Making school buildings more energy efficient does more than help cut electricity, gas and water bills. Over the long term, the money saved could...

Making school buildings more energy efficient does more than help cut electricity, gas and water bills. Over the long term, the money saved could help schools improve education and expand jobs, according to the US Green Building Council (USGBC).

“Why green our schools?” asks Rachel Gutter, director of the USGBC’s Center for Green Schools. “Three words: education, sustainability and jobs.”

Greener schools produce tax and energy savings that can leave more money for equipment, books and teachers. The USGBC points to reports that show more efficient schools save an average of $100,000 per year in operating costs, and use 33 percent less energy and 32 percent less water than conventional school buildings. Those savings could cover the salaries for two new teachers per school, help pay for 200 new computers or buy 5,000 new textbooks.

Extended to every new school built and every existing school that’s renovated, improved efficiency could save $20 billion in energy costs alone over the next 10 years.

To recognize US schools that have made an effort to become more efficient, the USGBC and United Technologies Corp., the founding sponsor of the council’s Center for Green Schools, have awarded its first-ever Best of Green Schools list. The 2011 winners in each category include:

  • Moment for the Movement – The US Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools program, which is the first comprehensive and coordinated federal initiative to focus on the intersection of environment, health and education.
  • Region – Sacramento, where Mayor Kevin Johnson helped to bring together mayors and superintendents from across northern California to create a $100 million revolving loan fund for green school retrofits.
  • State – Ohio, which leads the nation in green school projects, with 315 LEED-registered and certified projects, and 19 schools registered in 2011 alone.
  • City – Philadelphia, where the school district made “significant steps” this year to green the city’s 291 public schools.
  • School – Lake Mills Middle School in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. In March 2011, it became the first public school in the nation to achieve LEED Platinum certification.
  • Higher Ed Innovator – University of Texas at Dallas. The University’s new LEED Platinum Student Services Building features terra-cotta shades on the exterior to provide a unique energy-efficient shading strategy, and was built $1.1 million under budget.
  • Collaborators – Kentucky Representatives Jim DeCesare (R) and Mary Lou Marzian (D), for working with their colleagues in the Kentucky General Assembly to unanimously adopt resolutions in support of green schools, and for encouraging other states to work across party lines on similar efforts.
  • Convener – Boston: In September 2011, Mayor Thomas M. Menino hosted the Research Summit on Childhood Health and School Buildings, which brought together a team of interdisciplinary researchers to explore the connection between school facilities and student health. Boston’s public school district is also home to one of the first Center for Green Schools Fellows — a coordinator who will work with the district for three years to advance whole-district sustainability initiatives.
  • Policy-makers – District of Columbia City Council. In May 2010, the Washington, DC, council unanimously passed the Healthy Schools Act of 2010, building upon the district’s existing LEED Silver requirement and encouraging schools to achieve LEED Gold certification. In 2011, the council also began participating in the US Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools program, making DC the first — before any state — to sign up for the voluntary federal program.
  • K-12 Innovation – A public-private partnership in Illinois this past March released a report outlining a plan to green all K-12 schools in the state.