Saturday, January 21, 2012

New Year New Initiatives by Margie McNally GS Board Member

Well it is a new year for Green Schools and I look forward to working once again with this energetic group as well as with area schools on their green goals and action plans.

Early in my career as an Interior Designer I realized the importance of a healthy environment which goes beyond fashion, style and color. At that time my young daughter suffered with allergies and chronic bouts of asthma. The American Lung Association’s marketing campaign pictured a young child with an oxygen tube draping down his face and a caption that read “when you can’t breathe nothing else matters” ...well that hit home and I began my work with the ALA as Environmental Program Coordinator targeting local schools with an introduction to the EPA Tools For Schools Program. That was the early 90s and since then the focus on healthier and more energy efficient schools has resulted in the proliferation of dozens of green school building programs and initiatives. Among the recent developments is the launching of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools program that focuses on three elements...

(1) healthy learning environments, (2) environmental impact and energy efficiency and (3) environmental literacy

The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools will recognize schools that save energy, reduce costs, feature environmentally sustainable learning spaces, protect health, foster wellness, and offer environmental education to boost academic achievement and community engagement. The recognition award is part of a larger U.S. Department of Education (Department) effort to identify and disseminate knowledge about practices proven to result in improved student engagement, academic achievement, graduation rates, and workforce preparedness, as well as a government-wide aim to increase energy independence and economic security.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that at least 25,000 U.S. schools are in need of extensive repairs and more than 10,000 of those schools have air that is unfit to breathe. On the flip side, research has shown that, on average, green schools save $100,000 per year on operating costs. Greening our schools just makes sense and our hats go off to this year’s designees for their practical and forward thinking.

Breaking stories like the recent incident where 12 female high school students in upstate New York developed mysterious Tourets-like symptoms with no apparent cause give reason to first investigate the health and indoor air quality of the school building. Although the cost of third party testing can be daunting, attention to environmental factors is key. In a perfect world schools would be proactive in preventing the problems from occurring in the first place. Taking precautions with everyday maintenance procedures, monitoring occupant habits and incorporating integrative design when constructing new schools are among the strategies that will prevent poor indoor air quality problems and preserve the health of our school age children.