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Turn Off the Juice: Schools Fight Back Against Wasteful Energy Consumption

Oct 06, 2011

'Going green' has become an oft-repeated catchphrase in the last few years, but it's one of those rare phenomena that's both trendy and legitimately beneficial to people at large. Schools from kindergartens through colleges have gotten in on the act. They've adopted tactics from the totally obvious to the remarkably complex to reduce energy usage, saving money and making the world a better place in the process.

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By Eric Garneau

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Big Money

According to the government program Energy Star, U.S. K-12 schools spend over six billion dollars every year on energy. It's also estimated that school districts use as much as 30% of that energy inefficiently. If you follow through with that math, that's as much as $1.8 billion being wasted by schools every year - and that doesn't even count colleges. No wonder schools would want to save some green.

So it is that educational institutions around the country have begun to implement energy-saving measures across the board. In August 2011, The New York Times reported on massive efforts in New York City schools to cut consumption, and they seem to be working - the Times states that energy use has fallen 11% since 2008. Some of New York's tactics are standards, like replacing heaters, ovens and the like with more efficient equipment. Others take a simpler approach, like Post-it notes stuck up around the school with handwritten reminders to turn off lights and computers when not in use. Some New York districts have even begun assigning employees the title of 'official energy managers,' who are tasked with monitoring classroom power usage and stopping inefficiencies in their tracks.

Chicago, too, is taking the call to go green seriously. In 2011 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) released a document dubbed their 'Environmental Action Plan.' On it are 11 goals meant to improve CPS students' environments, along with 24 strategies for completing those goals. Next to each strategy is an evaluation of how the district feels they're doing so far, whether it's green (good), yellow (needs work) or red (bad). Interestingly, the only red flag currently on the CPS' plan involves employee commuting costs. Teachers, start carpooling!

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A Widespread Effort

Stories like this have popped up around the country. This year Maryland's Board of Education has begun to require 'environmental literacy' of their students, and The Huffington Post reports that such a measure may become implemented nationally. Schools from Syracuse, NY to Lexington, KY have begun to integrate solar lighting into their buildings - not necessarily a cheap fix, but an efficient one. School buses across the U.S. are making the transition to run on bio-diesel or other alternative fuels. Colleges, too, have gotten clever with their green tactics: a May 2011 USA Today story reports that over 250 schools have begun to order students' graduation caps and gowns from a Virginia company that makes them out of recycled plastic bottles. According to that company's vice president, it takes about 23 bottles to make one student's full graduation attire.

For many school districts, going green is probably such a popular notion because of the monetary savings: cutting costs is a language administrators love to speak. Even if initial investment price in green technology is high, schools usually pay it off quickly using the savings generated from eliminating energy inefficiencies. Of course, its monetary benefits don't change the fact that schools cutting down on energy consumption has a lot of other positive effects, the long-term benefits of sustaining our natural resources chief among them.

Check out what America's greenest colleges are doing to save the environment.

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