USA Today Report Echoes WPC Finding on 'Green' Schools

December 11, 2012

A report in the USA Today found that "green" schools in other states don't actually perform as promised. The report, "Green Schools: Long on promise, short on delivery," gave this example from the Houston Independent School District:

The nation's seventh-largest school district added features such as automated light sensors and a heat-reflecting roof, in hopes of minimizing energy use. But the schools are not operating as promised. Thompson Elementary ranked 205th out of 239 Houston schools in a report last year for the district that showed each school's energy cost per student. Walnut Bend Elementary ranked 155th. A third "green" school, built in 2010, ranked 46th in the report, which a local utility did for the district to find ways of cutting energy costs.

The reporter even mentions one school from Washington state:

...Washington Middle School in Olympia, Wash., [was] projected to use 28% less energy. The school consumed 19% more energy than a conventional school in its first two years, and 65% more than planned, a state report shows.

Of course, this is exactly what we found in our ongoing analysis of the state's "green" buildings requirements. Schools cost more to build and then end up using more energy, not less, in most cases. The state itself confirmed those findings in its audit completed last year.

How much are these requirements costing taxpayers? According to a new study from the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the total cost of meeting the state's mandates for "green" school consruction cost an additional $11.4 million for 13 new schools built in the last two years.

As the USA Today article notes, the real winners with green building standards aren't students or the environment. They are the architects and engineers who charge more to design these buildings, and the politicians who tout support for "green" standards in public campaigns, even if the schools are short on delivering real benefits.


Increased Operating Costs as well.

Todd, does this include the additional operating costs? Also these systems are new untested designs and have shorter life cycles. With increased operating costs, shorter life, those costs should also be taken into account.

A LEED building here has little servo motors to open & close windows for "natural" ventilation. However, the system is all computerized and complicated. The motors & windows all require maintenance and the motors will need to be replaced in the future. Cleaning the windows requires additional work and instead of one large easy to clean pane, there are a number of smaller harder to clean and high windows. Also, this design was supposed to eliminate the need for a vestibule or revolving doors to maintain building air pressure etc. but the result is on windy days, drafts and the exterior doors closing too fast or too slow or not at all. Also in winter time, there is additional heating required especially when its very cold. The system works well when it's not windy and in the summer when it's not too hot, but not for this climate.


Is energy usage per student really the best metric here? It seems like there could be a number of factors that would cause a school to use more or less energy (physical size being the most obvious)?

Per Square Foot

Our analysis is based on energy per square foot as is the analysis done by the state legislative auditing agency. There isn't much difference, however, since schools have similar features and end up having similar student/sq ft ratios. So, I agree with you but switching metrics doesn't end up changing the results much.

lies, lies and more lies


you are just incorrect on this one. if architects and engineers were the 'clear winners' of these policies, why have even the 'greenest' of design and engineering firms suffered massive layoffs they've not recovered from? especially those firms specializing in 'green schools'? surely, if they're the ones who've profited, they could have 'weathered the storm'?

how about a little more truth, and a lot less hyperbole and fudged data?


Fudged Data

Please point to where I have fudged the data. The data in the USA Today story match what we have published previously, the state's own JLARC audit and data from other districts across the country. I spoke with a school district in North Carolina today who said "green" building standards would have actually increased energy use. The Santa Fe school district this year told me they will not build another school to LEED standards because the cost is high and the environmental and financial benefit are low.

Perhaps the "greenest" of firms are suffering layoffs because government agencies, school districts and business clients are realizing the costs far outweigh the benefits.

Greenest layoffs

These companies are probably laying off/closing because private companies already realize that the LEED idea is a scam and find (just like Lake Stevens School District did) that conservation practices are much more efficient and cost no $$ to implement.
Government is also building less due to lower revenues, since it is so expensive to build by LEED standards they will build even less.

Contracts matter

In the Athens, Georgia area school systems and the University of Georgia have had great success with "green" school buildings - built that way because they save money in a big way. Sadly, many school systems will modify plans and keep a, c, and d and cut out b, e, and f because of "high cost" - which yields poor results.

Most important, well run school districts have the "green" goals and promises incorporated into the building contracts and in the event the buildings failed to perform as specified and paid for the architects and contractors must fix it or pay heavy penalties and fines for failing to meet contract goals. Americans (and Germans) are World leaders in "green" construction and techniques; it's one of our greatest growth sectors globally.

This technology is no longer new, it's well understood and proven. Global corporations are saving billions worldwide because it is economically good business. Stop cherry picking!