Green schools make for greener students

Educating children about the importance of having environmentally friendly buildings could be a key factor in whether they grow to up to own and operate buildings that are green, new US research suggests.

A researcher at the University of Missouri has found that students who attend school in buildings designed to be green exhibit higher levels of knowledge about energy efficiency and environmentally friendly building practices. For her study, Laura Cole, an assistant professor of architectural studies in the university’s College of Human Environmental Sciences, examined five middle schools from across the country. The schools were housed in buildings ranging from older, energy inefficient designs to new buildings architecturally designed as ‘teaching green’ buildings.

Cole said of the latter, “The idea is that by being exposed to this innovative design every day at school, along with a sustainable school culture fostered by educators, students will inherently learn and appreciate the importance of green buildings. This study found this idea to be true in that the students from the teaching green schools had much higher levels of knowledge about environmentally friendly practices than students who attended school in more inefficient buildings. These students also had much higher levels of environmentally friendly behaviours while at school, such as recycling and turning off lights.”

Teaching green schools in the US, as shown above, include such design features as open-air hallways, which greatly reduce heating and cooling costs; exposed beams and girders where students can see the materials required to erect such large structures; dedicated waste and recycling spaces that are easily accessible; and recycled and repurposed construction materials.

Cole says even if schools cannot afford to build expensive new green buildings, smaller interventions can make a difference: “The study also showed that even a school with a relatively inefficient building design had students with a high level of green building literacy because the school had a very nice outdoor landscaped teaching space, including an outdoor classroom and a learning garden,” Cole said. “Anything educators can do to utilise existing space can help their students’ green building literacy.”

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