Environmental Considerations of Green School Grounds

Environmental Considerations of Green School Grounds

W. Cory Gallo (Mississippi State University, USA) and Michael W. Seymour (Mississippi State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6312-1.ch009


This chapter explores environmental issues related to the school grounds, provides background information regarding critical terms, site sustainability theories, and the concept of ecosystem services, and includes a review of current sustainable site rating systems such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES). The chapter also provides an overview of the issues related to site selection and discussion of the most useful and relevant sustainable programming and practices for both new and existing schools. Site program and amenities are discussed in the six categories of process, play, gardens, water, habitat, and energy; examples of schools where such programs have been implemented are provided. The chapter concludes with recommendations for educational leaders who are tasked with conceiving, renovating, or managing a school campus.
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A number of concepts and terms are critical to understand as we consider environmental issues relevant to the school grounds. Most important is the term “sustainable” which is frequently misused; understanding the background and implications of the term is a prerequisite for appropriately addressing any contemporary site design. Sustainable development as a concept first gained notoriety after the release of the United Nation’s publication, “Our Common Future” (1987). The report defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (p. 81). Although this definition is frequently quoted, the explanation of the two main concepts associated with the term is not often mentioned. The report explains that the definition includes, “the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority must be given” (p. 81) and also “the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs” (p. 81). Sustainability, as explained by the United Nation’s report, involves global, intergenerational resource equity and challenges associated with poverty, social issues and politics. These are ideas that can be difficult to grasp and challenging to apply at the scale of an individual community, much less an individual site.

As there is no simple way to measure sustainability, it has been an easy term to co-opt. There has also been considerable concern about the practice of “greenwashing” or calling products or practices “sustainable” or “green” without cause or evidence. The concept of “ecosystem services” has advanced the dialogue on sustainability and provided direction and justification for the practices that most landscape architects or environmentalists consider appropriate for conserving and regenerating critical resources. Ecosystems services originated from another United Nation’s publication, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, completed in 2005. This global report involved over 1360 experts from 95 countries and defined ecosystems services as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems” (p. v) and also put forth the idea that development must address social, economic and environmental considerations. Subsequent efforts to account for the costs of ecosystem services by economists have helped to convince many that a change from conventional methods of development is necessary. One estimate of the value of the world’s ecosystem services placed the value at $33 trillion annually (Sustainable Sites Initiative, 2009b, p. 6).

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