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Green and Healthy Schools


More than 62 million Americans spend a significant portion of their time in school buildings. The quality of a school’s indoor environment can affect the health and development of children and adults. “Green school" guidelines promote methods for designing schools that minimize impact on the environment while also increasing student performance and improving the educational experience.

Factors such as the level of air pollutants, temperature, humidity, noise, light, and space all play a role in the health and performance of building occupants.  Additionally, building design, materials, systems, operation, maintenance, and cleaning practices can also affect occupants’ health and the environment.     

Green school guidelines move well beyond design and engineering criteria for the buildings themselves, and also address land use, processes for construction and equipment installation, and operation and maintenance practices. Guidelines include meeting specific objectives. For example:

  • Locating schools near public transportation to reduce pollution
  • Placing a building on a site to minimize its environmental impact and make the most of available natural light
  • Designing irrigation and indoor plumbing systems to conserve water
  • Designing energy and lighting systems to conserve fossil fuels and maximize the use of renewable resources
  • Selecting materials that are nontoxic, biodegradable, and easily recycled
  • Creating an indoor environment that provides occupants with a comfortable temperature and good air quality, lighting, and acoustics
  • Designing to reduce the spread of infectious agents by airborne pathways
  • Designing and maintaining schools that are easy to clean without excessive use of chemicals

The basic “takeaway” design and operation intents for schools are simply stated: Keep schools dry, clean, quiet, and bright, while ensuring a good quality of lighting for contrast without introducing a glare.

Because research on the effects of the indoor environment on people and research on the effects of buildings on the environment are converging, there is value in determining whether some building designs, technologies, and practices that help to support human health and development can also benefit the natural environment.

Photo by Flickr | knittymarie | CC-BY-SA 2.0.