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The little green schoolhouse

What better place to focus on 'building green' than in America's schools?

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Clearview Elementary in Hanover, Pa., is a myth buster in how to build green. A wall that filters the sun helps reduce energy use by 38 percent, but here's the more amazing thing: Clearview cost virtually the same to build as a conventional school (1.3 percent more). Cost is not the barrier to energy-savvy construction that people think.

Buildings of all kinds use three-quarters of America's electricity. Schools, whose hallways enfold almost everyone at some point, are a good place to focus on lightening America's energy footprint. And as places of learning, they can train up millions of students to think as naturally about conserving as they do about text-messaging.

The most common barrier to building green schools is a misconception about costs and benefits, reinforced at a time of drought in state and local revenues. A 2006 study put out by the US Green Building Council can wash away those concerns. (The council is the nonprofit that developed the nation's premier standard for environmental construction, known as LEED.)

Its study of 30 green schools nationwide shows that the initial building cost is only slightly higher than the outlay for traditional schools – by an average of 1.65 percent, though one school went over by more than 6 percent. The difference, though, is quickly made up and turns into serious savings through reduced energy use and improved learning conditions.

Garden roofs, solar panels, and low-flow sinks helped cut energy and water use in these schools by a third. Recycling knocked down solid waste by three-quarters. Lots of natural light and smart ventilation and good acoustics aid student concentration and reduce absenteeism and teacher turnover.

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