeing (I will hopefully explore this concept in more depth in a future article).


It is suggested that school energy costs could be reduced by 30% through the replacement of inefficient systems such as boilers and lighting [2]. This is particularly important as the cost of energy is continually rising.


Evidence has shown that the increased use of daylight and reduced draft improves student performance and increases student comfort levels [3]. Not only do sustainable alterations improve physical and mental health, but money also saved through reduced energy costs can be invested in the students by hiring new teachers and purchasing other instructional materials, thereby positively impacting education.


Sustainable Materials


Using green materials and supplies minimises the exposure to toxins, allergens, and other pollutants, which will in turn aid in reducing the prevalence of certain ailments like asthma (alongside well-ventilated school environments) [4].


Here are some simple ways to make your classroom greener:

  • Refillable whiteboard markers, pens, and highlighters

  • Shredding waste paper and using it for craft activities such as paper maché

  • Have a food waste bin in your classroom for scraps from lunches and use it in the school’s gardens

  • Use fabric to back your displays instead of wasting paper and it can be kept and reused each year

Sustainable Education


The school environment intends to educate students and prepare them for the future, so it makes sense to include sustainability in the curriculum. In fact, it is reasonable to say that education is essential in achieving sustainable development and prosperity [5]. Most avenues nowadays are beginning to talk about sustainability in more depth but teaching sustainability in early-year classrooms is needed for maximum impact.


However, educating children about sustainability requires more than taking them outdoors to interact with nature. Instead, lessons should engage them in a dialogue about sustainability and about the importance of critical and creative thinking, fairness, compassion and respect for differences. For example, creating a ‘lunchtime audit’ where students uncover the environmental impact of their lunches instead of nutritional value can open a discussion about sustainability with their parents. You never know, these discussions may lead to future interest and the discovery of creative solutions to our unsustainable behaviour.


Conclusion


Most of us are aware of the importance of sustainability. You have already taken the first steps by visiting our blog and educating yourself about the never-ending list of sustainability topics. However, we need to teach our youngest generations how to care for and respect the environment around them. Some of the ways we can incorporate sustainability into schools that we have discussed are:

  • Sustainable building designs

  • Greener classrooms

  • Encouraging critical thinking and coming up with creative solutions to unsustainable habits.

This list is nowhere near exhaustive, and you can be creative with how you include sustainability in your schools and classrooms. This article intends to begin the conversation around making sustainability a normal part of children’s education.


References

1 Olsen S, Kellum S. The Impact of Sustainable Buildings on Educational Achievements in K-12 Schools [Internet]. 2003. Available from: https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.175.944&rep=rep1&type=pdf

2 Building Technologies Office [Internet]. Energy.gov. 2000 [cited 7 August 2022]. Available from: http://www.eere.energy.gov/buildings/schools/index.cfm

3 Dahlan A, Eissa M. The Impact of Day Lighting in Classrooms on Students' Performance [Internet]. Citeseerx.ist.psu.edu. 2015 [cited 7 August 2022]. Available from: https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.685.7888&rep=rep1&type=pdf

4 Energy-Smart Building Choices: How School Administrators and Board Members Are Improving Learning and Saving Money [Internet]. Osti.gov. 2001 [cited 7 August 2022]. Available from: https://www.osti.gov/biblio/786361

5 Teaching Sustainability - The Most Important Lessons Of All [Internet]. Thinking Sustainably. 2022 [cited 7 August 2022]. Available from: https://www.thinkingsustainably.com/teaching-sustainability/