Benjamin: Greener schools help students, improve communities

June 21, 2013 

As Columbia mayor, I know that nothing is more important to the economic and social well-being of our community than our students and schools. In addition to preparing children to face the unforeseen challenges of tomorrow, a well-regarded school system provides appreciably higher property values, encourages economic investment, is a catalyst for job creation and serves as a significant source of civic pride.

The S.C. Green Building Council is collaborating with the Palmetto Green Schools Network, an initiative sponsored by the Conservation Voters of South Carolina Education Fund, to promote healthier learning environments, provide educational resources for facility managers and create a web-based clearinghouse for sharing information about energy conservation.

Why should we invest effort and resources in making our schools more energy efficient? For one reason, green schools save more than $100,000 per year in operating costs. That’s enough to hire at least two new teachers, buy 200 new computers or purchase 5,000 new textbooks. For another, green schools improve air-quality, a real need in more than 20 percent of public schools, according to a study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University. Five million children under age 18 suffer from asthma, the leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic disease, and improving indoor air could prevent more than 65 percent of asthma cases among elementary school-age children. Finally, buildings consume more than 70 percent of the electricity and contribute to nearly 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. Higher-performing schools reduce environmental impacts through responsible approaches to the building site and local ecosystems.

Recently, I joined the S.C. Mayors’ Alliance for Green Schools, which seeks to promote public-private partnerships with local businesses to enable schools to install solar panels, implement recycling and sustainable purchasing programs and advance other infrastructure improvements — creating jobs in local communities and long-term operational and energy cost savings. Mayors in the alliance recognize the need for strong, coordinated local efforts to educate the public, encourage sustainability within the curriculum and construct or retrofit healthy, high-performing school facilities.

Forward-thinking leaders such as North Charleston Mayor R. Keith Summey and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley already have joined this visionary effort that continues to grow every day, and we need your support to help guide the alliance so that together we can build a brighter and greener future for our children.

Mayor Steve Benjamin

Columbia

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