Author Archives: Anne Therese Nichols

Anne Podcast

Anne Nichols

Green schools are popping up all over the nation. These schools are considered environmentally preferable because they take measures to ensure more sustainable use of the planet’s resources and a healthier school environment for students.

The most popular tool for measuring sustainable practice is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, or as most call it, LEED.

Anne Nichols reports on the reasons why schools are taking these steps to become greener.

Anne Nichols (1:45)

Laura Bollman (0:26)

Drew Charter School’s Director of Implementation and Design

Charlie Cichetti (1:01)

CEO of Sustainable Investment Group

Leesa Carter-Jones (1:46)

Former Executive Director of U.S. Green Building Council-Georgia Chapter

Cichetti (1:59)

Bollman (2:22)

Carter-Jones (2:42)


NAT POP (Drew Charter School Band Playing) (0:09)

Anne (0:20)

The band students at Drew Charter School’s Senior and Junior Academy begin their day in a ceiling-to-floor windowed room surrounded by enhanced acoustical design. These features are a result of the administration’s decision to pursue LEED certification. Laura Bollman (LORAH BOWLMAN), Drew’s director of implementation and design, played an integral role in this decision.

Laura Bollman (0:20)

Drew’s Director of Implementation and Design

“We truly believe our school is an environment that we want our students to learn in, and learn from, and so along the way we really decided to pursue LEED as we saw the overlaps continuing to happen between what we wanted to do green building wise and what LEED was offering.

Anne (0:15)

The major benefits of a LEED certified school are lower costs of operating, better student health, and a smoother functioning school. Charlie Cichetti (CHARLEE KICHEHTEE), chief executive of Sustainable Investment Group, says going green pays off for schools.

Charlie Cichetti (0:17)

CEO of Sustainable Investment Group

“The LEED certification is not just saving energy it’s saving water, but we look at everything, the materials you build the building out of, make sure they last longer. For LEED for Schools especially we look for the chemicals even on the desks that the students sit at.

Anne (0:31)

LEED buildings conserve energy and water in various ways. Installing high efficiency air conditioning systems and using natural daylight to mitigate the need for artificial light are just a few of these ways. LEED also encourages schools to lower volatile organic compounds in the school’s building materials and eliminate hazardous chemicals in janitorial supplies. Leesa Carter-Jones, former executive director of the US Green Building Council Georgia Chapter, agrees schools should be taking the steps to become certified.


Leesa Carter-Jones (0:10)

Former executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council-Georgia Chapter


“Those two reasons alone, children’s health and cost to the community and good community resources, it’s like I don’t even understand why we’re still having a conversation about it.”


Anne (0:06)

Cichetti (KICHEHTEE) goes on to explain opposition to schools becoming LEED certified.


Charlie Cichetti (0:11)


I think those that would be opposed to LEED for schools are more opposed to idea that it’s going to cost a lot more for this school that we can barely afford maybe in the public environment.”


Anne (0:09)


The benefits for Drew Charter School greatly outweigh the green premium. Bollman contends the school gains by functioning better and building community.


Laura Bollman (0:08)


“Ultimately we decided to pursue LEED to add credibility and distinction to our school for our students, teachers, donors, everybody.


Anne (0:10)


Carter-Jones says green initiatives raise awareness among students and engages them in the conversation about the environment. They go home and discuss it with their parents.


Leesa Carter-Jones (0:08)


“It begins to create a community change and transformation which I think is at the heart of what the green building industry is trying to do.” (7:26-7:34)


Anne (0:23)


More and more schools are beginning to take Drew Charter School’s lead to become certified. There are currently 866 certified schools in the nation and 1,296 schools in the process of becoming certified. With the lower operational costs, improved health benefits, and overall functionality of the school, the trend of LEED certification for schools seems to logically be on the rise.

Anne Nichols, Sustainable Investment Group (0:04)

NAT POP (0:10)





Feature Story Rough Draft

An Inside Look into the Greening of Schools

Through metal gates and atop a sprawling green hill sits the new Drew Charter School Senior and Junior Academy. Five minutes after the beginning of classes and there are no tardy or loitering students in sight. From the outside looking in through the ceiling-to-floor windows, students dressed in forest green blazers trumpeting along with the band director’s baton can be seen.

The Senior and Junior Academy began construction in 2012 and was completed in 2014 as a capstone project for the East Lake Foundation’s cradle-to-college pipeline. The pipeline worked to send children in the East Lake community all the way from early education to higher education. During the design phase of the new academy, the administration decided to pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

LEED is a rating system with a set number of points earned by incorporating green building practices and sustainable systems into design, construction, and operations and maintenance of building. The number of points achieved determines the building’s certification level from “Certified” being the lowest to “Platinum” being the highest. Categories include Sustainable Sites, Transportation and Location, Energy and Atmosphere, Water Efficiency, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation.

Drew’s Senior and Junior Academy is still in the tracking phase of the certification process, but they are aiming for LEED Gold, the second highest certification possible. Laura Bollman, Director of Program Design and Implementation for Drew Charter School, says she “truly believes that our school is an environment that we want our students to learn in and learn from, so along the way we decided to pursue LEED as we saw the overlaps continuing to happen between what we wanted to do green building wise and what LEED was offering.”

