By Cameron Jewell
17 September 2013 — Amid celebrations of World Green Building Week, the Green Building Council of Australia has today [Tuesday] released a new report that provides hard data on how green schools can boost learning rates and even test scores.
The future of Australian education – Sustainable places for learning was launched by NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker in a special event in Sydney that also featured an expert panel comprising Professor Alec Tzannes, dean of the University of NSW’s Faculty of Built Environment; Alex Matovic, associate director of Grimshaw Architects; and Anne Hellstedt, ANZ practice leader – applied research and sustainability at AECOM.
Ms Parker said Australia had some catching up to do when it came to green schools.
“But that’s the challenge we should all take,” she said.
She said the O’Farrell government was serious about sustainability, and aimed to build upon achievements of the former Labor government in education, including the School Energy Efficiency Program, which she said had seen 220,000 light fixtures replaced across the state’s schools.
“We don’t want sustainability to be an afterthought.”
GBCA chief operating officer Robin Mellon said there were too many students in in school buildings that were too cold in winter, too hot in summer, and in classrooms that were badly lit and poorly ventilated.
“Companies around Australia are achieving increases in productivity of up to 15 per cent when they move their employees into high-performance, Green Star-rated buildings,” he said.
“We must demand similar high-performance learning environments for our students.”
The report brings together international research that shows:
- good lighting and ventilation can deliver a 41.5 per cent improvement in health of students and teachers and a 25 per cent improvement on test scores
- students with access to good daylight in their classrooms progress 20 per cent faster in maths and 26 per cent faster in reading
- the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress by as much as 25 per cent
In terms of environmental outcomes, GBCA’s analysis of its own 47 education projects found:
- a 59 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
- a 35 per cent reduction in potable water consumption
- a 70 per cent reduction in operational energy use for electricity
- a 46 per cent reduction in natural gas
- a 54 per cent reduction in construction and demolition waste sent to landfill
GBCA said governments needed to act to ensure Australia did not fall behind in terms of productivity and competitiveness.
It called on governments to conduct a sustainability audit of government-administered education facilities and commit to funding to ensure schools that aren’t up to minimum standards can be improved immediately.
It also called for funding to be provided so schools could make continuous improvements and investments to get their buildings up to best practice, and for finance to also be provided for private and tertiary facilities.
It said government should commit to achieving environmental ratings for all schools within five years.
GBCA has also called for an Australian Centre for Green Schools to bring together stakeholders, initiatives, resources and information to better support the transformation.
Panel of experts talk green schools
Industry experts welcomed the GBCA report in a special panel event, though the consensus was there was much to be done in the space.
“As I reflect on the industry, we still have a long, long way to go,” AECOM’s Anne Hellstedt said.
In Victoria, she said, there were over 12,000 government schools with 17,000 buildings, though very few had Green Star ratings or would be classified as healthy learning environments.
She said for the primary and secondary sector two important elements to keep in mind were efficiency and simplicity.
“Schools, particularly the government schools, are budget constrained,” she said.
“Often principals aren’t just the administrator or the teacher, but also the facilities manager.
“So for them, the maintenance cost, the operating cost, and the complexity of those systems is really important. We can’t be putting in systems that need a lot of maintenance, that are too complex to understand. That’s not going to provide a robust solution for the long term.”
Grimshaw’s Alex Matovic said Green Star could now be achieved for very little effort.
He said seeing 5 Star and 6 Star Green Star buildings at only one to two per cent above normal costs was fantastic, but that there were factors in the education sector that could hamper more efficient learning environments.
“In the education sector we’re very lazy with space, and some of that is a hangover of the institutional days,” he said. “I’m sure we all know they’re very protective of their space, and space is almost a marker of seniority or importance.”
He said some of the changes to how space was used in the commercial sector could give insight into how things could be done more effectively in the education sector.
Ms Hellstedt said, however, that even small upfront costs could inhibit spending.
“When your budget is tight you don’t have an extra one or two per cent to spend,” she said.
“Even if you start looking at the operational costs and start demonstrating you’re going to have ongoing savings, it’s amazing how often the capital expenditure bucket does not speak to your operational expenditure bucket, even though when you do that it does actually add up.”