Back to School: Four Ways to Green the Classroom

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Thursday, February 5th, 2015
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In the past, curriculum and location have been the primary drivers for parents selecting their child’s school.

Experts are now predicting that sustainability will be the next consideration, pointing to the movement toward greening workplaces and other commercial spaces.

It is also prompting design experts to look beyond the outdoor veggie patch or tree-filled playground and work their green magic inside the classroom.

However, despite a desire to contribute to the environment, greening school interiors still isn’t gaining enough momentum in the primary and secondary education sector. This mostly comes down to budget and its allocation according to Cameron Rosen, managing director of Australian Living.

“Private and new schools have more opportunity to create the right healthy interiors for the children however the lack of awareness or understanding of sustainability by the core decision makers affects the outcome of how the budget is allocated,” Rosen said. “Their focus is on time and cost and basic function and this dilutes the real sustainable opportunity.”

Here are four ways to green the classroom:

Environmental Education

Rosen encourages designers to start with the children, teaching sustainability and encouraging green habits.

“Training them to understand different things like turning the lights out to save energy, drawing the curtains to stop the heat from coming in, closing the doors to stop the cold from escaping and separating waste and recycling,” he said. “Children are then introduced to different materials and smells, understanding the difference between natural and non-natural products. Schools then introduce environmentally considerate items such as recycled paper and wooden toys to work with.”

Flooring

Flooring in schools must be both durable and cost-effective.

“A classroom floor would wear differently to a common area not only because the common area might be partly outdoors, but because of the type of traffic, it has on it,” said Rosen. “Then it follows in the order of maintability, is its repair ability, aesthetic, then is it natural or manufactured and finally if it has third party certification or production.”

He cited eco-friendly certified carpet squares as a great flooring choice in that if the carpet is damaged, it can be easily replaced without replacing the whole carpet. In some cases, companies will take back the damaged piece for recycling.

Cork also offers sustainable, hypo-allergenic and durable qualities

Cork also offers sustainable, hypo-allergenic and durable qualities

Greenery

Rosen agrees that outdoor veggie patches have gained momentum as they integrate practical and theoretical learning. This can also be done inside the classroom, but interior greenery is often notably absent.

“(This) is unfortunate as it’s known as one of the key factors in creating healthy enviornments which are naturally filtered and refreshed with healthy oxygen,” he said.

In fact, research on indoor plants by the University of Technology Sydney found that indoor plants actually aid school performance.

In its report, UTS revealed a 23 per cent reduction in primary school absences. The research showed that by placing four pot plants in a QLD classroom, mathematics, science and spelling scores improved by 11 to 12 per cent compared with plant-free rooms.

UTS also noted to a Portugese study that installed six hanging plant baskets in a classroom and found they reduced in CO2 by 45 per cent, volatile organic compounds by 27 per cent and fine particulate matter by 30 per cent.

Plants linked to improved student performance and air quality

Plants are linked to improved student performance and air quality

Furniture

Schools can also benefit by implementing sustainable and non-toxic furniture. With an array of research and products on the market, Rosen is disappointed that these are not being utilised and believes it should be a priority as much as any other interior.

In order to implement some of these green classroom initiatives, Rosen suggests schools write a sustainability plan with actions to generate a healthy, vibrant, inspirational learning facility.

If cost is an issue, he suggests utilising independent or collaborative fundraising and informing participants of the benefits of these features while introducing them into the classroom.

This educates parents and other members of the community to introduce similar practices beyond the school.

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