Episode 14 - Sustainable Design in Schools

 

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This episode will cover ways to implement sustainable design practices in schools and the benefits that it can have. We are here today with Jessica McNaughton and Kim Loftis of CaraGreen.

JESSICA: Hi, this is Jessica.

KIM: And this is Kim.

JESSICA: We are here with Build Green Live Green, the CaraGreen podcast, and today we are talking about sustainable design in schools.

KIM: Yeah, this is a really interesting topic because there's a lot that goes into schools as far as how the kids perform, how the teachers perform, and we'll talk about how those things are affected by sustainable design or not sustainable design and some of the practices that design teams can put in place to better these environments.

JESSICA: Okay, and I think it's important to kind of talk a little bit about, , you know,, why this matters to CaraGreen and why we want to talk about it, and I think, , you know,, from a company standpoint, obviously, we distribute, sell, promote products that have a healthy backstory. So, obviously, we'd like to see as many of those in schools as possible.

KIM: For sure.

JESSICA: Because at a personal level for myself, you, and many of the others at CaraGreen, our kids are in these schools. So, having them be in these healthy environments is really important to me. I mean, I think about my elementary school and the high school that I was in as a child and they had these, you know, I don't even know what color to call it. It was some sort of like a pale yellow, I mean, almost like a Boston Creme pie colored walls and, you know, laminate flooring and like this whitish-gray flooring and its hard surfaces. It's not very engaging and then there's, you know, construction paper cutouts, you know, taped all over the wall with someone's name, cryptically spelled “Sebastian,” on them. But I go to the school all the time, pick up my kids, you know, or do some PTA thing and, you know, I walk through these spaces and I think, “wow, my child spends so much time inside these walls.  More time inside that school than they do with me, awake anyway.”

KIM: Yeah, and the way that schools are structured, too, is you're in that school, that same school year after year until you transition from elementary to middle school to high school. So, I'm sure our listeners to have their vision of what their school looked like when they were younger. Some version of what you've described with primary colors and laminate floor somewhere. So, it's something that we can all relate to and kind of understand that have our own vision of.

JESSICA: And I've always kind of associated with, I mean, I think you associate, you know, schools, public schools, public funding not necessarily a lot of money, cheap, durable goods and they end up being very vanilla, or Boston Crème, and very cookie-cutter. So, you end up with a lot of the same things. The main issue that I think really comes to the forefront here and we know and in our daily lives- we spend 85, 90 % sometimes more than 90% of our time indoors. We know that as grown adults and it's also true of our children. My children get a 30-minute recess, right? They’re at school from 9:00 until 4:00. That's 7 hours, and 30 minutes of that is recess. So, you know, knowing that they're inside the rest of that time, and this is the concrete box that they're inside of, you want that space to be as healthy, engaging, and productive for them as it can be. And with Sydney going to be headed off to school soon-

KIM: Yes, she's got a couple more years. But she's in little kids’ school, she's in preschool.

JESSICA: And your little hatchling on the way, a couple months. So, you are going to have this problem as well.

KIM: I know.

JESSICA: And hopefully, you know, if we do our job, this podcast and all the other good things we're doing at CaraGreen, we can help create enough awareness so that by the time, you know, your little bun heads off to school, you know, there's more of a framework here for this type of design, this type of construction for schools.

KIM: I think it's becoming more popular and we're seeing some shifts.

JESSICA: So outside of just the, obviously, look and, you know, well-being of an interior space, what are some other benefits of doing sustainable design in schools? There's a lot of studies out there that have proven benefits.

KIM: Yeah, so, a couple things are absenteeism, not only for the students but for the teachers as well. Some of our listeners maybe have heard of Sick Building Syndrome and that comes from the amount of time that we spend indoors, being around things that make us sick. So, that can be poor indoor air quality that maybe has a lot of allergens and things that are not being filtered out of the air. So, even having a good air filtration system in your indoor space can go a long way. You know, if you don't feel well, kids or teachers, you know, you're not going to be there. So, your absenteeism is going to be higher. If your teachers are out, then that makes it harder for the kids to perform well because they're constantly shifting, and they don't have consistency. I know my daughter really appreciates consistency and does better when she knows that her teacher is there and then when there's a shift, things get kind of thrown off. Also keeping those students and teachers. Keeping them on staff and keeping that, you know, consistency there on that level.

