Around Australia, organisations are recognising that good natural light, fresh air and views of the outdoors can boost the satisfaction, health and productivity of employees – and they are recording productivity gains of up to 15 per cent as a result.

So, my question is this: if we understand that light and fresh air improves performance, why do we expect many of our children to learn in school environments that are too cold in winter, too hot in summer, badly lit and poorly ventilated?

We simply cannot afford to risk the health and education of Australia’s next generation – and we should no longer accept school buildings that are below best practice.

A large body of research now links health and productivity with specific attributes of building design, such as indoor air quality and control over the work environment, lighting levels, air flow, humidity and temperature. These studies demonstrate that better building design correlates with increased well-being and productivity.

The most famous study of schools and universities in the United States found that green attributes such as good lighting and ventilation were responsible for a 41.5 per cent improvement in the health of students and teachers, as well as an improvement in student learning of up to 15 per cent and an improvement on test scores of up to 25 per cent.

A study in controlled laboratory conditions demonstrated that being deprived of natural light for a five-day school week disrupted children’s melatonin cycles, which was likely to have an impact on their alertness in school.

Another study found that ventilation rates at or below minimum standards led to a drop in student performance of five to 10 per cent.

Late last year, the University of Salford undertook a holistic assessment of school building design and student performance. The study found that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25 per cent.

Wangaratta High School

Wangaratta High School

These studies all underscore that a quality education is not just about the teachers, the text books or the curriculum. While these are all essential, so too is the quality of the buildings in which students learn. This has been missing from the school funding policy debate.

In the GBCA’s recently-released The Value of Green Star: A decade of environmental benefits, a ground-breaking report which demonstrates the environmental benefits of Green Star-rated buildings, an analysis of 47 education projects certified under the GBCA Green Star – Education rating tool showed that in comparison to the performance of existing education buildings, Green Star-rated projects delivered an average:

  • 67 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
  • 35 per cent saving in potable water consumption
  • 70 per cent reduction in operational energy usage for electricity and 46 per cent for natural gas and
  • 54 per cent improvement in construction and demolition waste diverted from landfill.

On Tuesday September 17, the Green Building Council of Australia will be launching a new report, The Future of Australian Education – Sustainable Places of Learning, at a special breakfast in Sydney as part of World Green Building Week.

A range of speakers will share how they’ve worked together to create and operate more sustainable learning environments and discuss the opportunities that better education facilities provide for integrating sustainability and hands-on learning into education policy, curricula and teaching practices.

Let’s start a new conversation about how high-performance schools can support a new generation of high-performance students.