Integrating sustainable design into schools no longer is seen as just an interesting alternative; it's becoming the mainstream approach in facility design. "For students and families across the country, more green schools ultimately mean more effective education facilities, significant operating costs savings, a better environment and healthier communities," explains Rick Fedrizzi, president of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which oversees LEED certification.

"We've figured that, on average, green schools save $100,000 per year in direct operating expenses," says Rachel Gutter, senior manager for the educational sector, USGBC. Using an average of 33 percent less energy than conventionally designed schools, according to Greening America's Schools, a 2006 report, "green school facilities also increase air quality, cut water use, and reduce other resource uses significantly."

These kinds of benefits explain why more than 1,000 schools across the nation are either LEED-certified or seeking certification. Thousands more have embraced some aspect of sustainability in design and day-to-day operations. Yet, one of the greatest deterrents to creating more green schools is the perception that it costs more.

But by building more sustainably, schools can find additional sources of financing that wouldn't be available for a more conventional construction project. There isn't one easy source for funding information, but there are many resources available.

"Don't write high performance off because of cost," says Ariel Dekovic from The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS). "There are certainly many strategies and if you think about it from the beginning, it can reduce the costs."

National sources

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provide resources and technical information. The DOE recently has released the "Guide to Financing Energy Smart Schools," which addresses financial barriers to constructing and retrofitting high-performance schools.

The EPA provides technical information through its Energy Star building labeling program and also addresses indoor air quality (IAQ) through its Tools for Schools Program, which focuses on sound management practices.

A nationwide Green Schools initiative, USGBC's "Fifty for Fifty," urges state legislators in every state to create green schools caucuses. Launched in September 2008, the initiative includes opportunities for partnerships with community experts such as architects and contractors, as well as local incentives offered to promote green building. Cost-benefit studies, best-practices and information on developments and trends also will be available soon.

A possible future program is the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public Schools Facilities Act. The House passed it in 2008, but the Senate did not act on the legislation. It would provide more federal funding to create sustainable schools.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act sets aside about $8.8 billion in state fiscal funds for addressing safety and other government services, and this may include school renovation and modernization through a recognized green building program. Each state has a process for allocating these funds through the governor's office. School districts, communities and legislators need to promote funding for green building.

A few provisions in the Energy Act have been authorized, but not yet funded; for example, research to demonstrate the benefits of good indoor air quality. More federal funding and programs will become available under the new administration.