NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 5, 2008

Before Congress spends billions to build public schools that meet "green" environmental standards, it should review Washington state's experience, which shows that green buildings have higher than expected costs, and the energy savings and other projected benefits are either small or nonexistent, says Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center and an National Center for Policy Analysis E-Team adjunct scholar.

Several pilot schools in the Olympia, Northshore and Spokane school districts were created to test the effectiveness of green building strategies.  By the summer of 2007, all but one of these schools had been open for at least one year and data were available to compare their performance with conventional schools recently built in the same districts.  The results are clear:

  • In no case was the green school the most energy-efficient in the district.
  • In some cases the green schools were more efficient than the most recently built nongreen school, but the difference between them was often very small.
  • In no case were the energy costs for a green school 30 percent less than at comparable schools as supporters had projected.
  • Outside the pilot districts, energy costs at three green schools were at least 25 percent higher than the most-efficient nongreen school in the same district.

Green schools were expected to reduce absenteeism, but the numbers reflect a different result.  Many districts do not track absences for more than one year, and data were only available for three districts with green schools:

  • In Spokane, where there are three new green schools, the average absence rate per student is slightly higher than the rate for the district as a whole.
  • In both the Northshore and Lake Washington school districts attendance rates are very similar.
  • In all cases, however, there are wide variations among schools, indicating that other factors had a more significant impact than the design of the school building.

Source: Todd Myers, "Green Schools Don't Make the Grade," National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis 622, August 5, 2008.

For text:


Browse more articles on Environment Issues