Students who attend school in green buildings exhibit higher levels of knowledge about energy efficiency and environmentally friendly building practices, according to a University of Missouri study.

For her study, Laura Cole, an assistant professor of architectural studies in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences, examined five middle schools from across the US. The schools were housed in buildings ranging from older, energy inefficient designs to new buildings architecturally designed as “teaching green” buildings.

“These ‘teaching green’ buildings are specifically designed as a kind of museum for environmentally friendly building designs,” Cole says. “The idea is that by being exposed to this innovative design every day at school, along with a sustainable school culture fostered by educators, students will inherently learn and appreciate the importance of green buildings. This study found this idea to be true in that the students from the ‘teaching green’ schools had much higher levels of knowledge about environmentally friendly practices than students who attended school in more inefficient buildings. These students also had much higher levels of environmentally friendly behaviours while at school, such as recycling and turning off lights.”

“Teaching green” schools include a variety of design features to immerse students in an environmentally friendly atmosphere. These features can include open-air hallways, which greatly reduce heating and cooling costs; exposed beams and girders where students can see the materials required to erect such large structures; dedicated waste and recycling spaces that are easily accessible; and the use of recycled and repurposed construction materials. Cole says even if schools cannot afford to build expensive new “teaching green” buildings, other options are available to help teach their students by creating smaller interventions in the building or school yard.

“The study also showed that even a school with a relatively inefficient building design had students with a high level of green building literacy because the school had a very nice outdoor landscaped teaching space, including an outdoor classroom and a learning garden,” Cole said. “Anything educators can do to utilise existing space can help their students’ green building literacy. We all use buildings every day. Our children will soon be the people buying and constructing homes, offices and other buildings. Learning and translating that knowledge into future green building design will play a huge part in solving our environmental problems.”

The study was published in Children, Youth and Environments.