JESSICA: Is your point there that having a pleasant environment, you know, sustainable design incorporates a lot of different things, which we'll get into, but the point there and in absenteeism and retention is teachers and students want to go to the school because it engages them, it makes them happy, it's a place they want to be. So, the theory here is if you build a place that people want to be, people will go there, and I think we're seeing that with workplaces, today right?

KIM: Yeah, I think it's definitely been a little bit more mainstream in the workplace environment, where, you know, you're hearing a lot of reports about concentration levels and people getting distracted, you know, daylighting is- has- been a really big thing in the workplace environment where people have views outside, so that that keeps absenteeism down and keeps productivity up. So, it's positive for the employee, because they want to come to work and it's also positive for the employer, because they're making more money from their employees being productive.

JESSICA: Right, so we see it in the workplace. We also see it a lot in hospitals and we've talked about that before. But, healthcare, I mean if we think it's so important that people that are sick get this type of sustainable design to make them healthier, to make them recover faster, to use less medication, shouldn't we, too, think about the children and their learning environment? This is the future. You know, shouldn't we take those same practices that we're putting on people that are already sick and invest in protecting the ones that we don't want to become sick?

KIM: Absolutely, yeah. I think it's something that we have to think about. It's not something that can be ignored and it's great that these, you know, we'll talk about some case studies at the end, that these things are out there now. They're helping us kind of push these movements and really get people understanding that it's something that we need to invest in.

JESSICA: I saw one study, and I think it was on www.greenschools.net, but they talked about asthma being the leading cause of absenteeism and it was 13 million missed days a year for asthma and to link that back to the healthcare comment, treating that condition cost 3.2 billion dollars a year. So, mitigating those treatments in the, you know, hospital environment by having a pleasant environment there drops those costs treating it. But better yet, treat it at the source, there's a lot of cleaning that happens in these schools, there's a lot of toxic VOC-laden cleaners that get used to make sure that, you know, we're killing germs. But there's a balance there where you can do that with good design and also mitigate the number of cleaners and chemicals that you have to introduce into that space as well. So, with that, let's get into a little bit about sustainable design and what that actually means for a school.

KIM: Yeah, so there's a lot of different facets to it. So, we've talked about- a little bit about materials and how those affect things as far as the look and the aesthetics of the space. So, you know, beautiful bright colors and things like that are very popular in schools. But now we're seeing it incorporated in different ways, more similar to like biophilic design, where you see trees in the space or mimicking nature in the space to create a more welcoming environment and that's more of a mental-health kind of perspective versus like cleanliness type of health that you've mentioned.

JESSICA: And I think we went into pretty good detail on biophilic design in our first two podcast episodes, so, our listeners can go back and listen to those as well, that really kind of gives you an umbrella look at the biophilic design and now we'll talk about it in the context of sustainable design in schools. I think the point you made is a good one- when you look at a sustainable school, you kind of want it to look like time and energy went into this to be an attractive building. And one of the things that we always say is that beauty and performance don't need to be compromised- you can have both and I think current design techniques and some of the materials that are out there, a lot of which CaraGreen offers, really allow you to achieve that balance between having a beautiful structure, but also a functional one.

KIM: Absolutely.

JESSICA: So, looking at a sustainable school, what are some of the first things that you think you would notice?

KIM: I think I would notice big windows being able to see outside, you know, we've talked about how time outside is limited. But being able to see outside also has lots of benefits, we mentioned daylighting already, but being able to actually look outside, have a perspective, giving your eyes a break, being able to see at a longer distance has its benefits just like being outside has its benefits.

JESSICA: This goes back to like what, that… Shinrin Yoku, that forest bathing, a proven fact that being able to see greenery in nature calms you down, right, and I know personally with a son who is so easily distracted that anything that can help refocus or, you know, just kind of calm you down when you get riled up is a welcome invitation. In fact, when we did that, we did the career fair at Reedy Creek Middle School, remember that? Remember we walked in the atrium that they had that big daylighting column that came down in the hall and the whole entryway was open and you could see the light and sunlight coming in.

KIM: Even things like being able to see a bird fly by or see a leaf fall off the tree, seeing clouds move, seeing rain come by. You might think of those things as distracting for kids, because they seem to get distracted easily, but like you said, it actually does give you a break and allow you to refocus instead of being so entrenched and, you know, focusing on the board or focusing on your classmates or, you know, getting distracted by something that's truly distracting, looking outside actually calms you down and helps you reset.

