The 2019 Green Schools Summit, hosted by USGBC Colorado, was a great success. The sold-out Resiliency Workshop brought to light the importance of implementing design that fosters health and safety for teachers and students, as well as how design plays a major role in the cognitive function and overall success of students.
Exploring solutions for greening schools
The main summit day brought together nearly 300 industry professionals, school district employees and parents for a full day of education and inspiration about greening our schools. One education track focused on the technical aspects of incorporating sustainable design through LEED v4.1 for Schools, ventilation strategies, and radiant heating and cooling, while the other was geared toward parents, teachers and green schools advocates. This track included sessions on STEM-based education and strategies for waste diversion in schools. It also included a session where junior high and high school students shared their experiences with a program that challenged them to use the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals to propose solutions to regional issues.
Ralph DiNola of the New Buildings Institute opened up the summit with a compelling presentation about why zero carbon schools are needed and how to fund, design and operate them. He shared amazing example school projects from around the country and asked the audience to submit data about zero energy schools and buildings in Colorado for their database.
We had a special lunch presentation from Colorado Rep. Chris Hansen. He discussed the ambitious set of climate goals that were passed by the Colorado General Assembly during the 2019 Legislative Session. He examined the different ways in which Colorado can achieve these notable goals, including electrifying the transportation sector, transitioning our energy sector away from fossil fuels and decarbonizing the building sector. Hansen was met with many questions from the audience during his Q&A session and pushed us to work together to achieve more.
Working together for better buildings and better lives
The day closed out with our afternoon keynote, Hunter Lovins, President and Founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions. Lovins discussed the economics of climate change—what it is currently costing U.S. taxpayers, and what we can expect it to cost in the future if no action is taken. Her eye-opening presentation examined the first climate-change bankruptcy and pointed out that it is likely not the last. She then shifted her presentation to how and why green building can make a measurable difference. Lovins pointed to the many benefits of green building and how recycled materials, passive solar heat, proper ventilation, daylighting and more contribute not only to a healthier planet, but also to healthier people. She also reminded us that our mindset has a great impact on our results: “What we believe is possible determines what we design.”
The theme of the day was “High Stakes, All In.” Almost everyone in attendance at the Green Schools Summit, and in the sustainability industry as a whole, is all too aware just how high the stakes are. However, we tend to spend a lot of time in echo chambers. Many of our colleagues and friends share similar viewpoints, and we often find ourselves preaching to the choir.
So how can we achieve the “All In” aspect of the day’s theme? USGBC’s Living Standard campaign has pointed out that climate change is not widely understood. Even less understood is the impact that buildings have on the environment and the health and well-being of people who occupy those spaces. The Living Standard campaign seeks to expand the conversation around sustainability and help us reframe our dialogue to bring more people into the fold. We need to help people understand why green buildings are integral to better lives, but we also need to help individuals realize that their small, daily actions do matter.
So, let’s be that shining example to our children in our daily choices. Be the person who chooses what’s right over what’s easy, and be the change you wish to see in each decision you make and each action you take, no matter how small. Put together, our small, day-to-day actions can have a great impact, and we can model to our children how to be good stewards of the planet. Learn more about the Living Standard Campaign and actions you can take to expand the conversation around living sustainably.
Help us expand the conversation in 2020 at the Rocky Mountain Green conference in Denver April 30–May 1.