The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) says sustainable schools deliver high-performing students and is encouraging more schools to go green.

Just as companies witness increased productivity among staff after moving into a sustainable office or retrofitting an existing building, the GBCA says the same goes for the nation’s schools.

“Companies around Australia are achieving increases in productivity of up to 15 percent when they move their employees into high-performance, Green Star-rated buildings,” says GBCA chief operating officer Robin Mellon. “We must demand similar high-performance learning environments for our students.”

Various international studies on green schools have demonstrated that:

  • A 25 per cent improvement on test scores and a 41 per cent improvement in health can be achieved by providing good lighting and ventilation.
  • Students that have plenty of daylight in their classrooms progress 26 per cent faster in reading and 20 per cent faster in maths.
  • A child’s academic progress can be affected by up to 25 per cent by the classroom environment.
  • Good indoor air quality improves health and concentration.
  • Effective acoustics boost children’s learning potential.

Research out of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories in California shows that when ventilation rates are only meeting the minimum standard, it can result in a decrease in student performance of five to 10 per cent.

Similar studies in the US and New Zealand support those findings and add that asthma cases are reduced when indoor environmental air quality is improved and that a classroom’s design has the same influence on test scores as the student’s teacher.

“Too many students in Australia learn in school buildings that are too cold in winter, too hot in summer, badly lit and poorly ventilated,” said Mellon. “We believe that just as investment in quality teaching and quality resources is essential, so too is investment in quality learning environments.”

Over the past decade, studies worldwide have consistently shown that occupant well-being and productivity are increased in sustainably designed buildings. An increasing amount of modern research into school environments is reiterating the same positive outcomes.

A hands on approach to sustainability

A hands on approach to sustainability

Research in 2004 by Thomas and Thomson and 2009 research by The Sustainable Development Commission shows an inextricable link between students’ well-being and the quality of the environment around them.

With the environment around them playing such a critical role in their learning ability, there is no doubt that sustainable schools have the potential to produce better students.

This year, the UK’s University of Salford and Nightingale Architects released research they conducted on how students’ learning outcomes are affected by classroom design. The study successfully linked learning outcomes to the impact of the building design, finding a child’s academic achievement can be affected by up to 25 per cent by their classroom environment.

A study of more than 21,000 students in California called the Heschong Mahone Daylighting Study showed a profound correlation between student performance and day-lit school environments.

Students with access to daylight showed faster reading and maths progression as well as a five to 10 per cent performance increase if the student had window views.

Backing those findings, a 2010 lab study showed that if students were deprived of natural light all five days of the school week they experienced disrupted melatonin cycles, which is believed to greatly decrease the child’s alertness and ability to concentrate during class.

Research in six schools conducted by Percy-Smith in 2009 shows that active engagement in sustainable practices such as the school garden allows children to act on what they have learned about sustainability day-to-day.

2009 research by Gayford found that students who participated in monitoring and reporting the effectiveness of the sustainability measures being undertaken within the school demonstrated increased motivation and connection with the school and community.

Learning sustainable living

Green schools also offer teachers a better place to teach. It is widely accepted that better workplaces attract better workers and therefore, the best teachers will be drawn to work at the best designed schools.

Sustainably designed schools give teachers the ability to explore the potential of the built environment to facilitate and complement traditional forms of learning. They can also significantly improve the health and well-being of teaching staff.

Spending nearly 90 per cent of their day indoors, teachers benefit from green designed buildings that provide natural daylight, external views, and access to fresh air. A 2003 study found teachers reported higher levels of comfort if they had control over operable windows or thermostats and lighting options.

The summary of most recent research is that sustainably built schools can foster high performance learning because the buildings themselves can be used as learning tools. Rather than reading from a textbook, students can partake in and see first hand the effects sustainable design has on their lives while simultaneously receiving environmental sustainability education.

“Sustainable development will not just be a subject in the classroom: it will be in its bricks and mortar and the way the school uses, and even generates, its own power,” said UK Prime Minister David Cameron, encouraging more UK schools to undertake green retrofits.

“Our students won’t just be told about sustainable development, they will see and work within it: a living, learning place in which to explore what a sustainable lifestyle means.”