Monday, December 17, 2012

Green Schools - A Questionable Investment

This rather long USA Today article is worth reading.  It tells of a review of green schools, those that were built to meet standards set by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), an organization that promotes and certifies green construction for not only schools but other commercial and government buildings.  Green construction is promoted by school boards and by governments at  all levels.  “[T]housands of commercial developers have won state and local tax breaks, grants, expedited permitting and waivers from development laws for LEED-certified buildings. More than 200 states, federal agencies and municipalities require LEED certification for public buildings.”

School districts that paid higher construction costs for LEED-certified buildings in return for promised energy savings and better student performance found that they fell short in both categories.  They were told going in that the improved environment would lead to both future utility savings and better learning and teacher success, but “a USA TODAY review of school-test records, LEED-certification documents and research reports shows little correlation between 'green schools' and student performance or energy use.”  Often they made the investment but did not get near the expected return.

This is another strong case for critical thinking, asking for evidence over promises, that is lacking in America today.  We have developed a kind of fairytale mentality that everything will be grand because our intentions are noble and our hearts are in the right place.  People are lured by feel-good words that entice them into making instant value judgments without evidence, words like green, sustainable, all-natural, justice and fairness, holistic, anti-oxidants, probiotics, diversity, and others.  They hear the word and automatically expect better outcomes.  It causes them to show an irrational preference for such things as natural/organic foods, dietary supplements, bottled water, complimentary medicine, and now construction techniques, that promise much, but often fail to deliver and usually are more expensive.  Even when faced with strong evidence of this failure, the hype wins out over reality.

Many years ago a scheme to sell more of a product (or service) was to label it in bold letters as “New and Improved.”  Eventually consumers realized that changes were often minor as was any improvement in performance.  Now the approach is the same but the words have changed.  A critical thinking America must begin to demand more than just promises.  Otherwise we will continue to be duped, wasting time, energy and money for little or nothing in return.

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