I had opportunity last week to attend a web seminar called Making the Business Case: Understanding the Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Building put on by the Society for College and University Planning. Among the presenters was Greg Kats, a principal at Capital E, and author of a study called "Greening America’s Schools," published in October 2006.

The report contains some of what you’d expect: findings about energy savings, waste reduction, environmental impact, return on investment for the so-called "premium" cost of building in a more integrated, sustainable, environmentally-friendly way. And much that you wouldn’t expect. Kats’ study dug into the "people" costs of living, working, and studying in a building, asked about the direct and indirect implications of investing in green schools vs. traditional schools, and calculated some of the often-hidden costs and benefits of each, with startling results.

Read the report to check out the energy and emissions stuff. But what really caught my attention were the findings on teacher and student benefits. It makes sense: If your building is healthier and happier, so also will be the people who work and learn in it. If students are healthier and miss fewer days of school, they’ll be engaged in learning and have greater achievement. Healthy teachers take fewer sick days. Among the eye-popping statistics:

  • A group of students and teachers were tracked before and after moving into a model LEED-certified elementary school in North Carolina. Before the move, less than 60% of students scored at grade level in math and reading; after the move, 80% scored at grade level.
  • The study correlates green schools with increased student performance, and then estimates the increase in lifetime earnings expected as a result of the increased performance. Their methodology assumes a 3-5% increase in test scores equates to 1.4% lifetime earnings increase. Assuming average salary of $38,000, this means increased earnings of $6,800 over 20 years. Expressed as a benefit per square foot: $49/sf.
  • 25% reduction in incidence of asthma, with associated benefit of $3/sf.
  • Reduced incidence of cold and influenza tranlates to $5/sf.
  • 3% reduction in teacher turnover equates to $4/sf.
  • Savings from building green directly returned to a school would be enough to pay the salary for a full-time teacher.