Addressing wasteful spending and unsuitable school facilities is a national imperative. Where we learn matters, and so does the way we budget for education. One of the greatest overall costs to schools and school districts nationwide is energy use, second only to personnel-related costs. Keeping up with energy bills is an ongoing source of strain for many schools; paying for the power to keep lights, computers and appliances, heating or cooling systems and more running.

In 2013, The Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council, along with Kate Crosby, Energy Manager with the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District in Massachusetts, developed a report called “Powering Down: A Toolkit for Behavior-Based Energy Conservation in K-12 Schools”. The report outlines some of the most effective methods for implementing school energy conservation plans, from start to finish. The biggest takeaway: Engage building occupants, especially students.

Anisa Baldwin-Metzger, Manager of School District Sustainability at the Center for Green Schools and co-author of the report, describes the impact of the research, saying, “We saw an opportunity to prove that it was possible for schools to show measurable reductions in energy costs from behavior alone—in the case of schools profiled in the report, a shocking 20 to 37 percent reduction in electricity use.”

District decision-makers across the country should understand the substantial benefits of energy conservation, says Crosby. “People treat energy costs as fixed, as though there’s a hose constantly running in the background with a steady flow that can’t be changed. But that’s not the case; energy costs and consumption can be shifted significantly by engaging faculty, staff and students. A focus on energy conservation can net large cost-savings for the district, and can create marvelous learning and leadership opportunities for students as they participate.”

Crosby emphasizes that making energy data available is critical to programmatic success. “Often people are unaware of how much energy is used in their school. The numbers are very interesting, and they create a terrific feedback loop, so it’s important to share this data. It gets exciting when people can see the numbers start to shift downward as the school community adopts energy-conserving practices.”