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Green buildings promote well-being, admissions

Although a recent study by McGraw-Hill suggests the education sector continues to invest in green projects and renovations for reasons other than financial or energy-savings benefits, Boston University officials said they had been aware of the alternate benefits previously.

“Well-being and health are important factors in the education of students,” said Lisa Tornatore, Sustainability@BU outreach coordinator. “We’re finding each year, more students tell us they come here because of our sustainability projects. It’s not a huge number, but it is growing year to year.”

Both K–12 schools and universities continue to invest in green projects, with more than 75 percent of respondents citing health and well-being of students as being as important as costs savings generated by going green, according to the McGraw-Hill press release Wednesday.

Seventy percent of participants showed green construction results in improved test scores in K–12 students, according to the release. For institutions of higher learning, benefits such as increased enrollment were recorded by 39 percent of participants and improved reputation were reported by 65 percent of respondents.

Tornatore said Sustainability@BU is committed to improving indoor air quality throughout the BU campus.

“At the Center for Student Services, for example, we are employing green cleaning products 100 percent of the time,” she said. “That speaks directly to the positive impact on student health and productivity as well, since that is the newest green building on campus.”

Tornatore said the findings of this study suggest the education sector will always lead the way when it comes to environmentally friendly projects.

“With most construction projects, the main reason for green building is increased energy savings and reducing [the] environmental footprint,” she said. “Increasingly, this study shows the quality of life for residents and occupants of a building is becoming a more important factor.”

While an official report based on the findings of this study will not be released until the beginning of 2013, there are some important takeaways from the results, said Michele Russo, director of green content and research communication at McGraw-Hill.

“There’s awareness in some capacity about going green,” she said. “It’s something on the minds of leaders, administrators and facilities’ staff. But what came out of this study was that improved health due to improved indoor air quality was just as important as energy savings.”

Russo said principals, administrators, facilities people as well as architects, design firms and contractors were all interviewed for the study.

“We always like to see what’s going on in different markets and segments, and the last time we looked at education, we looked very narrowly,” she said. “We hadn’t looked at schools since 2007. The green building market has changed dramatically since then.”

Overall, Russo said the education sector represented a small percentage of green construction in 2008. However, in 2011, 54 percent of schools surveyed had invested in green construction.

“There’s also a pressure from the next generation of young people that’s motivating that awareness,” she said. “And higher education is coming in from a competitive standpoint whereas in public schools, competition is not a factor. In any private sector, competition plays a huge role.”

Amit Persaud, president of the U.S. Green Building Council at BU, said student well being and green projects are linked together.

“The health of a building reflects on the habits of its occupants,” he said. “You see that at BU with the new dining hall.”

Persaud, a College of Arts and Sciences junior, said the findings of the study could be utilized in future green projects to convince students of the need for more green projects at BU.

“Using sustainability as a selling point through enhanced health is a great idea aside from energy conservation, which is sometimes hard to appreciate unless someone is already interested in it,” he said. “But health is something we all see eye to eye on.”

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