Team Watergy asked about 40 people a bunch of simple questions. They were between ages 10 and 12. They were from primary schools in our vicinity. Two of the schools had some sustainability features like rainwater harvesting designed. Four others were designed conventionally.
Our eco-volunteers adapted versions of an Ecological Paradigm, which measures an individual’s level of endorsement. It was to test how the kids were responding to what they had as a school — with or without green features. We used simple questions on General Ecological Behavior. They covered different types of ecological and social behavior.
We found children at the two schools designed for high performance had significantly more pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors than the children at the schools without a sustainability focus. We also found that schools designed for high performance have room to improve when it comes to educating for sustainability. The children were more receptive to the idea since they had seen the benefits of what some green features can give them as an experience. They could not say how it made a difference but agreed that it did make some change in the way they studied, or how they were not tired at end of day, how they enjoyed going to school.
The study of the primary schools that were designed with sustainability features, looked specifically at whether the incorporation of those features helped to educate students about sustainability and promote sustainable living practices. Our research team conducted observational visits and interviews with the buildings’ users (admin staff and children) to assess their level of awareness of the incorporated sustainability features and the extent to which these were used.
Conclusion was that the features were not useful in affecting the attitudes or behaviors of students because the sustainability features of the buildings were not well integrated into the curriculum. Teachers unfamiliar with sustainable design concepts were not provided with the resources needed to effectively instruct students about the building.
While the sustainability features of the schools successfully contribute to building energy performance and indoor environmental quality, we found they do not support education for sustainability because the students are not directly engaged with them, nor do they understand the thinking behind them. The kids were too young to understand this.
For example, the researchers noted that sustainability features like solar panels, increased insulation, and double-glazed windows were not dynamic and do not require any interaction from the building’s occupants. Automatic features like motion sensor lighting seemed irrational for the users since the purpose was not clearly explained. And feedback tools, like smart meters displaying the amount of energy generated by the solar panels, generally lacked context to make the information meaningful to students.
The Why has to be Told…
School admin and teaching staff have to collaborate to ensure that a school’s sustainable building features can be used to support teaching for sustainability. Designers should incorporate sustainability features in ways that aid interpretation by teachers, allowing them to use the building to illustrate for students the connections between the built environment, personal behavior, and sustainability.
This is done in simple ways if the school shows commitment. Embed “communication” into an object that helps the user understand how the object should be used and why. This approach, known as ‘Design with Intent’ is meant to help the user understand the intent of the designer. This approach could easily be applied to building design to promote sustainable behavior among occupants.
If a school building is targeting high performance there has to be education for sustainability. It has to be established as an important goal at the outset of the design process and a requirement to be tracked throughout the project’s development.