JESSICA: Because it's more natural. It's more of, 8almost like watching nature happen rather than these predictable things that you see over and over all day long. When I think of at the outside of the building too, I kind of think of a lot of wood. I feel like you see this kind of glass wood combination. A lot of those accent pieces or maybe even some of those new cladding materials like we have at Lapitec, you know, those kind of, really almost industrial, cladding materials, but the ones that actually break down pollution and create a healthier environment around the school as well as in it.

KIM: Yeah, I think we're seeing more kind of open design, as well, in schools, where it used to just be kind of like cinderblock building and everything was square, rectangle, kind of 90-degree angles everywhere, and now you're seeing more open ceilings, you mentioned the wood, more beams, having that sort of thing exposed. So just creating environments that are, again, more inviting and can let the nature in and be more interesting.

JESSICA: Some of the other techniques that you see are the green roofs. A lot of the schools have green roofs. They'll have gardening programs that work with those green roofs or gardening just around the landscaping. You see a lot of native plants, a lot of that xeriscaping. But one of my favorite things I've seen in some of these sustainable schools is where the classrooms extend outside. So, it's almost this indoor/outdoor thing where there’s these courtyards that are part of the learning. So, you're not just stuck inside you can actually use the outside as part of the learning experience. So, these extending classrooms I think are a really great technique to kind of, you know, you don't always have to bring nature inside. Sometimes you can bring the classroom outside.

KIM: Yes, I've seen some schools that have a lot of separate buildings instead of just one massive building, so even when you're going from class to lunch to, you know, whatever else the next thing might be, you're going outside. You might not be going to recess, you're just walking from one class to another, but you get a little bit of time outside.  So, I can see a lot of benefit out of something so simple or even you could create a breezeway that maybe is all windows. Put more windows in the hallway so that you can see outside, maybe they also have operable windows. So, there's a lot of ways to let the outdoors in.

JESSICA: Yeah, so, I think a lot of what we've talked about so far is daylighting which is, you know, a lot of these things can be behind the scenes. Obviously, the visual aesthetic of the building is something that would be desirable. But a lot of the things that you can do don't have to be, you know, for this massive curb appeal, they can actually just be beneficial things for the students within the building. So, we've talked about daylighting, increasing access to open spaces and that also can help contribute to energy consumption, which, you know, energy consumption and health are not as directly tied, but they are, you know, sustainable techniques. Water, right?

KIM: Access to clean water or do you mean water reclamation?

JESSICA: Water usage, like minimizing water usage is pretty common now, you've got these low-flow fixtures and there's a lot of recycled graywater that can be used and things like that. Because the school is a place where education happens, what I would like to see at my schools, for sure, and, you know, it's not enough there, but is recycling.

KIM: Yes, I get really frustrated because at my daughter's school, they serve everything on those little, sometimes they use paper plates, but they use those like, kind of, Styrofoam-type plates, go straight to the trash. They use all plastic utensils, nothing is reused, nothing is washed. We actually pack my daughter's lunch, but she still gets a plastic spoon to eat with. We bring them home and wash them, but there's just a lot of waste. I have to tell you a little story about the other day my daughter said, “Mom, what is it that planets don't like?” And I said, “I don't know, asteroids? What are you thinking of?” She was like, “No, planets... they don't like recycling!” And I was like, “You mean they don't like plastics?” So just so everybody knows, she's three and a half, so, she's trying to fit all the pieces together. We talked about plastics and, you know, how we should try not to use too much and try to recycle them when we can. So, she's starting to learn, to grasp onto those things, which is really cool. But yeah, I mean recycling is a huge way to make an impact and to, you know, cut your waste down, but I can't even imagine how much schools could contribute.

JESSICA: Well, I can tell you because as we were prepping for this podcast, I started doing some research and I can't remember if it was 64 or 67, but it was, let's say it was 67 and we'll just go with that, inflation and all. So, 67 pounds per lunch of waste. So, a school that serves a lunch, 67 pounds and then think about how many schools there are?

KIM: And that's probably one lunch period, because schools have multiple lunch periods to fit everybody in.

