The development of a new form of sustainable teaching environment has the potential to dramatically shrink the carbon footprint of the education sector by actually generating energy instead of draining it from the grid.

While the green media dwells at length on sustainability efforts in relation to residential and commercial properties, much less attention is given to improving the energy efficiency of other key building facilities such as schools.

This is perhaps unusual given the huge pool of young students in modern economies, where education until adulthood is customarily made compulsory, necessitating a large number of primary and secondary education facilities.

According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2013 there were a total of 9,393 schools throughout Australia, while the number of students attending school edged higher between 2013 and 2014 from 3,645,519 to 3,694,101.

This makes for a building asset portfolio that undoubtedly possesses a considerable carbon footprint given the extensive scale of these facilities, the number of hours they’re in operation throughout the week, as well as the fact that they service a total population larger than that of most Australian cities.

Any improvements to the eco-friendliness and efficiency of schools could thus have a tremendous influence upon Australia’s overall impact on the environment and the scope of its carbon footprint.

A new form of energy positive learning environment developed in the United States could play a pivotal role in achieving this by reversing the energy profile of the traditional classroom.

The Energy Positive Portable Classroom, developed by architectural firm Anderson Anderson at the behest of the Hawaii state government, possesses a range of features that not only heighten the efficiency of the built facility but actually transform it into a net generator of electricity.

The classroom comes equipped with the standard clean energy installations, including rooftop solar panels to generate energy using solar radiation during sunny days, and a wind turbine that can harness energy from the air.

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A more distinctive feature that plays a pivotal role in the classroom’s enhanced efficiency is its rooftop, which employs a retrograde design more frequently associated with factory environments during the industrial era.

The saw-tooth roof shape was originally employed by large-scale factories in order to maximize light and ventilation before electrical power entered commonplace usage.

This design permits the positioning of a series of windows along the length of the roof in alignment with the path of the sun, thus maximising the intake of natural light throughout the day. The addition of low-lying windows that can all be opened or closed also serves to enhance natural ventilation.

These features work in tandem to reduce HVAC and artificial lighting requirements, resulting in a learning environment that is “energy positive” – generating as much as four times more energy than it actually consumes.

The project is characterized by enhanced sustainability even during the construction process. The classroom is comprised of modular units that are prefabricated at off-site locations prior to construction, achieving significant reductions in building times, labour costs and materials wastage

The Energy Positive Classroom was commissioned by the Hawaii Department of Education as part of efforts to replace the state’s ageing portfolio and inefficient school buildings with state-of-the-art facilities.

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The project is currently at the testing phase of development, with a prototype installed on Ewa Beach subject to a two-year period of monitoring and assessment to determine the benefits of its real-world operation.

Anderson architects make the caveat that, as with many other sustainability undertakings, the prototype classroom was developed for considerably greater cost than conventional options.

Should the project’s energy performance match expectations, however, the classroom could prove to be a far more economical choice for education providers over the long-term, given the fact that it completely eliminates utilities bills and makes use of technology which is widely available as well as easy to implement.