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Decisively green

The benefits of adopting green measures in schools in the GCC region far outweigh the costs, argues Moheet Vishwas…

| | Jun 3, 2015 | 10:03 am
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– Moheet Vishwas

photo-Moheet-Viswas

Moheet Vishwas

When the school hunt for admissions begins, the scenario in the GCC region may appear to be a labyrinth of interviews and fee structures, among other aspects for parents. In the UAE, there are more than 150 schools in Dubai alone, and about 300,000 students attend them.¹ About 14 to 15% of Dubai goes to schools every day.

While curriculum, performance and practice continue to remain the primary focus when it comes to evaluating schools, it’s time to bring about a paradigm shift. It is critical to add a new criterion – green – to the assessment exercise. This will result in bringing much-needed attention to the built-environment in schools, and ensure that students, teaching and non-teaching staff are not endangered in any way whatsoever.

To top it all, it’s not just the environment that benefits from the attributes of Green schools; the other beneficiaries are the children who attend such schools. A study aimed at comparing student, teacher and staff absenteeism data as well as student performance data (based on reading, writing and arithmetic tests), administered by Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office, in Canada, found that student, teacher and staff absenteeism in green schools went down by two to 7.5%, whereas student performance improved by eight to 19%, when compared with conventional schools. A survey of 150 teachers was conducted to investigate their satisfaction with the indoor air quality, lighting, thermal comfort and acoustics of their school buildings. The statistical analysis of the data showed that teachers in green schools were, in general, more satisfied with the lighting, thermal comfort, indoor air quality, heating, ventilation and air conditioning of their classrooms and personal workspaces than teachers in conventional schools.2

Test scores and performance evaluations are vital ingredients to students’ success in life. A study conducted in 2005 on the financial benefits of education, which appeared in an International Monetary Fund (IMF) publication, certainly points in that direction. The study conclusively cites that faster learning and higher test scores are significantly and positively associated with higher lifetime earnings.

However, a sustainable solution isn’t one that is only socially beneficial and environmentally friendly; it has to be economically viable, too. This raises a fundamental question: Are green schools cost-effective?

The benefits of green are not intended for the occupants alone. A carefully documented study in the United States has irrefutably demonstrated the fiscal and environmental advantages of implementing sustainable practices and green technologies in schools. The findings of the study report that green schools cost a maximum of two per cent more than conventional schools but provide various financial benefits that are 20 times more than conventional schools. On an average, green schools use 33% less energy than conventionally designed schools. Reduced energy consumption results in direct savings in the form of lower bills to schools. The savings can, then, be forwarded to the students by discounting the school fees or through other methods, such as scholarship schemes.3

Green schools, like other Green Buildings, also help in the reduction of emissions. Since they use only two-thirds of the energy, on an average, as compared to conventional schools, the reduced electricity and gas use in the buildings means lower emissions of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide and coarse particulate matter, which are damaging to human health, environment and property at large. To further demonstrate the importance of the reduction of emissions, the before-mentioned study cites a 2005 study by Harvard Medical School, Swiss Re and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which summarises a range of large economic costs that continued climate change and global warming, driven primarily by burning fossil fuels, will increasingly impose.3

Overall, the enabling technologies are there to achieve green schools in the GCC region, be it in the case of New Construction or in Existing Buildings through retrofit measures. The costs of going green are minimally higher when compared to conventional schools. There is a plethora of literature available for schools to reach out to when it comes to taking the initial decision on going green. And there is the available back-up support of green building consultants and expertise in the region for schools to realise their ambitions. The government bodies in the region can nudge things in the right direction by including green in their evaluation criteria. That, if at all anything, would signal a game-changing momentum towards better health among students and teaching and non-teaching staff.

References

  1. Which School Advisor. Web. http://whichschooladvisor.com
  2. Issaa, M.H., Rankina, H.K., Attallab, M. and A.J. Christiana. 2011. “Absenteeism, Performance and Occupant Satisfaction with the Indoor Environment of Green Toronto Schools”. Sage Journals
  3. Kats, G. 2006. “Greening Americaís Schools: costs and benefits”. A capital E report.

The writer has a master’s degree in Energy Engineering and a bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Electrical Engineering. He works as an engineer in Dubai and can be contacted at moheet.vishwas@gmail.com. Any ideas or views expressed are his own.


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