JESSICA: So, I mean that's pretty crazy.  That's a lot of waste and I think, to get back to sustainable design, you've got students there. They're looking to be educated. This is a great opportunity. A lot of the time a lot of these schools that are doing sustainable design are incorporating an education program as part of that. So, educating on recycling. We are recycling here, why are we recycling here? Lessons that those children can take and bring home. I cannot remember who I was speaking to the other day, it was one of my friends on this girl's trip. I was separating the recycling and they said, “well, I put my plastic bags in the recycling,” and I said, “you know, you can't do that,” and they said, “well they have- there's a little triangle on them.” I said, “yeah, and then right underneath it says, ‘take to the grocery store that accepts these bags.’” But so much of that goes on and if we could, just as part of these sustainable schools as we incorporate these design techniques, really build in that education piece and they're doing it. That's part of sustainable school design.  That I think is a really great way to incorporate these recycling programs.

KIM: And even speaking of lunchtime, there's a lot of food waste, too, I'm sure. So, incorporating composting and teaching that side of things, I'm sure that's going to start happening more.

JESSICA: And bring that back into what I was talking about the green roofs and the gardens and things like that, I mean you could do all that together. That’s such a great opportunity to really, you know, teach these kids and that's where this needs to start to happen. So, I'm super excited about this idea of sustainable design in school. What we've talked about has generally been sustainable design, in general. Buildings are doing that now, apartments, you know, office buildings and things like that, the new things that are coming in that are really interesting to me are things that have to do with the comfort of the students. We talked about all the surfaces in the school. They're all hard. The gym, the cafeteria, the classroom. It's so noisy, and so, acoustics are becoming a really popular- and it's a big problem. But it's a popular thing to start addressing, right, and we've seen, I mean, Kirei EchoPanel is a great example of a product that just solves that problem. And I'm excited to announce that we're getting involved with Reedy Creek Middle School in teaching an acoustics course there.

KIM: That's going to be so great.

JESSICA: Yeah, and we're going to look at three different spaces and the students are going to look at our materials and come up with designs and we're going to work with them to help solve these problems within their school. That's a really great sustainable step that they're taking. They're a STEM school. So, I think that the things that CaraGreen will be able to offer them going forward will make for a great partnership and I'm looking forward to partnering with these schools as they start to do more and more things to, you know, be better for their own students.

KIM: Right. And the acoustics part goes back to some of the health aspects that we talked about. That comfort level, not getting distracted because it's too loud or not getting overwhelmed because it's too loud. I mean, I can't imagine kids that maybe have some sort of sensitivity to sound or just sensitivity overall, you know, being in those environments that would be really hard to concentrate or to just enjoy your day. I mean, for the average person it can be overwhelming. So, there's a lot that goes into that and that even goes back to the absenteeism. You know, kids are going to maybe even fake being sick, because they don't want to go to school, because it's uncomfortable. So, there's so many facets to it being a comfortable, sustainable space. Kirei, and, you know, other acoustic products out there are really designed in a way now where they can be incorporated into these spaces even after they're designed and have beautiful bright colors and perfect things for schools.

JESSICA: Well, and that's one of the things I really liked about the www.greenschools.net website is they really gave you incremental steps that you could make to green up your existing school. So, it wasn't like a ground-up construction effort, that's what I think turns a lot of people off here. There's a lot more you can do from a ground up level, but you may be on a budget. So, you just got to look at those things that you can do on a budget to, you know, incorporate sustainable design without, you know, having to, you know, do the whole kit and kaboodle or whatever. Let's just touch on a couple other things that are, you know, sustainable design techniques. Pathways for walking, encouraging movement of the students. Teaching them about health and wellness, so you may have a PE course, but more important than that, what are you putting in your body, you know, how many minutes you should exercise and kind of encourage some of those things. When it rains, what do you do? Right, so, just being able to give them techniques and just teach them about health and wellness in general. And I think when you opt into sustainable design, you increase the awareness not just of the students but of the teachers and I think it really requires, it forces, everyone to buy in and it really just makes for a healthier environment for everybody involved.

KIM: Yeah, I think that's a good point. You can't necessarily design a sustainable school and then just stick everybody in there. I think that eventually, you know, people will notice that space is different and then they'll realize that it's operating differently and feels different.

JESSICA: Teachers will want to teach there. Parents will want to send- I would want to send my students there. Wasn't there a green school in your hometown?

KIM: Yeah, Statesville, North Carolina, believe it or not, has one of the first LEED Gold schools, it was an elementary school.

JESSICA: And that was in 2002?

KIM: Yes.

JESSICA: So, they were early adopter.

KIM: After I went to elementary school, just FYI.

