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August 20, 2011

Our schools are getting it right

Simple yellow post-it notes with the message "When not in use, turn off the juice," pointedly left on calssroom computers, printers and air conditioners, have helped the Mount Sinai School District on Long Island save $350,000 annually on utility bills.

According to the New York Times, energy consumption in New York City's 1,245 school buildings is down roughly 11% since 2008, as motion detectors have been installed on classroom lights and unused refrigerators and freezers have been unplugged for the summer. 

In Yonkers, energy savings have financed $18 million in new boilers, windows and other capital improvements that the Westchester County district could not otherwise afford.

Schools, once known as energy wasters, are embracing conservation in increasing numbers all over the country.  A desire to practice the environmentally friendly principles discussed in classrooms has been heightened by soaring energy costs and tighter budgets.  With the help of a growing industry of energy consultants, school officials are evaluating every detail of their daily operations, like the temperature of the swimming pool and the amount of electricity the cafeteria ovens use, and are replacing energy-guzzling equipment with more efficient models. 

"Nationally, more than two dozen states, including California, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, New Hampshire and Virginia, have used millions in federal stimulus money since 2009 to pay for energy programs and upgrades in school buildings," said Judy Marks, director of the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities in Washington.  "These efforts include replacing light fixtures, adding solar panels and building geothermal heating and cooling systems."

In some instances, school districts have appointed an official energy manager to police hallways and classrooms to root out energy waste.  Armed with yellow notes, they inspect up to 100 classrooms a day and "ticket" violators.  Teachers have been known to run back to their classrooms when they see one coming. 

Many districts across the country have financed conservation efforts through so-called energy performance contracts with companies that advise them on how to be more energy-efficient and guarantee them specific savings, either in dollars or kilowatts.  If the district's actual savings fall short, the company writes a check to make up the difference.

Three consultants - Johnson Controls, Trane, and Energy Education - have reported that their school business has grown by at least a third since 2006.  The companies send in engineers and specialists to conduct extensive audits of each district and then custom-design conservation programs.  "Anything that consumes energy, natural gas or water is going to get evaluated," said Larry Wash, Trane's president of global services.

Looks like we're heading in the right direction.  Now if we could only get every school, home and business to do the same - imagine how much money we would be saving and how much CO2 we would be reducing. 


  1. I love the idea of creating “energy officers” at the school, made up of the actual students! What an exceptional opportunity that would be for kids to gain special training through out the course of the year regarding conservation techniques. Perhaps volunteers from “green businesses” in the community could even visit the school a few times per year to host workshops for the participating energy officers. You never know, maybe the students would implement what they learn through the program at their own homes. After all, our children have the power to open our eyes in ways that no one else can. Placing responsibility and authority in the student’s hands to reward teachers/staff/students, etc who make an effort to conserve might encourage students and staff alike to be mindful of energy consumption. It would be a great program to raise awareness regarding the issues surrounding our natural resources. Fantastic post! Really got my wheels turning.

  2. Thanky you so much Kristin. And your ideas are wonderful. We all, as parents, need to encourage more and more sustainable practices from our children's schools.



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