Drew Charter School is one of a handful of schools in Atlanta pursuing LEED. Leesa Carter-Jones, former Executive Director of the U.S. Green Building Council- Georgia Chapter, believes schools should pursue LEED for two reasons. She says the first is “it makes better sense to the tax payer over the long haul because the cost to operate is less and you’re not misusing the resources that are the resources of the community.” Secondly, “the schools are healthier for the students meaning that they have less volatile organic compounds indoors and they aren’t allowed to use harsh chemicals when they’re cleaning the schools, so the kids who have allergen response to that or who may be asthmatic have a much lower incidence of inhaler use in schools that are green.”

Carter-Jones’ first point focuses on the economic advantage LEED certified schools have on the community. Charlie Cichetti, CEO of Sustainable Investment Group, a LEED consulting firm, says “I think those that would be opposed to LEED certified schools are more opposed to idea that it’s going to cost a lot more for this school that we can barely afford in the public environment.” The increased cost he is referring to is the “green premium,” which is higher upfront costs when designing with sustainability in mind. Some of these higher costs are results of increased energy- or water- efficiency systems, locally sourced or renewable resources, and low-chemical furniture, carpet, and paints. However, this only takes into account the construction budget. When thinking about green schools, it is important to think long term to truly understand the cost-benefit analysis. A green school may have a higher initial cost, but when viewed through the lens of the life cycle of the school, tremendous savings may be accounted during the operations.

A majority of these operational savings are through monthly utility bills. In a study performed by the U.S. Green Building Council, a green school will typically use an average of 33% less energy over a traditionally functioning school. This means there is an average savings of $0.38/ft2 per year in green schools. Additionally, this does not account for rising electricity prices. The U.S. average electricity price rose 3.2% from 2013 to 2014. The highest increase was seen in New England where they witnessed an 11.8% jump. Energy prices are not projected to decline any time soon, so designing for energy-efficiency is a smart way to plan ahead.

Green schools accomplish energy savings by installing energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems, providing natural ventilation, or even installing their own renewable energy source, such as a solar panel or wind turbine. By investing in these practices during the construction phase and incurring the “green premium”, they are able to compete with the rising electricity prices and allocate funds previously spent on energy to more needed areas such as teacher development or educational resources. In a study by The Center for Green Schools, they claim “on average, green schools save $100,000 per year on operating costs — enough to hire at least one new teacher, buy 200 new computers, or purchase 5,000 textbooks.”

On top of the savings from green schools, LEED schools have a big influence on the students and teachers. Students spend an upwards of 943 hours in the school building a year, so a building that encourages student function and health is imperative to a healthy school.

Cichetti has previously worked with schools helping them to implement, track, and document LEED credits. One of his favorite requirements and also most challenging to provide is minimum acoustical performance. He says, “You must have a certain decibel level for your [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning] system. If you have a child sitting in the back of the room and they can’t hear the teacher in the front of the room, that’s just not productive.”

Other enhancements to improve student productivity include providing views and daylighting. Daylighting is the practice of locating classrooms on the outer perimeter of the school building and including large windows to allow students to see outside. An increase of natural light from the outside also lessens the amount of artificial light needed in the classroom. A study by the Heschong Mahone Group showed “that students with the most daylighting in their classrooms progressed 20% faster on math tests and 26% on reading tests in one year than those with the least.”

LEED certified schools also claim to be healthier for students. The LEED rating system puts heavy emphasis on indoor environmental quality, which awards points for mold prevention, using low-emitting materials, and janitorial plans that eliminate hazardous and chemical laden cleaning supplies. These measures can help prevent symptoms in student suffering from asthma, flu, respiratory problems, and headaches. In an analysis of 17 studies reviewing relationships between air quality and health, Carnegie Mellon “found positive health impacts ranging from 13.5% up to 87% improvement, with average improvement of 41%.”

Overall, LEED certified schools seem to have numerous beneficial effects. “It’s a real sense of pride in this community, “ Bollman notes, “We wanted to design this building so that when you show up here every morning you know that you’re important and that education is important, and I think that’s something our teachers, our administrators, our students, and our parents all feel on a daily basis.” By incorporating LEED into their building design she says it promotes the environmental responsibility that is shared throughout the Drew Charter School community.

Carter-Jones says when students are located in a LEED certified school and surrounded by new technologies in waste and energy reduction, high recycling and compost recovery, and green cleaning, it raises their awareness and initiates a conversation. “It begins to create a community change and transformation which I think is at the heart of what the green building industry is trying to do.”



References Cited

Baker, Lindsay, and Harvey Bernstein. The Impact of School Buildings on Student Health and Performance. Rep. McGraw Hill Research Foundation, 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

Bollman, Laura, Interview, 13 Apr. 2015

Carter-Jones, Leesa, Interview, 24 Mar. 2015

Cichetti, Charlie, Interview, 10 Apr. 2015

“Green Schools Save Money.” The Center for Green Schools. The Center for Green Schools, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

Hodge, Tyler. “U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis.” Residential Electricity Prices Are Rising. U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2 Sept. 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

Kats, Gregory. “Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits.” (n.d.): n. pag. U.S. Green Building Council. Capital E, Oct. 2006. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

Langdon, Davis. “Cost of Green Revisited: Reexamining the Feasibility and Cost Impact of Sustainable Design in the Light of Increased Market Adoption.” (n.d.): n. pag. The Center for Green Schools. The Center for Green Schools, July 2007. Web.