How to make your school building more eco-friendly

We adults have to modify our behavior. For children in green schools, this environmentally conscious behavior just comes naturally.

— Brian Libby
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After celebrating Earth Day in April, we thought we could help schools understand how they can be more eco-friendly; after all, we should be celebrating and looking after our Earth all year round, not just for one day! Believe it or not, schools have a huge environmental impact as they require large amounts of electricity and water for things such as lights, computers, aircons, boarding houses, and bathrooms.

At Evolution Architects, we specialise in green buildings and are very conscious about energy and ecological conservation in the design of every built environment. Whether you are doing a new build or a revamp, we have some great tips that will help you play your part in the move to a more eco-friendly society.

A recent study done by The Heschong Mahone Group, a green-building consulting firm, concluded that improved lighting in a learning environment resulted in improved test scores, wakefulness and productivity. With school projects we aim to make buildings more “green” which will also result in optimum learning experiences for students.


1. Where do we start?

It may be a bit tricky to try and make a difference if you don’t know where you initially stand. To start off, make sure you have a good understanding of how much of each kind of waste you produce. Looking at how much energy you use and want to save, or where your biggest energy inefficiencies are, allows you to measure how far you’ve come once you start making changes! It is important to celebrate growth and change as it teaches the students how together, we can make a powerful impact!

2.  Consider the lighting of your building, both natural and artificial

Lights can make up approximately 25% of a school’s energy bill. The most sustainable lighting is natural daylight - not only is it a free renewable resource but also it has great health benefits. We know how hot our South African summers can be, therefore during our design process, we look at how to maximise natural light in a building whilst still maintaining indoor temperatures and reducing direct glare.

We also understand that there are certain days that you can’t solely rely on natural light and you have to use your lights. Standard light bulbs, also known as incandescent bulbs, can be highly inefficient as only about 10% of electricity is converted to light, and the rest is wasted as heat. Rather use Halogen or LED bulbs. As Halogen bulbs burn brighter, they use less electricity and last twice as long as the standard bulb. Light Emitting Diodes (LED) are extremely energy efficient and last much longer than the standard light bulb. These bulbs are more expensive, but with energy savings over time their cost is soon recouped.

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3. How to get the school community involved?

Every so often children either listen to their parents or teachers, but more often they listen to their friends! If a rule is being forced upon them, they often look to their friends for guidance. Encourage children to be part of a “green club” at school where they work under the guidance of teachers, helping plant herb gardens, vegetable patches and green spaces within the school property. If their friends are doing it, they’ll do it too! A school vegetable garden helps children understand where food comes from, and the care and nurturing it takes to grow healthy fruit and vegetables. They can even prepare a fresh meal using their vegetables that they have grown themselves!

There’s a huge opportunity for learning in the curriculum, because children really benefit from seeing how things become interconnected and why doing something to one item can have an effect on others. It’s a common refrain from a cynical middle schooler in math class: ‘Why do we need to know this?’ Well now, we’ve got a thousand examples
— The Heschong Mahone Group

4. What can you do in the classroom?

In the classroom, create a recycling corner that each child has a turn managing. This teaches children to get excited about recycling and gives them a sense of responsibility and leadership. Make sure to look out for some goodies that are being recycled that could be re-used such as bottle caps for classroom art displays or milk cartons for a stationery supply centre. This recycling corner can also generate a fun competition between classes seeing which class recycles the most materials each month. Create a “green data wall” where each class counts the number of bottles and cans in their recycle bins and weighs their recycled paper.

Children are the future of humanity, so if we want to cultivate a sustainable Earth, it is critical that we raise a generation that will be good stewards of the environment. If children are well educated on recycling from the start it will soon become a natural daily habit for them for the rest of their lives. Recycling really does make a difference and schools are a great start!