JESSICA: Just barely. Alyssa was still in diapers, but you were out of elementary school, so that's good. So, there were some other examples of more recent schools. There was that Manassas Park Elementary School in Virginia and I really liked that example. I would encourage our listeners to look it up, Manassas Park Elementary, they divided the school into three different houses, and they're called Summer, Spring, and Fall and signage around the campus kind of navigates them to their seasons, and the other thing was the students stay in their house for their time in the school. So, there is some repeatability. It's not this classroom to classroom to classroom to classroom thing where nothing looks familiar and you don't have any kind of bond with the school, where this kind of creates that bond. So, it's so thoughtful and that is the thing I would encourage our listeners about sustainable schools. It is so thoughtful that you are forced to engage and car. And when you make that decision, I remember deciding which school to send my kids to. I mean I had no idea there's charter schools, there's private schools, there's public schools, there's magnet schools.

KIM: There’s your base school, I didn’t even know what that mean until recently.

JESSICA: Right? Traditional school, year-round school. And if you had this choice of this thoughtful, health-conscious school that was designed to make that space better for your child, you would definitely, but most people would send them there in a second. We're kind of winding up here, but I think it's important to note, you know, there's the building standards that are out there for sustainable design, there's LEED.

KIM: LEED, WELL, does Living Building, I guess that they probably have something for schools.

JESSICA: I think it applies to schools, and then I think even Green Globes has a school version and then this www.greenschools.net I mentioned. There's the centerforgreenschools.org, another good website to go to www.usgbc.org, if people want to go to that. The Sidwell Friends’ School is another one to look at if you're looking for some really neat examples of sustainable design at a school and there's loads of them overseas as well. Sweden, China they all have green schools, Singapore. And just to kind of, you know, summarize- lower absenteeism...

KIM: Better test scores.

JESSICA: Better test scores. Community involvement, that's kind of what I was getting at before. The community gets involved behind these things, and guess what? It also increases your property value because the houses in your community are more desirable, and then like retention rates and just the occupants are healthier, and the building performs better. You can't argue with that. So, here locally in Raleigh North Carolina we've got-

KIM: Exploris. Yes, yes Exploris is being built in downtown Raleigh, in, I think it's called like South Square, maybe. But it's a new building that's going up and Exploris is on the lower level and because it's in downtown, their playground is going to be one of the local parks, which is really cool. So, I mean they have recreational space designed in, but-

JESSICA: It's being designed to LEED and WELL.  So, it's going to be one of the first WELL schools.

KIM: Yeah, that I'm aware of, for sure.

JESSICA: Again, for our listeners, WELL’s the building standard that's really focused on the occupants that really just dovetails nicely here with the whole discussion around sustainable schools.

KIM: And they're actually using some of our materials, because they have beautiful bright colors like Durat, that has high recycled content, I think they're using EchoPanel, possibly WonderWall as well, and maybe Koskisen. Yeah, I think those are two of the wood products that they're looking at. So again, we actually just did a presentation at NC State today and one of the things that we talked about was how products can tell the sustainable story that you're trying to tell. So, you can have the windows and things like that, some of those bigger aspects that we talked about, but the materials really start to tell the story and especially with bringing in those bright colors, you can do that easily and kind of get that lingo across that I'm sure that everybody thought about when they imagined their elementary school was something with some primary colors. So, that's definitely still prevalent, but you can get those sustainable features as well.

JESSICA: Yeah, I mean I think that's one of the things that CaraGreen has kind of started to offer here in 2019 is to build out the story of the materials that our clients use. So, you know, when a project closes out, we can kind of create that little book for you that says Kirei EchoPanels made out of recycled plastic bottles and Durat is looking at ocean plastic for its materials and PaperStone is made out of recycled paper, and I mean my kids, when you ask them, “what's your kitchen table?” “Oh, it's PaperStone.” They know, you know, but it's good they like that story. “You know, all those drawings that you did Camille, you know, thanks for all that. I know, I put them in the recycling bin. Guess what? That's how we made that table,” you know, it really does help close that loop for them, so I think our materials, like you said, they really just kind of put the cover on the book and you tell that story. So, I'm excited for sustainable schools to be built and I'm excited for CaraGreen to help build them.

KIM: Yeah, me too.

JESSICA: All right, well thank you guys for listening you can listen to our podcast on www.caragreen.com/podcast. We post them on our Instagram feed which is @caragreenproducts and you can follow us on LinkedIn at CaraGreen.

KIM: Thanks for listening.   

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